“A good marriage is made up of a thousand small kindnesses,” – that’s from Trudy, who has been married for 35 years.

“Always find something to laugh about, “ says Dawn, married 32 years. “Have separate bathrooms,” says Connie, married for 44 years.

“Seek to do good for the other person,” says Dave, married for 32 years.

“Love is like a boomerang,” says Don, who has been married to his sweetheart Estelle for 50 years, “throw it at your spouse and you’ll find it coming right back at you.”

The news today from a Deakin University report that the first year of marriage was often the unhappiest didn’t really come as a surprise, did it?

There’s that enormous lead up to the big wedding day, the thousands and thousands of dollars spent, the months planning, the vows and speeches pored over for inordinate lengths of time – it’s a climax of celebration, from which the only way is …down?

The report’s lead author, Dr Melissa Weinberg, told smh.com.au she was suprised because “the perception is that newlywed couples should be the happiest, but that’s not the case.”

The honeymoon period, it seems, finishes at the end of the actual honeymoon.

The good news is that things improve in the second year of marriage, then (for women at least) they peak with happiness at the five year mark, then wedded bliss peaks again after the forty year mark.

That’s a long time between peaks. Forty years?

Which got us thinking about the secrets to a long and happy marriage. There are some immutable elements like mutual trust and respect, but how to achieve ongoing happiness in love can be a mystery.

A good clue might come from Gordon Livinsgton, a US psychotherapist and author who has spent 40 years listening to unhappy married couples in his practice. His definition of  true love is instructive: “You love someone when the importance of his or her needs and desires rises to the level of our own.”

What else makes a relationship work. Is it humour? The art of compromise and flexibility? A good sex life?

According to a University of Michigan study, “having enough space or privacy in a relationship is more important for a couples happiness than having a good sex life.”

Barbara Streisand concurs here, according to the Huffington Post, she recently said the secret of success in her marriage to James Brolin is the amount of time they spend apart – that their absences make the heart grow fonder.

But they’ve been married for a mere 14 years, which makes them seem like newlyweds next to this couple, below, who have been married for 72 years.

Selma and Kenny made a video for a grandchild’s wedding and gave their top five tips for a happy marriage which, surprisingly, were actually very practical. They include: make sure you have food in your fridge, always have a clean house, travel as much as you can, go to bed happy after fights.

What about you?

What are your tips for relationship success? Have you passed the magic peak of forty years? What would be your best marriage advice?




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  • Reply December 3, 2012


    This seems odd. Why would your first year of marriage be any different from the years before marriage? Most people cohabit before then, so you should already know their stance on the important things like whether to have kids or not, financial habits etc.

    And let’s not assume that everyone does the ” thousands and thousands of dollars spent, the months planning, the vows and speeches pored over for inordinate lengths of time”.
    I can’t imagine what would change if the boyfriend and I went to the registry tomorrow and said some words and were married. I think it’d sort of bond us more as a ‘team’ but it certainly wouldn’t change our personalities or views or anything.

    Being still ‘young’ at 29 I don’t know that anyone would take my relationship advice seriously, but nontheless I’d say communication is a huge important thing. If you can’t be honest with each other and talk about things like grownups, everything will be that much harder.
    Also being silly makes things more fun. The boyfriend and I had a giggle together when cleaning up dog poo together yesterday, of all things. Anyway it makes the crappy (ha!) jobs less of a chore and it can bond you.
    Do stuff for each other. Boyfriend got crafty and adjusted the ridiculous xmas collar I got for the cat that was a bit too small. Now I am impressed by his craftiness and the cat is stoked with his festive getup.
    I think just being considerate and mindful of each other goes a long way. I’d never take the boyfriend for granted, and vice versa. We thank each other for little things- he thanks me for making him tea, I thank him for stacking the dishwasher. It’s not hard to make someone feel appreciated and loved.

    Anyway I will see how we go after 40 years, married or otherwise 😉 I have high hopes though.

