Lessons in Love, Learned From Our Elders

Seniors come clean on what’s worked, and what hasn’t, in their romances—from divorces and infidelity to what makes a marriage last over sixty years.

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| February 14th, 2012

Live in “Sin”

Betty, 77, recommends an option she didn’t have in her day—double-checking your compatibility by moving in together before you get married. Her point: “You really don’t know somebody ‘til you live with them.”

MORE: Cohabitating Couples: Are They Happier?

Communicate Through Marriage: When asked what made his marriage of 58 years to Doris, 80, so good, Walter, 83, admitted, “I made a list before and it’s two pages long.” From always holding hands, to regularly complimenting each other, to nursing each other through multiple bouts of cancer, their solid foundation helped them weather every storm.

“We always stuck together and we work cooperatively. Even with all my junk!” Walter exclaimed, making light of his penchant to clutter their home with tools and tchochkes.

Knick-knacks aren’t the kind of marital clutter you need to worry about: anger, a lack of communication and resentment, are.

MORE: Best Communication Tip to Save Your Marriage

Alice, who was happily married for 64 years warns, “Even if you are angry, try to talk. The worst thing in marriage is when there is a cold war and couples stop talking to each other.” She also notes the operative work is “talking,” never scream at each other.

Dorothy, Marty’s 80-year-old wife, says that marriage is a deal where both parties need to negotiate. “You make a bargain. You decide you’re going to get married and you try to stick to the bargain, for better or worse.” Often the best way to resolve an issue is to simply move on and realize it’s not as important as sharing a life-long bond with your spouse. There’s a give and take.

Don’t Give Up Without a Fight: When it comes to staying together during tough times in your marriage, many of our respondents suggested toughing it out, and working to get to the root of the problem, instead of just throwing in the towel.

Rita regrets leaving her first husband over infidelity. After divorcing a louse of a second husband and going through a split with a long-term boyfriend, “I think the smart thing to do is hang in [there]. The fact of the matter is later, I found you give up one set of problems for another. ”

Betty, who has been married 51 years, promises that, no matter what, with age comes a certain satisfaction with your spouse. She chalks it up to a “Maturity that has come with [experience].” She agrees with Rita’s “hang in there” mantra when faced with marital problems, “You see what you have, and you don’t know what you’re going to get [if you leave].”

MORE: How to Fight Right

In Certain Situations, Leave and Don’t Look Back: There are times when ending your relationship is imperative, like if your spouse is physically abusive, as Rita suffered with her second husband, or has an addiction problem and refuses treatment, like Anna struggled with her first husband. “The moment you become afraid of your mate, even once, then it’s no use being together. I walked with my two kids and I worked two jobs. You do what you have to do,” Anna said of the difficult period that followed her divorce.

Embrace Your Next Chapter: Recently single Maria, 76, now is enjoying her freedom as a divorcee—mostly with Roberto, her favorite dance partner for the past few months. They go out Latin dancing every Saturday night and often spend time together, but she’s not ready for another commitment. She plans to live out her best advice, “Stay free, have friends, go out, but don’t get married.” 

“What’s the difference, as long as they’re together?” Joe says. “Getting married just seems like a piece of paper because they’re doing everything they’d do if they were married.”

Joe himself has been in a relationship with his song & dance partner at the local theater for 12 years, Lois, 84. After both were crushed by the death of their beloved spouses, they’re living proof that you can love again. “You’ve got to give yourself a chance, nobody should be alone.”

Joe said he’s happy to have found someone in his retirement community to share his golden years with.

He’s a firm believer that you can find love again if you’re willing.

MORE: The Health Benefits of Marriage

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