The Secret to a Long and Happy Marriage? Here’s My Top Tip!
The good news is we are still married!
I say this as a response to the two people I overheard at our wedding. The one remarked, “It’ll never last; they are too young,” the other responded, “I give it five years.”
Well, today is our 38th wedding anniversary, so the good news is we beat their prediction by 33 years!
We were 17 and 19 when we met at university—so young!—and married five years later on March 19th, 1983. He had just turned 24, and I was 21, three months short of my 22nd birthday—so young!
Looking back to that time—another century, another continent—I wish I could say we had thought it all out. I wish I could tell my now-grown children that we had long, deep discussions about raising a family, finances, careers, and so on, but we didn’t. We knew we wanted to be together and didn’t see the point in waiting. The only thing we knew for sure was that we didn’t want children until we were in our 30’s.
Over the years, people have asked me what’s the secret to a long and happy marriage. I usually answer with the well-known elements: love, commitment, respect, trust, communication, not forgetting having a sense of humor and the willingness to compromise.
However, when I think back, what worked for us—and still works for us—is a far less romantic element; in fact, it could come straight from The First Time Manager’s Handbook.
My advice to couple’s thinking about marriage would be: look for a good teammate.
From the time we met through the rollercoaster of life, we have functioned as a team. We work well together and even enjoy the process of collaborating on “projects.” (Projects could be anything from building a new home to moving across the world, to raising children, to planning a vacation.)
I’ve noticed that many of the challenges we have faced (some by choice, some forced upon us) were successfully navigated because we worked together as a team. Regardless of the load we are carrying, we always pull in the same direction.
What makes for a highly effective team?
Clear goals: Even at the ages of 17 and 19, our vision for how we hoped our lives would unfold aligned. When we want to tackle something new or need to change something, our idea of how to get there is in sync. We may discuss and debate, there may be compromising, but then we set a goal and stick to it.
Clear roles: we seem to fall into roles that suit our skills and temperaments. As we have different skill sets, these roles are usually complementary. The role of leader changes with each project, but we stick to what we each do well. And, more importantly, we trust that the other person will fulfill their duties.
A love of problem-solving: we are both “puzzlers,” we enjoy solving problems. Our approach may be very different, but when confronting a problem, we focus on finding a solution and don’t get bogged down in the why-did-this-happen aspects? The challenge becomes our target, and we tackle it shoulder to shoulder.
Bonding is key: anyone who has ever been in a business team has had some experience of team-building. Escape rooms, cooking classes, and obstacle courses are all designed to build bonds between team members. This is right in our wheelhouse. We both love novelty! New restaurants, new hobbies, new places to visit, we are always eager to take on new experiences together. The mere act of sharing new experiences, and learning something new together, deepens the bond.
Time spent together: effective business teams grow stronger when they spend time together. When groups of people only overlap for a few hours a month, they tend to be less connected to the other members. (Think how people are often closer to their work colleagues than they are to a distant relative.) Not surprisingly, given our 40+ year history, we enjoy spending time together, but we have consciously made the effort to spend time only with each other. Through the child-rearing years, we would make time to connect, to sit, and listen. Girlfriend groups, couples’ dinners, club outings all enrich our lives, but we make time just to be the two of us.
Eager to embrace change: this might be the real secret sauce. In business, the highest performing teams are those that embrace change. They don’t waste time looking back, they accept change as inevitable, and they embrace it as an opportunity for growth. We both accept change is unavoidable, and we enjoy the blast of fresh air it brings.
Over the last decades, I trust we have set a good example for our children, just as we had great role models in our parents. My husband’s mum and dad were married for 60 years before my father-in-law passed away. My own parents were married 64 years before my dad died.
So, on this day, our 38th wedding anniversary, my secret to a long and happy marriage is this: look for a teammate. With the right person by your side, you can handle anything.