    • Reply December 3, 2012

      Lyndel Petersen

      Sami everything you say is true and I used to think the same as you. What difference is that little piece of paper going to make? Your “relationship advice” is spot on. The only thing that I disagree with is your statement: “why would your first year of marriage be any different to the years before your marriage?” Well it is. You may live together in perfect harmony, as you obviously are, for many years but there’s no true commitment to each other. Living together does not define commitment. I can share a house with any person and laugh over picking up dog poo, say thank you to them, and help them with chores. It doesn’t mean I’m necessarily committed to them.
      Marriage, true marriage, is a commitment. It’s there on paper. It’s real. When my husband and I were just dating we might have an argument and then there were options. Leave each other, calm down and move on. Now if we have an argument we work through a process as a team to further develop our relationship in a positive way. We do it together. We choose to stay together to fix things and to make our lives better because we are in each other’s lives. That’s what makes it a marriage. We are two parts and fantastic in our separateness but together we are unstoppable. We’re committed to developing this, for the rest of our lives with no one else but each other. So when a married couple truly and finally understand this, in their first year of marriage, it is confronting. It is overwhelming. A lot of expectations with your life path is suddenly opened and phew! It can take it out of a relationship. But then once you’re over the ‘hump’ in the road, then it’s onwards and forwards. At times with trepidation but it should always be with love. And it’s a love that gets stronger. I have been married for only 5 years. According to the article I’ve got 35 more years before I can be in bliss again! Ha! ha! They’ve got that wrong. Hubbie and I will work towards making it work. Working on it. My parents have been married for 50 years and it was not until I got married myself that I started t truly get it.
      So Sami, you are spot on. You’re at the beginning. I wish you every success over the next 40 years. It’s a journey that I’m sure you and your loved one will enjoy. It’s definitely a roller coaster ride and I wouldn’t live my life in any other way.

      • Reply December 3, 2012


        Because of my own personal experience I disagree about non-married couples not being as committed as those who are married. I have been with my partner for 30 years and we are very committed! Out of a circle of friends & family & acquaintances we are one of the very few surviving couples – most ended in divorce. “No true committment” is simply wrong in relation to my strong and enduring relationship. I am sure there are other people like me out there – think of same sex couples who have been together for years, or other defactos like myself – families who have lives and feel strongly committed.

    • Reply December 3, 2012


      Marriage makes a difference, I do not know how and I do not know why, it just does. It is quite mysterious. I have been married for over 30 years and do not feel qualified to give advice about marriage, but I will say this, I am often surprised that people can be courteous and well mannered in shops, in the workplace and at the kid’s school yet talk to their spouse like dirt. I hate seeing that, you are supposed to love this person, for goodness sake! I also cannot resist saying keep your sex life private and do not discuss it with girlfriends or mates and leave the “dumb husband”, “frigid wife” jokes to the sitcom writers.
      It is possible, also, to love someone and live with them for ever and still disagree about certain things, like politics. I read a woman on another website querying another woman’s admission that she and her husband had opposing political views. “How could you love someone who voted Liberal?” she asked, totally horrified.
      Ha Ha! I am fairly sure my husband and I cancel each other’s votes out every election.

  • Reply December 3, 2012


    I agree Vanessay, respect is just so important. I would say after 23 years, trust and respect are more important than love. You can’t expect your partner to make you happy, that’s not their job, but its lovely how happiness just comes and lands on your shoulder like a little bird when you least expect it!

  • Reply December 3, 2012


    We’ve only been married two years, but have been super happy the whole time. We have already faced some major challenges and sad losses together, but on the whole have really enjoyed our time together. If they were our unhappy years, then I’m looking forward to the future. My post wedding come down lasted about one day but this may be in proportion to how much money we spent on it (ie not much!)

  • Reply December 3, 2012


    I think it was Gottman who talked about the 5:1 ratio. five positive contacts with partner, one negative…bare minimum…better is ten to one. I feel it rings true fur us.

  • Reply December 3, 2012


    Once you have the bit of paper I suppose it’s very easy to take your partner for granted. Maybe that’s the reason.

    Have you noticed that a happily married couple always show respect for the other in public and in private. Respect between two people is everything and keeps the partnership in working order. Love really is a boomerang.

  • Reply December 3, 2012

    The Huntress

    Married for three years here and it has been a serious learning curve for me.

    I completely agree with the sentiment about having space and privacy in amarriage being more important than a good sex life. To my great unhappiness I no longer have a sex life with my husband for reasons only known to him. I have tried everything, I’ve asked why, I’ve backed off, I’ve tried again and now I’ve given up. I’ve had to conclude my marriage is more than just a sex life – my very close friends who are privvy to this knowledge ask why I don’t leave. My answer is simple – very few men have respected me for who I am and allowed my independant freedom the way my husband has. I treasure my independance and I have a great respect for his. I wouldn’t trade this for anything as I’ve not met a man yet who could offer me the same respect.

