At a recent wedding reception we met a delightful couple who had just celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary.They were in their eighties, but you could have fooled us! Articulate. Charming. And the way they smiled at each other was more like the bridal pair than an older married couple. They had just finished reading our book, The Second Half of Marriage. We were really impressed — especially when they said they were still learning about each other and how to please one another! We looked at each other and without saying a word realized we had discovered new marriage mentors.

Actually, for years we have been influenced by the writings and friendship of Drs. David and Vera Mace. The Maces initiated the marriage enrichment movement in Protestant churches, along with Father Calvo, who started Marriage Encounter. From their experience as behavioral scientists, marriage counselors, and educators, the Maces realized that by the time those with troubled marriages seek help, it is often too late. So on their fortieth wedding anniversary, they started the Association of Couples in Marriage Enrichment, an international organization for the advancement of marriage enrichment.

We’ll never forget the first time we met the Maces. We were participating in a training conference in Black Mountain, North Carolina. The first evening we ate dinner with David and Vera. We immediately observed a twinkle in their eyes as they looked at each other. The spark in their relationship was contagious and before the conference was over we both agreed that we had found a living model of what we wanted for our marriage.

Do you know such a couple? If not, our best advice is, look around for one! If you want to have a long, happy marriage look around for other couples who have gone before you and built a successful, long-term relationship. And when a couple who has been married happily for fifty-plus years talks, listen!

Dear Abby helps us do that with a list of Ten Rules for a Happy Marriage from a couple who reached their 50th anniversary and successfully made their marriage a promise for life. See how many of these are rules you live by:

  1. Never both be angry at the same time.
  2. Never yell at each other unless the house is on fire.
  3. If one of you has to win an argument, let it be your mate.
  4. If you must criticize, do it lovingly.
  5. Never bring up mistakes of the past.
  6. Neglect the whole world rather than each other.
  7. Never go to sleep with an argument unsettled.
  8. At least once every day say a kind or complimentary word to your life partner.
  9. When you have done something wrong, admit it and ask for forgiveness.
  10. Remember it takes two to make a quarrel.

Someone else said the difference between a successful marriage and an unsuccessful one is leaving just a few things unsaid each day. So we close this Marriage Builder with the sage advice from Odgen Nash:

“To keep love brimming in the loving cup, When you’re wrong admit it and when you’re right shut up!”

Written by Claudia and David Arp, MSW

David and Claudia Arp, MSW, founders of Marriage Alive Seminars, are marriage educators, columnists and authors of numerous books and small group video curriculum including “The Second Half of Marriage and 10 Great Dates” (Zondervan). You can visit their website: www.marriagealive.com