What stops your eye when you see a photograph in the obituaries? Perhaps the image of a child or young person will make you wonder. Maybe a faintly familiar face will cause you to investigate. Perhaps a radiant smile framed by hair and clothing from another era will carry you back in time.
Reading the obituaries can lead us to reflect on our own mortality and evaluate how we're spending our allotment of years.
Their hair and dress suggested the photos were taken in the 1940s or early 1950s. They were both lovely women, captured in photos at the prime of their lives. Both were born in 1928, making them 82 years old when they died. They passed away within a day of each other in December 2010.
As I scanned details of their lives what really struck me were their 50- and 60-year marriages to their husbands. Hidden somewhere within the six brief paragraphs that summed up their lives I sensed there were two endearing love stories.
I believe everyone is searching for a love story of their own -- one that can withstand the test of time and beat the odds, as these women and their husbands did. Unfortunately, the odds seem to be increasing against married couples in the United States.
What are the odds?
According to the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology, here is one breakdown of divorce rates in the U.S.:
~ 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce.
~ 67 percent of second marriages end in divorce.
~ 74 percent of third marriages end in divorce.
~ The age group with the highest divorce rate is 20 to 24 years old, which averages at about 38 percent.
So what's the secret to a long-lasting love story? How can we beat these odds and have something more at the end of our lives than six paragraphs of careers or diplomas?
Here are 7 tips I received from couples married 50 years or longer:
1. Going to bed mad is OK sometimes
Contrary to an old adage, it's OK to go to bed when you are mad at each other. Cooler, clearer heads may prevail in the morning and the worst time to discuss marriage issues is when you are both tired. If it's late, sincerely agree to give each other a fresh start in the morning.
2. Be friends and lovers
Romance, passion and intimacy are wonderful, but often what makes a lasting love affair is the ability to be good friends. The simple kindness of a true friend is often the most powerful and enduring medicine. Don't have a close friend of the opposite sex. Your spouse should be your best friend, and they should never have to wonder for a moment if that's true.
3. You don't always have to be right
Sometimes it's better to get along than to be right. Pause and measure the need and intent of an imminent response. You may discover that discarding it maintains peace, reduces pride and cultivates respect.
"Often the difference between a successful marriage and a mediocre one consists of leaving about three or four things a day unsaid." -- Harlan Miller
4. Be courteous
Be on time, and be where you are supposed to be. Make the bed or do the dishes when it's not expected. Place a small note of endearment where your spouse will find it a pleasant surprise. Look around every day and notice the things that the other has done for you or for your home.
5. Be great forgivers
Many a small matter has been allowed to erode a marriage because of pride.
"A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers." -- Ruth Bell Graham
6. It's OK to not have everything in common
Common interests can be beneficial in marriage but don't allow an old adage to be an anchor. Differences can also be good. Allow each other to enjoy and share interests.
"What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility." -George Levinger
7. Build a family together
The most successful love stories are almost always couples that have children. Sociologists believe that childlessness is a common cause of divorce, leading to loneliness and weariness. In the United States, at least 66 percent of all divorced couples are childless. Families are the glue that can strengthen marriages and society.
I welcome your tips for a lasting love affair. Please feel free to share the best advice you have ever received, or what you have learned from your years of loving and being loved.