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10 Secrets To Staying Happily Married For 50 Years

Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall
Written by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall

Not all marriages have a fairy tale ending, but last year my husband, Rob, and I proudly celebrated our Golden Wedding: 50 years of wedded bliss — well, to be honest I can’t say every moment has been blissful! Like all marriages, it’s sometimes been a bumpy ride, but through the decades it really has got better and better. So it’s something to shout about.

My book, Happily Ever After, is both a celebration and a lighthearted survival guide. It distills stories and advice from couples of all ages, and quotes comments on marriage by authors as diverse as Charles Dickens and Groucho Marx.

10 Secrets To Staying Happily Married For 50 Years

Ten golden rules for having a long and happy marriage:

1. Face the world together.

The most fulfilling relationships occur when a couple stand back to back, facing outwards, not when, face to face, they're so absorbed in each other that they exclude all others.

2. Don’t think — like Adelaide in Guys and Dolls — that you can "Marry the man today and change his ways tomorrow." 

It won’t work. And anyway, would you want it to? If you succeeded in molding your partner into your ideal, chances are you’d end up wishing you still had the old, imperfect model you fell in love with.

3. Don’t let trivial things become big issues. 

It’s often the trivia of everyday life, petty irritations as well as small pleasures, that determine whether a marriage is a success. When you argue, be generous. If you're in the wrong, give in gracefully.

4. Don't get distressed if you think you've made a mistake.

You shouldn't be surprised if, sometime early in your marriage, you wake up in the night and think, "Oh my God, have I made a hideous mistake?’ The answer is no. You're simply making the transition from the heightened, feverish emotions of being madly in love to the long-term business of simply loving each other, warts and all.

5. When children come along, get family and friends to help out. 

After our two were born (just 13 months apart) they had our total attention and we missed out on quality time together. Our marriage might not have survived if parents and in-laws hadn’t volunteered for childcare. Most grandparents love to be involved — if they don’t volunteer, do ask them.

6. Keep friendships in good repair. 

When you’re stuck indoors with a couple of toddlers, a moan on the phone to a friend can stop you taking it out on your partner when he or she gets home.

7. “Do not adultery commit / Advantage rarely comes of it." -Arthur Hugh Clough 1819-1861

Even in the happiest marriages, an urge for extramarital adventure may occur. If you make it past the seven-year itch, it may hit at 14 or even 21 years. If tempted to stray, recognize the urge for what it is: a temporary itch, not to be scratched. If your partner strays, treat it as human frailty. It has nothing to do with your rock-solid marriage.

8. Remember that even the happiest marriage can be at risk when you reach retirement age.

Partners who have had busy and rewarding working lives may find, when they're together day in day out, that mannerisms formerly hardly noticed become unbearably irritating, and bickering replaces conversation. If you miss the buzz of a work environment, return part-time to that world, perhaps in a voluntary job. If you always wanted to paint or learn Bridge, tap-dancing or yoga, now is the time to start.

9. Be polite.

It may seem old-fashioned and persnickety, but good manners ( “Please”, “Thank you” and general consideration for each other) really do make a difference.

10. Laugh together. 

Now we have reached the sunlit uplands, I realize that the sometimes rocky path has been smoothed by laughter shared with family and friends, and private jokes between the two of us. In company, we can catch each other’s eye in a way that’s invisible to others. When alone, we often know what the other is about to say before they speak, and smile when we say the same thing in chorus. It’s the laughter, more than anything, that's made it all worth while.

Finally, if I were limited to just one rule, I would quote the poet Ogden Nash:

"To keep your marriage brimming, With love in the loving cup,

Whenever you're wrong, admit it; Whenever you're right, shut up."

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