Dear Amy:

I read with interest letters in recent columns in which readers have offered prescriptions for a successful marriage.

Over the past six years in Cornell University’s Legacy Project, we’ve collected advice on living from more than 1,200 Americans (most age 70 or older).

I thought your readers would be interested in the top five tips these “wisest Americans” have for people striving for a long and happy marriage:

1. Marry someone a lot like you: Similarity in core values in particular is the key to a happy marriage. And forget about changing someone after marriage; the elders say it just doesn’t work.

2. Friendship is as important as romantic love: Heart-thumping passion has to undergo a metamorphosis in lifelong relationships. Marry someone for whom you feel deep friendship as well as love.

3. Don’t keep score: Don’t take the attitude that marriage must always be a 50-50 proposition; you can’t get out exactly what you put in. The key to success is having both partners try to give more than they get out of the relationship.

4. Talk to each other: Marriage to the strong, silent type can be deadly to a relationship. Long-term married partners are talkers (at least to one another, and about things that count).

5. Don’t just commit to your partner, commit to marriage itself: Make a commitment to the institution of marriage and take it seriously. Seeing the marriage as bigger than the immediate needs of each partner helps people work together to overcome inevitable rough patches.

Many respondents in our surveys had been married 40, 50 and even 60 or more years. They’ve experienced all the ups and downs marriage brings, so their advice is worth listening to!

Karl Pillemer, Cornell University

I am fascinated by this research, which is collected in the book “30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice From the Wisest Americans” (Hudson Street Press, 2011). I was inspired by both the wisdom and the practical advice offered by people who have truly “been there.”

So often these elders reflected on relationships in their lives that had soured over long-forgotten slights; those people who were the happiest also seemed to have the most balanced and happiest relationships. Simple values such as being kind, forgiving people and being a good friend ranked very high as lifelong values for these older people.

On Valentine’s Day we celebrate the fantasy of romantic love. Real romance can sometimes be messy or difficult, but it endures.

Dear Amy:

More on what it takes to have a long-term successful relationship:

My wife and I have been married more than 40 years. I fell in love with her on our first date. Your observation, “Falling in love is easy. Staying in love is a process that takes a long time to achieve,” is so true.

There is no magic formula to determine which types of people will work out together. My wife and I were not “perfect for each other.” In fact, I did not meet one of her predetermined standards. There is no one right person in the world. There is no relationship formula that works for every couple.

The whole idea is finding your own way to stay in love. Commitment to your vows is a good place to start. Augmenting that commitment to make the marriage fun/good is the process.


Thank you for the wisdom to “find your own way to stay in love.”

Dear Amy:

I’d like to offer a shoutout to online dating as a way to meet the right person.

I don’t know about soul mates and the like, but I have been single for many years and I have met people in all the usual ways. I have had various romantic relationships of varying duration, and I’ve made my share of mistakes.

What I realize in retrospect is that I was learning as I was going. When I decided to try online matching, I already knew some of my must-haves and can’t-stands, and I was able to make much better choices. Bottom line: We’re getting married this spring, and I couldn’t be happier.

Happy Future Groom

Congratulations to both of you! Love is grand, and so worth the wait!

Write to Amy Dickinson at or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2012 by the Chicago Tribune

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