couples

'Each night we go to sleep holding hands.' Six couples who have been together for decades share their advice.

I’m newly married — just three months in.

My now-husband and I have been together for a little over six years now. In that time, we’ve had a hell of a lot of happiness with the odd trial thrown in (grief, a breakup, watching loved ones going through cancer, close friends experiencing heartbreak and loss). But as far as this whole matrimony thing goes, we’re still new, still learning what it means to be individuals, together. Part of something that’s bigger than us. A family.

All around us are examples of what that can look like; relatives, friends colleagues that are in thriving long-term relationships, or have been part of one that’s come to a natural, necessary end. From all of them, it’s clear — even to a newbie — that it requires work and, often, a conscious effort to sustain a fulfilling partnership.

I’d just never really asked what that means, what that looks like from the inside. Not explicitly, anyway. So, here are six people — some known to me, some perfect strangers — sharing what they think it takes to make a happy, long-term relationship.

Video by Mamamia

Jerry and Marea (pictured above). Married 67 years.

Gerald: “We’ve been married 67 years and rarely had an argument. Disagreements aplenty but arguments, no. We have always been able to see the other’s point of view, even though we may not agree with it. And we have always communicated on everything, so that any decision has always been mutual.

“I also can’t stress enough the importance of humour. In fact, a few months ago Marea was asked the secret of our happiness. Her answer: ‘Jerry does or says something every day to make me laugh.’

“Long time relationships can go two ways — you either grow to detest each other or you grow closer. Thankfully we’re the latter. Even now, each night we go to sleep holding hands.”

Kate and Pete. Married 24 years.

Kate and Pete. Image: supplied.
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Kate: "I met my now husband when we were both 17 — we are now 50. It’s hard to believe how fast that time has gone. We married when we were 25 and had our first child when we were 30. We now have three, aged 14, 16 and 18.

"We are still very much in love despite real trauma and stress in our time together. Making each other happy is incredibly important, as happy parents make happy kids. Our relationship is very much like that. We both have a great sense of humour, and even when things have been really tough, we can still laugh together and appreciate each other.

"As corny as it sounds, we both appreciate and are grateful for what we have. I think this comes from us both having experienced tragedy in our lives. We also seem to have an understanding of how different our personalities are, and we each appreciate the way the other thinks. I’m the more compassionate, empathetic and intuitive one and he is the rational, sensible and ambitious one. Don’t get me wrong — we can definitely clash and argue at times, but underpinning our lives every day is the fact that we both feel loved unconditionally."

Alberto and Ross. Together 32 years.

Alberto and Ross. Image: supplied/Ludo Petrik Photography.

Alberto: "Respect for each other's personal interests and life achievements — for example, career and other social contributions, like volunteering — is very important to us.

"Also, understanding that we will always be two individuals working towards a close, loving relationship, which is always a work in progress.

"A good sense of humour is essential, and no fighting — disagreements have to be worked out, rationally, through words.

"It's basically an ongoing dialogue between two imperfect individuals."

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Trish and Nick. Married 26 years.

Nick and Trish. Image: Supplied.

Trish: "Happy relationships are based on respect and great communication. You won’t always agree on things but you need to listen and acknowledge the other person’s opinion. I love the saying, 'if your mouth is open, you’re not listening.'

"We’ve both had periods of depression, which puts a real strain on a relationship. I don’t know how we got through sometimes, but counselling and medication helped. When the kids were little we learnt to work as a tag-team; one took care of the kids while the other had time out when things got crazy.

"My advice is: respect each other’s need for silence or time out; sit at the table for dinner every night — you might run out of things to say, but that’s OK; take communication or conflict resolution classes, because communicating effectively from the start will avoid poor habits developing; always say please and thank you — always; and forget big, expensive gestures. Use small acts of kindness often."

Denise and Craig. Married 35 years.

Denise and Craig. Image: Supplied.
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Denise: "My main piece of advice is to spend quality time together doing things you both enjoy, but also to give each other space to pursue individual interests and friendships.

"Don’t expect more from the relationship than you are prepared to put into it yourself.

"Also, listen to your partner... really listen! In my experience, men often hint at things involving feelings, rather than saying 'this is how I feel'. Read between the lines. And get into the habit from the beginning of calmly discussing any concerns as they arise — we've haven’t always done this, but it definitely makes life easier when we do."

Sienna and Michael. Married 14 years.

Sienna and Michael. Image: Supplied.

Sienna: "Start with a strong friendship base. Love is important but you also need to genuinely like the person who’ve chosen to partner with, as passion can wane over time.

"Have shared hobbies, but also spend time doing your own thing and maintain friendships with other people. It’s important to have a strong sense of self and not lose yourself in the relationship. No one person can be your ‘everything’.

"Trust and communication is key. Even after 15 or even 30 years together, never assume! The old adage ‘Never go to bed after an argument’ is also true. Talk, talk and talk some more until you’ve resolved your issues.

"Children add a new dimension to the relationship. Suddenly, everything is about the little person you’ve created, and while it can be challenging to focus on your relationship, it can be done! If there is little family support and a date night out is impossible, have date nights at home and try to make time to discuss each other’s day on a regular basis.

"Love is not what we see in the movies. It’s far more challenging and satisfying. The right relationship will lift both of you up. In the words of Michelle Obama ‘Good relationships feel good. They feel right. They don't hurt’."

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