How can you possibly decide, out of millions of possible candidates, that a particular individual is the right mate for a lifetime?
I could only think of one group to ask: people who made the choice and stayed happily married for 50, 60, 70 years and more. My interviews with America's elders (described in more detail here) revealed three key questions you must ask to determine whether the person you are considering is actually the best match for you. And if you fail to ask them, the elders say, you have only yourself to blame if things don't work out.
So before things get too serious, be sure to pose these questions. If the answers are "no," it may be time to move on.
Question 1: Can We Talk?
Long-married people say the first question to ask is: Can you talk to this person about everything? Or are there "de-militarized zones" that are off-limits for your conversation as a couple? It may be okay if one partner declares a minor topic off-limits (reality shows or shoe sales, for example). But as a rule, your future partner simply must be someone you can talk to openly and without fear of being judged. Indeed, the most frequent source of "buyer's remorse" in the elders' marriages was finding that a spouse just wouldn't communicate.
Justin, age 85, told me:
A happy marriage is only going to happen if you sit and talk about things. You can't let them boil up inside you and then all of a sudden it blows up. You have to put the fire out when it first starts. So if something comes to mind and you feel like it's been bugging you, then you need talk it out. But too many times people just hold things back and never say anything. I'd recommend that young couples work on this right from the start. In fact, it's something you should learn when you're dating
According to our elders, the strong, silent type may be intriguing and attractive -- but rarely makes for a great marriage.
Question 2: Do We like Each Other's Family?
The elders don't mince words, and when it comes to future in-laws their advice is clear: If you don't like your prospective partner's family, think twice about marriage. Taking a close look at potential in-laws is an important safeguard against making the wrong choice. First, they say that your partner's family and how he or she interacts with them can provide important "diagnostic" information about him or her. Second, you will have a very long period of interacting with this "second family."
William, 86, put it bluntly:
Here's the situation. If one of the families is definitely against their child's choice of a mate, you can get married, no problem. But if the in-laws to be don't like the mate, they're going to be continually sniping at the person and eventually, unless the person you marry is awfully strong, the family is going to win. It can lead to divorce, it can lead to isolation of your marital unit, and it can just cause an untold amount of grief.
According to the elders, you are not just marrying a person -- you are marrying a family. So ask yourself honestly if you can live with problematic relatives for a lifetime.
Question 3: Can We Be Friends?
If you ask a long-married person: "What's the secret to a long, happy marriage such as yours?" you are almost sure to hear a variant of "I married my best friend." Similarly, from elders whose marriages did not succeed, I often heard: "Well, we were good lovers, but we never learned how to be friends." In addition to romance, you need to have some of the qualities of friendship: shared interests, the ability to empathize and commiserate, the capacity to comfortably hang out with one another.
Lydia, age 75, put it eloquently:
Be friends, like each other. It's hard when you're young and hot on one another to back off and say, "Do I like what is behind these hands and these body parts?" But that is the piece that doesn't wear out, that grows and deepens. The sexual aspect deepens too, in its own way, but it becomes less important and the friendship becomes more important as the years go by. It will be challenged by kids and hardships and losses of parents and changing interests and patterns, but an abiding friendship is at the base of a solid marriage.
Therefore, as a relationship is moving into a serious phase, ask each other: If we weren't in love, would we be friends? And if not, think twice about moving ahead.
There's no perfect method or algorithm for choosing a mate. But according to the elders, taking a step back and asking these three questions about your relationship can help you avoid a tragic mistake -- or move you toward a long, fulfilling life together.
One of my favorite romantic scenes in a motion picture happened when Tom Hanks and his co-star,
Kyra Sedgwick said it all when she told Good Housekeeping recently (via People) of her husband, Kevin Bacon: "He is so honorable. He is so ethically true. He has high moral standards, and he doesn't lie and he doesn't cheat -- and I find that sexy! ... I don't know how he does it, but he always makes me feel like I'm the most beautiful woman in the room -- the only girl in the room." We have a feeling Kevin thinks his wife is the best thing that's ever happened to him, too. We hope they enjoy their 25th anniversary on September 4!
ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer has kept husband, comedy legend Mike Nichols, informed on international news and in return, her husband obviously knows how to work her funny bone. Nichols told Vanity Fair in a recent interview that he found the love of his life with Diane, his fourth wife. They celebrate 25 years on April 29, and we're sure the next 25 years will just breeze by for these two. May you both laugh your way to that Golden Anniversary!
