Burned toast. Misplaced knives. Fussing. What are 10 Top Tips for a long marriage? 

Digital Harbor High School

Digital Harbor High School, Baltimore, Maryland

I was giving a career talk to 130 high school students at Baltimore’s magnet school for computer geeks, Digital Harbor High School.

It was a two-hour drive from our house, longer at rush hour. My husband suggested going up the night before to have dinner together at the Inner Harbor, before my 9:30 AM speech the next morning.

Perhaps because my husband was with me, and because the students only knew me through the computer job guide books I’d donated to the school the year before, they eventually asked how long we’d been married.

Today, it is 44 years.

Then, “What does it take to be married so long?”

Then, “Do you ever fuss?”

So, here are my top 10 tips for a long marriage, some of them shared with the students that day.

1. Be respectful to each other.

Just because you’re at home, not out, does not mean you can be disrespectful to your partner.

You will have enough things to disagree over.

Make it easier to have the hard conversations by being respectful of the fact that you can differ and both be right.

This doesn’t mean you won’t fuss.

“Why can’t you ever remember where the knives go?!”

The student who asked me the question about fussing said her grandparents, who’d been married more than 70 years, still fussed.

2. Find out, before you’re married, if you agree on the big things.

Children. Money. Morals. Education. Where you live. How often you see each other’s families.

Some of these will, necessarily, change due to circumstances or choices.

But, whether or not you have children, whether or not you spend every penny you make, and whether or not you lie if you think no one is going to catch you usually doesn’t change.

3. Watch each other’s back.

You should be each other’s strongest advocate.

Privately, you can have your disagreements.

But, in public and in situations where you are vulnerable, you should know you can count on each other.

When I found out my old college roommate was dying from a recurrence of breast cancer, we got in the car to make the 12-hour drive to Ann Arbor, Michigan, so I could say good-bye.

My husband said, “It’s Memorial Day weekend. This will always be a sad holiday for you if you associate it with the loss of your best friend. Let’s return by way of Niagra Falls, so you have something beautiful to remember her by.”

She died the morning after I saw her one last time.

I have a postcard  of daffodils blooming in front of Niagra Falls framed next to my desk.

4. Appreciate each other.

Sure, relationships have their ebbs and flows.

But, one of the surest ways to come back from an ebb is to start telling your partner how much you appreciate them, how lucky you are to have them in your life, that you love them.

My husband says one of the most important lessons on marriage he learned was when he heard a psychiatrist advise, “Treat your partner as though they loved you.”

5. Let the little things go.

A taxi driver once told me I should be grateful for the Vietnam war.

I asked what he meant.  “You learned early in your marriage what was important.”

Yes, I did. He came back. Everything else pales.

6. Allow each other to shine.

The first breakfast I cooked for my husband, I burned the toast, scorched the coffee, and burned the bacon.

He said, “These are the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had. They are better than my mother’s and you’d better not ever tell her I said that.”

Then, he taught me how to cook.

7. Do things for each other that the other person really cares about.

My husband makes chicken gravy for me on those rare occasions we have fried chicken.

I only eat a couple tablespoons full and the rest doesn’t keep.

But, he makes it for me anyway. And, sourdough bread. And, homemade yoghurt. And, mashed potatoes.

Just because I like them.

8. Know why you are important to your partner.

I am a good listener. I’m naturally quiet and enjoy hearing other people’s stories.

So, it was like slipping into the comfort of a lifetime partnership when I realized on our first date that here was someone who listened to me.

9. Surprise and delight each other sometimes.

It was our 27th anniversary.

I was with a potential client at work. We had moved our meeting from our offices to the bar next door. As we were talking, a delivery guy came up with a basket overflowing with 27 yellow sweetheart roses.

“I had a hard time tracking you down, but your office said you’d be over here.”

The client, of course, was charmed. “He must have a lot of confidence to send you a basket of roses when you are having drinks with someone else.”

I’ve always loved yellow roses, especially the delicate sweethearts, a reminder of my six years in Texas.

And, they’re hard to get in January.

10. It’s not a 50/50 split. It’s a 90/90 split.

Housework. Childcare. Compromises on where you live and where you go on vacation. when one person is earning the bulk of the family income, when the other delays their career plans.

You can’t keep score, because no one agrees on the point value of each choice. You can understand that both of you will feel like you’re giving up 90% of what you want, because you want the other person to be happy too.

Happy anniversary, Dear.

Send someone you love roses in January.

Carol Covin, “Granny-Guru”

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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