    It hasn’t been easy, but I didn’t marry to divorce at the drop of a hat. I miss being touched and treated like a woman and I really struggle to understand why this has happened (I don’t know how to say this nicely, but I’m always being asked out by nice men [disclaimer: I often wear leather gloves, which mean my wedding and engagement rings aren’t visible], so I figure I can’t be hideously unattractive), but as a wife it’s my duty to see it through – and who knows, maybe in 37 years I’ll have a sex life again :S

    Respect and trust your partner. Be the bigger person if need be and let things go. Tell them you admire them. Buy them a gift for no reason once in a while. Let them know you think of them. Always say thank-you and respect each others privacy. Love your partner openly, never make them assume you love them or leave them wondering.

  • Reply December 4, 2012

    Jayneen Sanders

    Respect: say please and thank you just as you would to any friend. Never take your partner for granted. And keep the chemistry alive Wink! Wink!

  • Reply December 4, 2012


    My daughter married a man who showed little respect for her publicly (or privately, as she informed me later). After 25 years, most of of it unhappy, and three children (now fortunately almost grown-up) who also were shown little respect or support from him, they are now legally separated. The separation was at her instigation, and he was highly indignant and combative, attempting to deprive her of as much as he possibly could. She is now in a pretty precarious position financially, but happier than I have seen her in a very long time. I would guess that mutual respect goes a long way in marriage.

  • Reply December 4, 2012

    Chantelle Dalgarno

    Perhaps the biggest issue for newlywed is the expectation that a marriage will miraculously fix the problems that may already be present in the relationship… I know I’ve seen that over and over with friends and family.

    “Oh, it’ll be different when we get married.”

    Um… It’s a piece of paper, not a counselling service. Getting married doesn’t fix anything – if anything it amplifies any issues that are already there.

    Just in response to Lyndal — marriage isn’t actually the be all and end all of commitment. The marriage part is easy to escape from (if the current divorce rates are anything to go by). A child together, a house together, and a business together? That’s a whole other world of commitment since the common-law marriage ‘defacto’ status came into effect.

    Children, not pretty certificates, are the biggest commitment you can make. You are agreeing to have to deal with the other person for the rest of your child’s life. Decades and decades and decades. Literally, til death do us part.

  • Reply December 4, 2012


    I’ve been married 40 years. The worst year was definitely the 1st, followed by the next 5. Many ups and downs since. Now things are great! We actually spend a lot of time apart which we both need. But he is my best friend and lover. Secret? I became more assertive in the relationship and stopped blaming him and both of us now can accept each other’s weaknesses without trying to change the other person. Basically we still love what we loved in each other when we married; but it sure took a long time to get rid of hurts and garbage that accumulated along the way.

  • Reply December 4, 2012

    Louise Smithers

    First Big Tip!
    Find a man…

  • Reply December 4, 2012


    Patience, a sense of humour, compromise.
    From someone who has been married (to the same man) since 1959.

  • Reply December 4, 2012


    Huntress, has your husband been to see a doctor about his lack of sexual interest? This can easily have a physical cause, yet many men do not realise this. They suffer lack of self esteem, their relationships either end or suffer as a result, yet the cause can be physical and can be treated.

    • Reply December 4, 2012

      The Huntress

      Thanks for your concern Marilyn. I don’t know if my husband has been to see a doctor about it, it’s not something he’s willing to talk about with me. He actually seems perfectly happy with the way things are, which confuses me even more. I have often wondered if it’s a psychological or physical problem, but he gets upset if I raise it, so I let it go now. I decided to focus on the things I DO have in my relationship (of which there are many) rather than those that I don’t have. I have put much careful consideration into the issue and came to the conclusion that there is so much I value in our relationship that I couldn’t bear to throw away, so I chose to live with it and not dwell on it so much. There are endless possibilities and scenarios that could be occuring, but I get exhausted thinking them over and now just enjoy the good parts of my relationship that I feel lucky to have.

  • Reply December 4, 2012

    Annie Also

    After 39 years;
    1 Considerate, kind, interactional and passionate sex.
    2 Always say please, thank you and sorry ( even if you are right)
    3 Talk things through and come to compromises on all decisions.
    4 Love the other person like they will die tomorrow. It will be returned in kind
    5 Laugh and talk and plan, wish and love and find joy together.
    6 When you feel the ‘feelings’ are waning; hang in there because you are in the middle of a change. When ‘those’ feelings come back ( and they will with work) it will be different, stronger, more mature and heralds in a new phase of the an exciting and continuing relationship.