Michael J. Fox and his future wife, actress Tracy Pollan, first met each other on the set of Family Ties, where she portrayed Ellen Reed. Who will ever forget that romantic dance they shared to the tune of "At This Moment"? Obviously every moment they've shared together for the past 25 years has been precious. The couple, who were married on July 16, 1988, have four children. Now that's some powerful family ties!
These two lovebirds have survived many cold winters way up there in Alaska in addition to the political heat they endured when the first female Governor of Alaska decided to take a Big Gulp and run for Vice President of the United States. Politics aside, we do admire them for taking the high road in their family life, raising the bar when it comes to celebrating their precious special-needs son and keeping their family together given the glass house they've lived in for a few years. Happy 25th Anniversary! May you celebrate many more.
British model Twiggy, who made a fashion statement with her short cropped hairstyle, became a household name in the mid '60s when she landed on high-profile magazine covers including Vogue and Newsweek, breaking out as one of the first teenage supermodels. Her first marriage ended with the sudden death of her husband due to a heart attack. She married second husband Leigh Lawson in 1988; the couple will have been happily married for 25 years this year!
Tony Award winner, Patti LuPone, who played Lady Bird Johnson in the TV movie, LBJ: The Early Years, met cameraman Matthew Johnson on set in 1987. The two were married on December 12, 1988 on the stage of the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center. Best wishes go out to the Evita actress and her husband!
Wayne Rogers, who is best known for playing Trapper John McIntyre on the CBS television series M*A*S*H, was married for 23 years to his first wife. He's on a roll with second wife Amy Hirsh Rogers, married for 25 years and counting. We're more shocked that Rogers turns 80 this year! What? Not possible!
Corbin Bernsen may have played the skillful divorce attorney Arnold Becker on the NBC drama series L.A. Law, but he obviously doesn't need to consult a real divorce expert when it comes to his own marriage. The actor has been happily wed to British actress Amanda Pays since 1988. The delightful couple have four children and 8,000 snow globes. (Would we make that up?)
Paul Reiser delivered one of the funniest ad libs of all time on a sitcom (Mad About You). Walking into his living room, his dog was on the couch licking his private parts, Reiser looked over at him and said, "If I could do that, I wouldn't need a wife." Ta-dum! In his personal life, the actor's wife has been doing something right. He and Paula Ravets celebrate 25 years of marital bliss this year.
Supermodel Kathy Ireland, who Forbes magazine "nicknamed 'Supermogul' for her tremendous success as a designer and entrepreneur," has been married half of her life. At 50, she has logged 25 years of marriage to husband Dr. Greg Olsen, an ER surgeon and commercial fisherman. The couple have three children.
Former professional hockey player Wayne Gretzky, who played for 20 seasons in the National Hockey League, married actress Janet Jones on July 17, 1988 in a ceremony so grand the Canadian press called it "The Royal Wedding."
Ah, Potsie, we couldn't be more thrilled that you and your lovely wife have been creating your own Happy Days for the past 25 years. Williams "lives in Malibu, CA with his wife Jackie Gerken (a television producer and a former vice president of production for Dino De Laurentiis) and his daughter Hannah Lily who was born in 1989. Trivia: He is divorced from first wife Lorrie Mahaffey, who played his girlfriend Jennifer on Happy Days.
Two-time Tony award winning Broadway actress and former SNL alum, Christine Ebersole, has been married twice. After her five-year union with actor Peter Bergman went south (1976 - 1981), she regrouped and married Bill Moloney in 1988. Ebersole, who describes her family as the "new normal," adopted three children with her husband: "Mae-Mae is from China, Aron is Chinese and Filipino and Elijah is African-American," told the Trentonian newspaper.
Actor Treat Williams met Pam Van Sant while she was waitressing in a New York restaurant. We don't know what he ordered, but the food must have been really good. Twenty-five years and two children later, we're guessing they take turns in the kitchen now. Congrats to these two who are living the good life and most likely keep their fast food to a minimum.
We doubt that 30 million people watched General Hospital's Genie Francis marry her real-life husband, actor/director Jonathan Frankes on May 28, 1988. Anthony Geary and Genie Francis -- aka Luke and Laura -- pulled in huge numbers when they wed on the popular soap opera, which is celebrating 50 years on the air this year. Congratulations to the Emmy winner and her husband for making their own fairytale come true.
There may have been a "bridge over troubled water" in singer Art Garfunkel's first marriage (he claimed his first marriage was turbulent and ended bitterly), but he hit pay dirt with second wife Kim Cermak. Garfunkel met former model Kathryn "Kim" Cermak while filming the 1986 film Good to Go. They married on September 18, 1988 and have two children. Here's to you, Mrs. Garfunkel!
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