3 Secrets To A Long, Happy Marriage (From A Couple Married 80 Years)

Photo: CREATISTA | Shutterstock
older couple embracing

Married on January 14th, 1930, Mitchell and Mattie Atkins of West Philadelphia were honored by family and friends at an anniversary party in 2010 celebrating an incredibly rare 80 years of marriage together. At the time, Mr. and Mrs. Atkins joined a very-small-but extraordinary group of couples who have celebrated an 80-year wedding anniversary.

As of January 2022, Guinness World Records credited the longest-existing marriage in the United States to Eugene and Dolores Gladu, who were married on May 25, 1940. The longest recorded marriage, according to Guinness, was that of Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher, which lasted 86 years, 290 days before Herbert died in 2011. 

What are the secrets these amazing married couples could reveal? And is it still possible for love to last a lifetime?

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.

RELATED: 25 Experts Explain What Choices Make A Marriage Actually Work Long-Term

RELATED: 9 Scientifically Proven Signs Of A Happy, Healthy Marriage

Here are three secrets to a long-lasting, happy marriage, from a couple married 80 years:

1. Don’t deny the power of chemistry

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 is symbolized in art, song, literature, and movies such as "Cupid’s Arrow" and "Love Potion #9." This 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

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.

RELATED: 5 Signs You're In A Good Marriage That Will Last 'Til Death Do You Part

Appreciate each other every day

Long-term couples know instinctively the key to developing and maintaining a true connection: 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.

RELATED: The 50 Best Marriage Tips Of All Time, From 50 Marriage Experts

Seek help when you need it

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 from 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."

RELATED: 16 Things Couples That Actually Stay Together For Life Do Differently

Mary Kay Cocharo is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in West Los Angeles, California.

This article was originally published at Mary Kay Cocharo's website. Reprinted with permission from the author.