What's their secret?
The latest in a number of marriages highlighted in the news over the past couple of years tell the remarkable story of Mitchell and Mattie Atkins of West Philadelphia.
Married on January 14th, 1930, they were honored by family and friends at an anniversary party celebrating an incredibly rare 80 years of marriage together. Mr. and Mrs. Atkins join a very-small-but extraordinary group of couples who have celebrated an 80-year wedding anniversary.
What are the secrets these amazing unions hold for us? And is it still possible for love to last a lifetime?
Bill and Marie Decaro held the distinction of being the longest married couple in America on June 19th, 2009 when they celebrated their 80th wedding anniversary. When interviewed, they both said that laughter helps make every day special.
As does good communication, it appears. "We don’t believe in getting mad at each other, we express ourselves, but that’s the extent of it," Mr. Decaro said.
In Britain, Walter and Beatrice Postings, married on March 27th, 1929, related the following in an interview at their anniversary party: "It’s all about give and take."
Mrs. Postings is even more succinct saying, "I just love him and that’s it." They still hold hands on their frequent walks and when enjoying each other’s company in the lounge at the residence home in which they live.
Is love destined to fade? Clearly, the answer is no. But there are things we can learn from those who have formed such a deep and lasting connection.
Mr. Atkins reveals many of the "secrets" on how to have a long-lasting marriage that we as therapists know and impart to our clients. Let me share three of the most important with you now:
1. Don’t deny the power of chemistry.
"She was the prettiest thing in the whole world," said Mr. Atkins, 97. "And she’s still the loveliest... I fell for her right away, the first time I saw her. I liked the way she dressed and her hair. She was active. She was energetic."
Ah, the power of attraction is chemistry. It sets the relationship in motion and as Mr. Atkins so movingly relates, it can last a lifetime!
Romantic love, symbolized in art, song, literature, and movies such as "Cupid’s Arrow" and "Love Potion #9", is actually chemistry between lovers.
Endorphins, the "feel good" hormones, are responsible for that first rush of excitement and pleasure. Known as the romantic love stage, this is the initial time chemistry is felt between the couple.
Once the relationship deepens, oxytocin, a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter, known as the "cuddle hormone" is released helping form a bond and increased level of attachment to one another.
Derived from the Greek for "swift birth", oxytocin was most commonly known for its effect in three areas:
- the stimulation of breast milk
- the stimulation of uterine contractions during childbirth
- maternal bonding
In fact, recent research shows that oxytocin has a great deal of effect on our social behavior as well.
Produced by both males and females, oxytocin has the added benefit of producing feelings of security and contentment. It’s responsible for our feelings of calm and connection with our lover and is key to bonding.
Interestingly, oxytocin is unique in that the more that is released, the better the feelings and feedback, and these feelings in turn release more oxytocin.
So, is there a natural ebb and flow to romantic love? Well, with every positive, a negative is possible. Research also shows us that acute stress inhibits the release of oxytocin and does affect various feelings like empathy, trust, and generosity, threatening the bond we’ve developed.
However, this awareness provides us with the opportunity to stave off stress, and further deepen our bond because the theory is, once oxytocin is released, one need only see one’s partner to release more oxytocin.
Its release is responsible for that warm feeling you get, just seeing your partner walk toward you with his or her special smile and gaze meant especially for you. Thus, the cycle is set in motion.
As more oxytocin is released, feelings become more intense and subsequently more oxytocin is released and so on until the bonding deepens!
2. Appreciate each other every. single. day.
Every time Mr. Atkins saw his wife, he had a present for her. And every Friday, a florist delivered a dozen rosebuds to her.
"You have to have a habit of doing things like that," Mr. Atkins explains.
Mr. Atkins knew instinctively the key to developing and maintaining a true connection with his beloved wife Mattie: that couples should appreciate each other, every single day.
Along with actions such as establishing a regular date night for just the two of you, provide positive, verbal appreciation to your partner daily. A particularly effective way to show this is by saying, "I appreciate when you ______ because it makes me feel ______.
Take the time to thoughtfully consider how you would fill in the sentence so that it truly expresses the uniqueness of your partner and his or her place in your life and relationship.
3. Seek help when necessary.
Romantic love does ebb and flow but as we see, using what we know of chemistry and its role in our feelings of bonding and connection, it’s in our control to help it flow the way that we want.
Keeping the romance within a relationship isn’t always simple; we’re all pulled in a dozen different directions each day.
It is possible though to learn to affair-proof your marriage, learn communications skills, develop tools to resolve conflict, create intimacy and passion, and much more. (A tip: if you find yourself attracted to someone else, consider it a wake-up call!)
And if you’re just starting out on the fantastic journey that’s marriage, consider pre-marital therapy. A wedding is exciting, no doubt, but it’s also a time ripe for conflict.
As a wedding present to yourselves, seek help with a therapist specializing in pre-marital therapy who can help you with complex relationship issues like lifestyle expectations, personal issues and habits, problem-solving, religion and values, sexuality, finances, and more.
Lastly, no matter whether you’ve been married a month, a year, or a decade, keep in mind perhaps the most eloquent words spoken by Mattie at the end of their anniversary party: "Love, love, love each other. It’s beautiful — beautiful to be old and still be in love at our age."
This article was originally published at Mary Kay Cocharo . Reprinted with permission from the author.