If you want to learn from “the best”, turn to the experts in marital relationships, those who have been married for decades. While some long-term marriages are happy, and some are not, there are consistent themes in the ways of interacting between happy couples. Essential characteristics that come up include teamwork, partnership and respect.
This is a list of key ideas that I recorded while reading the book. These notes include direct quotes from the book, and occasionally, my thoughts and observations.
These lessons were collected from many couples – some happily married, some widowed and divorced, some cohabiting in same-sex unions.
How do you know you’ve found the one? Expert agree: “You don’t”. Yet, there are many things you can do to “even the odds” – look for someone with similar values and sense of humour.
Watch for warning signs: 1. No one likes your partner, 2. Explosive and disproportionate anger, 3. Your partner lacks control over alcohol.
Spending time together in challenging and unusual situations can be a great way to check compatibility – e.g. travel. Watching how someone plays games can tell you a lot about them as well. It’s also a great sign if you find the same things funny.
Whether or not you are talker, learn to communicate. Even the introverted non-talkers agree on this point. No one is a mind reader. How to overcome this assumption? Ask until you understand.
The importance of being polite, and being nice to each other cannot be overstated. Manners are not just for the theatre.
Food! Watch your hunger cues. Are you especially crabby, because you are hungry? Sometimes, the best resolution strategy is to make your partner a snack.
Big danger signs: 1. violence – one is more than enough, 2. your partner is controlling, and 3. your partner demeans you.
In great communication, it can be helpful to set up ground rules for discussion, and even to write to each other – for especially difficult topics.
Kids or no kids, put your marriage first. This may seem counterintuitive based on what society tells you, but this is better for the children too. Especially as the average lifespan is increasing, and you may have decades together once kids grow up and leave the house.
When it comes to in-laws, your loyalty is to your spouse. Eliminate politics from discussion, and move away if necessary.
Household chores – play to your strengths: assign a specific task to the person who is best suited for it. But, once assigned, allow the person to do that task with minimum interference. Do not micromanage.
Get out of debt. Stay out of debt. Hold a monthly meeting for the most contentious topics (like debt).
Think small and positive. Life is not made up of grand gestures. Presents on someone’s birthday are expected. Little presents for no reason are that much more meaningful. Surprise your partner.
Do your partner’s chores once in a while. Do not keep score, rather offer small acts of kindness.
First and foremost, a successful marriage is a friendship.
Avoid the “middle-aged blur” – the tendency to forget to have fun, and allowing the time between your 30s and your 50s to just blur together. Friends have fun together.
Do not go to bed angry – do not hold grudges. In other words, do not let fights go on for a long time. Communicate, take a break if necessary, but resolve things one way or another before bedtime, even if resolving means “let’s pick this up in the morning, meanwhile, I love you!”.
“Fight number 17” – that fight you keep having. All fights in a way can be distilled into one. Learn how to have that fight, how to really have it, and then be done with it, and get on with whatever you were doing.
Get help. It’s astounding how many of these older couples mentioned professional help in their advice. “Do not separate or divorce before you have made a genuine and wholehearted attempt at marriage counselling”.
Look sharp for your partner. Appearance matters. Travel together – it’s one of the best ways for keeping relationship lively.
Embrace change. Marriage possesses a fluid quality to it – change is inevitable. Focus on the “process of the married life. It’s not a product. It’s a beginning and you don’t know the end”. Go on dates.
Think like an expert.
Respect each other. Pay attention to how you say things (tone matters). Listen, and SHOW that you listen.
Be a team. Marriage is a team operation. Think military mission, think athletic team. When there is a problem in marriage, “you” are not the one with a problem, nor is your partner. “We” have a problem.
Life is short. Make time. Disconnect from electronic devices when you are away from work. Cell phones and laptops are omnipresent, but even though that’s the way things are, it doesn’t make them right, or the right way to live.
Lighten up. Most things we fight about are not actually worth fighting about. Once in a while, do the unexpected.
Getting married based on a plan to change your partner is a terrible mistake. “What you see is what you get. And even after fifteen or fifty years, it’s going to be the same. You might still nag about the same thing, but you didn’t change it”. These are strong statements in our project-oriented DIY culture, but it holds true.
People change. But YOU cannot change them.
Treat marriage as a lifelong commitment. Marriage as a “discipline”. It is a lifelong process, where you do not “arrive”, but rather spend your life mastering the discipline.
Buy The Book: 30 Lessons For Loving
*Books are my weakness, yet I strive to own less, rather than more. I have long been looking for a way to capture main ideas from the books I read without keeping the books themselves. My gratitude goes to Derek Sivers and James Clear for coming up with clean and straightforward formats for book summaries. My approach represents a blend of both.