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It’s no secret that marriage is not as easy as it looks. Which is why it’s natural for young couples and those who hope to get married someday to look to those who have found marital “success” for advice. As a newlywed, I found that there is something about couples whose marriages have stood the test of time—thirty, forty, fifty years—that is encouraging for my own, even if their marriages haven’t always been perfect.

Ever wonder the secrets to spending a lifetime together? I asked five married women to share what has worked in their marriages, and this is what they said.

01. Differences can help you grow even closer together.

Mary Jo, who has been married for thirty-six years, shares that she and her husband have their fair share of differences. “My husband is flexible; I am consistent. He can do five hundred things in a day; I can do five,” Mary Jo explains. Their secret after thirty-six years? “We respect differences in each other because this is how God made us. We don’t want to change the one we love, even when those same qualities can drive us crazy.”

Mary Jo explains that differences can be found in hobbies and interests, too, but that respect for one another’s differences has helped them grow: “I have learned to be more spontaneous, thereby helping him to feel appreciated and loved for the excitement he brings to every single day.”

She says, “My husband loves to golf. He has respected me by not making me a golf widow. I have respected him by volunteering to drive the cart and keep score on occasion. Interestingly, by listening to him talk about golf and going to the course with him, I developed enough interest that I suggested we golf on our anniversary one year!”

02. A team spirit means assuming the best about your spouse.

While it seems obvious that a married couple would operate as teammates, it’s hard to practice this day in and day out. Genevieve, married for twenty-nine years, shares that she and her husband struggled with this at first. “One or the other would often think the other spouse was purposefully trying to offend,” Genevieve says. “By focusing on the fact that we are a team and that the intention was to build up rather than to tear down, the immediate default to feel attacked changed.”

To put the team concept into practice, Genevieve says, “Whenever either spouse starts to feel picked on by the other, or if one feels like his or her wants and needs aren’t being met, remind the other spouse that you’re on the same side.”

03. Assume nothing.

When Jane, who has been married for fifty-three years, first got married, she admits she assumed her husband would take on all the roles at home her father did when she was growing up, but she was in for a rude awakening. “I was shocked to discover that my husband was so unlike my father in regard to the maintenance of our home,” she says. “I quickly discovered my husband had no interest, no skill, and no aptitude for home repair.”

Realizing that her husband’s strengths rested in humor and kindness—not his ability to swing a hammer—Jane took an adult education course in home repair and equipped herself with a tool kit. She made the conscious choice to adjust her expectations about who would be doing home maintenance. She laughs, “In the grand scheme of things, being handy around the house is not a necessary virtue in a husband.”

In her five decades of marriage, Jane has learned that responsibilities may be different than expected—for both ourselves and our spouses. Challenging your assumptions about marriage before the wedding day can mitigate disappointment and help to modify expectations and roles to match our strengths.

04. Never underestimate the power of rituals.

Through rituals—consistent practices of showing love within a marriage—we can be sure intimacy is not forgotten in the midst of an active life. Rituals can be informal, such as kissing each other every night before sleep or saying “I love you” before parting ways in the morning. Kim says that throughout her thirty-five years of marriage, rituals have kept them connected. “Rituals help us stay focused on us and not the busyness of the world,” she explains. “Sometimes we can get so caught up in living that we actually forget to live with each other.”

Kim continues, “A kiss, touch, or phrase tenderly reminds us of the love we have for each other. It makes time stand still and lets you forget about everything else for a moment. Even though it may be simple, the loving gesture speaks volumes. The time spent in all of the little things you give each other is what’s priceless.”

05. Don’t lose sight of one another’s dreams.

“Life becomes busy with all the roles we fill: spouse, parent, employee, volunteer, extended family member, friend. You can easily lose yourself in fulfilling all of these roles,” Janece warns. She shares that in her twenty-six years of marriage, she and her husband constantly had to take a step back and check in with one another to make sure they feel they’re on the path they want to be on and are becoming the people they want to be.

Janece and her husband schedule a self-reflection and assessment twice a year. She suggests that each spouse ask themselves, “Am I fully engaged with each aspect of my life? What needs adjustment?” When couples attentively listen and discuss these questions, they keep one another’s love map up to date and build intimacy. Prioritizing one another’s dreams and ambitions helps remind you why you fell in love in the first place.

By reflecting on the wisdom and ideas from other successful marriages, we can step closer to a unique, happy, long-lasting marriage of our own.

Photo Credit: Kitchener Photography