by Karen Flores, J.D., Hotline Attorney
As most citizens are aware, on June 26, 2015 the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. While the decision most likely means that there will be more married couples in the United States, the American Psychological Association website reveals the discouraging statistic that 40-50 percent of married couples in the U.S. divorce and that the divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.
As an attorney on the Legal Hotline, I speak with numerous older clients who have been married to the same spouse for a many years. My parents, who both turn 80 this year, have been married for 58 years. I recently found a book at the library entitled 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans. The author, Karl Pillemer, PhD Gerontologist, interviewed thousands of older Americans, whom he refers to as “experts” in the book, to share their wisdom as a guide for people of all ages. The book is divided into chapters presenting “lessons” on topics such as parenting, career, and living life without regrets. The first chapter in the book is the lesson providing advice from the experts on how to have a happy marriage. It is a compelling lesson for married couples, and it may also provide helpful suggestions for couples who are embarking on marriage for the first time.
The lesson on maintaining a happy and lengthy marriage is divided into 5 sections. The experts acknowledge that marriage can be difficult and that after the initial excitement and romance wanes, staying married takes commitment and effort. The first section of the lesson advises that although opposites attract, people should marry someone who has similar core values, shares common interests and goals, and has a similar upbringing. The experts advise against marrying at too young of age because a developed self-knowledge can aid in the discovery of a compatible spouse.
The second section advises that couples should marry their best friend who hopefully will become a lifelong friend in marriage. Friendship brings a lightness to the relationship and couples should enjoy “hanging out” together, conversing, and engaging in their similar interests.
The third section advises against “keeping score” because a marriage is never a 50/50 endeavor as both spouses have to give 100% or more to maintain the relationship. An attitude of giving freely, keeping the peace, and working as a team in support of each other promotes the stability of the marriage.
The fourth lesson is to learn how to fight because disagreements in marriages are common. Couples should communicate about conflicts and perhaps have a fight about it, but then move on. In dealing with conflict, there may be times when it’s best to merely “let some things go” or find a way to disengage from the situation perhaps by going off alone for a while to settle down. The experts remind us that listening is also a large part of communicating.
The fifth lesson is to commit to the marriage, not just to the partner. All long-term relationships involve both joy and struggle. The experts say that too many young people give up prematurely when difficulties arise. Take the vow “for better or for worse” to heart and find ways to resolve problems. Lastly, try not to go to bed angry and always say I love you to each other “even if it is through clenched teeth.” An elderly gentleman with whom my husband worked before he and I were married gave him such advice and my husband and I have heeded this advice. We have been committed to this practice throughout our 22 years of marriage and there are definitely times when it takes supreme effort (sometimes through clenched teeth) on both our parts to speak these words!
30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans provides sound advice using interesting and entertaining personal accounts of older Americans who have vast life experiences to share. As Oscar Wilde said “with age comes wisdom” so reading the personal accounts of aging Americans who have stayed happily married for their whole lives can hopefully provide a helpful guide to married couples and couples who are planning to get married for the first time, perhaps due to the U. S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriages. Maybe heeding such advice from the “wisest Americans” can reduce the excessive divorce rate in the United States and result in happier, long-term marriages.
Karen Flores is a Part-time Staff Attorney for the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors and the Mid-America Pension Rights Project. She first joined ELM in 1995 when it was known as the Legal Hotline For Older Michiganians (LHOM).
After 4 years at LHOM, she left the practice of law to stay home with her children. She returned to ELM in 2013 as a Volunteer Attorney and was hired in August, 2013.
She graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Political Science/Pre-Law. After graduating from Cooley Law School, she clerked for Circuit Court in Midland County and also represented clients on appeals of Termination of Parental Rights Orders.