Portland Relationship Counseling: Science Has a Love Formula

July 22, 2015 by

Am I talking about a love potion? Not quite.

Gerontologist Karl Pillemer wrote the book on happy marriages – at least, one of the books:

30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage. The Cornell scientist has surveyed almost 700 Americans over the age of 65, and collected advice for some of the most commonly asked questions about love.

Pillemer spearheaded The Cornell Marriage Advice project, the largest study ever conducted of long-married individuals. The initial stage of the project was a random nationwide survey of nearly 400 individuals over the age of 65, collecting data and advice regarding relationships and marriage. Survey questions dealt with topics ranging from life in general to work and careers, spirituality, and (of course) love and marriage.

The second stage of the study was in-depth interviews with over 300 individuals who had been married for 30 or more years. The average age of participants was 77, and the average length of their union was 44. The longest married couple in the survey were 98 and 101, and they had been married an astonishing 76 years.

What Pillemer found was that despite the huge size of the sample group, the wisdom and advice from the seniors remained remarkably consistent. He parsed their responses down to the five most common pieces of advice. Here they are, in summary:

Communicate with your spouse.  Overwhelmingly those surveyed said this was their “secret”
to a long lasting, happy marriage. Significantly, those who had divorced also suggested that a lack of communication was the factor responsible for their relationship’s demise.

Know your partner extremely well before you marry them. Although many of the interviewees got hitched at a very young age (perhaps a sign of the times), the majority of them advised younger people to wait until they knew their partner very, very well. Another crucial piece of advice: “Never get married expecting to change your spouse.”

Believe your marriage is a lifelong commitment. The long-wedded couples suggested spouses treat marriage as an unbreakable bond instead of a partnership only worthwhile when things are going well. Though many interviewees had gone through troubling times, they had emerged later in their lives stronger for it.

Learn to work as a team. Pillemer, paraphrasing the responses, puts it like this: “Any difficulty, illness, or setback experienced by one member of the couple is the other partner's responsibility." The elders emphasized the importance of dealing with problems as a couple, instead of allowing one member of the “team” to struggle alone.

Marry a partner similar to you. Despite the common phrase, “opposites attract,” the married couples attributed much of their success to common backgrounds and interests. Similar ideas on core values are equally important. Sharing viewpoints on family, religion, money and child-rearing is the best way to avoid these problems after you’re already years into the marriage.

If you’d like more marriage advice – scientific or otherwise – give us a call at Portland relationship counseling and we will work with you to increase the happiness between you and your partner.