Research shows young people want marriages that last. Here’s how, according to their long-married elders.

“When you find the right person, get married and make a commitment,” advise couples married 40-plus years.

“If you’re lucky enough to meet the right guy, marry him. Don’t just live with…

“When you find the right person, get married and make a commitment,” advise couples married 40-plus years.

“If you’re lucky enough to meet the right guy, marry him. Don’t just live with him,” 109-year-old Josephine Tansey advises young people today.

A resident of the Mountain View Center nursing home in Rutland, Vermont, Tansey celebrated her milestone birthday last week as she reflected on her life and her marriage for over 50 years to her husband.

Having served for some 35 years as a junior high school math teacher, Tansey told the Rutland Herald her husband not only also shared a career in education, but also a love of dancing. 

“We especially (enjoyed) square dancing,” she said. “We went to 18 national square dance conventions.” 

Tansey’s advice to young people to make the commitment to get married is consistent with a new global study conducted by two Australian researchers who investigated what younger couples want to know from those married 40 years or more – and then asked those “resilient” older couples to actually respond to those questions. 

Writing at Institute for Family Studies, Christian and Caroline Heim described their study, now published as a book titled Resilient Relationships, in which they asked couples from different countries who had been together between 3 and 15 years: “If you could pose a question to couples married over 40 years, what would it be?” 

The authors said they were surprised by both the questions asked by the younger married couples and the responses of the older marrieds: 

“The questions they posed should be a sharp wake-up call to us all. Even in our current hyper-individual Zeitgeist, these younger people want their relationships to stay together.” 

Despite “unprecedented rates of marriage decrease and divorce increase” over the past 50 years, the researchers said their study revealed many younger couples have a strong desire to make their marriages last. The most popular question asked by those married 6-10 years to older couples was “What is your secret to staying together?” 

“This revealed that young people want relationship longevity but perhaps believe that there is a key ingredient, some secret glue – or at least some piece of hidden information they are missing,” the researchers explained. 

When older married couples were asked to reply to the questions from their younger counterparts, “commitment” was named as the most popular “secret” (11%). Sharing snippets of comments from some of the “resilient” couples interviewed, the authors noted: 

Couples told us that commitment was “essential,” “the glue,” “vital,” and “the ultimate important thing.” We were told that commitment encompassed marriage vows, “sticking together” in times of hardship, and actively showing commitment to the relationship “on a daily basis.” For many couples, commitment and the meaning of commitment evolved over their decades. For others “commitment is from the get go, from the very start … we’re in it for the long haul, it’s a marathon, we expect bumps. Divorce isn’t sort of anything that we’re going to accept” (husband, married 54 years).  

Other questions posed by the younger couples included: “Is the [sexual] spark still there?” (17.64%); “How do you stop arguing?” (10.78%); and “How do you keep your marriage fun and not boring?” (10.78%). 

Meanwhile, “altruism” came in as the number two “secret ingredient” to a long-lasting marriage. 

“This novel finding may be a reflection of what older couples feel is needed in the face of hyper-individual pressures, like the relentless pursuit of self-expression, solipsism, and hedonist pleasures,” the authors observed, reporting a comment from one husband, married 49 years: “Be unselfish, think of that other person’s needs more than your needs. It’s hard … give to the other person more than yourself.”  

“Shared values,” “good communication,” “compromise,” and “love” completed the researchers’ list of the top six “secret ingredients” offered by 40-plus-year married couples. 

“Not that they aren’t important, but having great sex, fun, a career focus, or a search for celebrity did not make the list,” the authors noted, adding, “perhaps they are the icing to some of the core glue-secrets.” 

The “secrets” provided by the older married couples may seem like common sense – and, so, not really “secrets” at all.  

“[Y]et they are not widely accepted, and their value is questioned,” the researchers say. “If they were known, accepted, and valued, more young couples would be equipped with tools to live out some of their hyper-individual ideals and their resilient relationship ideals concurrently.” 

When Tansey was asked about her “secret” to a long and happy life, she said it’s pretty simple: “Just do everything possible and enjoy.” 

One couple from the study, married 49 years, remarked, “We think of ourselves as a jigsaw puzzle. If one of us is not there, the puzzle is not complete.”