    I do not agree with;
    ‘Time apart’. It is imperative that you never turn away from your partner…at all times turn TO, especially in times of turmoil, worry and upset and fragility. It is like with children; When children are at their most unlikable is when they need your love the most.
    (Abuse is never to be tolerated; ANY abuse; If it occurs =WALK)

  • Reply December 4, 2012


    Lyndel I see what you say, but we aren’t giving ourselves the option of breaking up either just because we aren’t married. I mean, we have a mortgage together so it’s not like we can cut and run if things get ‘too hard’. De facto couples have the same rigamaroles to go through as married couples, though perhaps I’m missing something?

    “We choose to stay together to fix things and to make our lives better because we are in each other’s lives”
    We choose the same thing, married or not 🙂 we made the pact to work hard at our relationship and stay in ‘the honeymoon period’ as long as possible, and it’s working. If we have problems we work them out. We don’t shout or be mean. We talk them through like grown ups. We see other relationships and wonder why they’re passive aggressive, or mean, or whatever, and feel thankful that we are solid as a rock.

    Anyway thank you, I hope if we get married we have 40+ years of continued awesomeness too! And if we don’t, I’m sure we will still be just as rad 😉

    vanessa y, I wonder the same thing. As soon as people are being mean I wonder why they’re together. I reckon my boyfriend is awesome and I’d shout it from the rooftops 🙂 If anyone said anything bad about him I would have a hard time holding back so for me to say anything bad would be utterly ridiculous. It’s definitely a sign of lack or respect if you’re bagging someone you should be close to. If you don’t have your partners back, then fix the relationship or bail.

    Annie Also I suspect that time apart usually refers to having your own interests/hobbies etc and spending time with friends, rather than shutting down emotionally or running from problems. Living in each others pockets would be draining after a while. Sometimes I am grateful for when boyfriend does night shift. It gives us some space to miss each other. On the flipside I feel terrible because night shift is not healthy so I worry about him.

    babillacat, 53 years! That is impressive, and inspiring 🙂

    Jenny I am so glad your daughter got away from him. Better late than never. Best of luck to her with her new happy future and kudos to her for having the strength to leave 🙂

  • Reply December 4, 2012


    I like the idea of a long marriage with your most staunch and peerless ally…

  • Reply December 4, 2012


    Did I say already I loved Lucille Ball , even though she was a married woman? We all have many loves in our lives, and this needs recognition in friendship and marriage.

  • Reply December 4, 2012


    If you name abuse~ walk. Trouble is some people do not get stuff which is~ what are your values?.

  • Reply December 4, 2012


    The video of that elderly couple is amazing! Toooo cute!

  • Reply December 4, 2012


    Agree. I love this video of an old married couple amplifying and compromising their conflicts…. anyway~ I still feel some things are sacrosanct~ like talking about how your sex with the beloved,is, or is not, enlivening your relationship~ which is why the older woman giggles in the film~ because she has breached a taboo. Times of plenty, and times of few, and for those who choose to make a life together-share with each other.

  • Reply December 4, 2012


    Respect,Communication,Love,Affection,Laughter,Fun & Patience……Married for 4 years together for 10 yrs and wouldn’t change a thing!!!

  • Reply December 4, 2012


    Some of my happiest times have been away from a partner, exploing new things to give back to us~

  • Reply December 4, 2012


    Buggered if I know around loss, and “hearing loss” ~ we lose our nomenclature~spelling~ I meant “exploring” for new and different etc….in travel etc….just “ride the wave”~ with, or without, someone close….good luck

  • Reply December 5, 2012


    after 48 year of marriage i feel qualified to make all sorts of statement. experience gives us so much insight however the reality is that every marriage is different. i was given once piece of advice and it has served me well. start your marriage as you intend it to go on.
    life is all about choices. i dont believe in mistakes. if you decide on a course of action which doesnt go as hoped then make another choice.
    dont dwell on the past – you cant change it. plan for tomorrow but live for today.
    above all show the same respect for your partner as you expect from them.
    give each space.
    i still thank my husband for taking me out for dinner.
    he still brings me flowers.
    now thats love.

  • Reply September 13, 2013


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