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Marriage tips: what a 70-year union and new study can teach couples

Being happily married takes work. Here’s some advice from a couple who’s been married almost 70 years, and University of Alberta researchers.
Being happily married takes work. Here’s some advice from a couple who’s been married almost 70 years, and University of Alberta researchers. Global News files

The backbone of one couple’s 67-year-long marriage: being positive.

“You go through times when you think everything might fall apart, but hang in there,” said Bonnie, the nearly-90-year-old wife of an American WWII vet, this week in an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit.

“Know that tomorrow everything will be better when there are problems.”

The grandmother of 47 grandchildren and great-grandchildren happened to identify one of three ingredients named in a new University of Alberta study as integral to a happy marriage.

Positivity comes in third, though, after compassion and humility.

READ MORE: Family therapist shares 8 tips for a happy and healthy relationship

“We were a bit surprised by the strength we found with humility and relationship quality. It seems to matter quite a bit actually,” said Adam Galovan, a family science professor and researcher.

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His team’s finding was based on phone interviews with more than 1,500 heterosexual individuals (800 wives and 713 husbands of various religions) who weren’t married to each other. They were all from the U.S., where Galovan lived before his job at the U of A.

Some of the questions posed included: How humble is your partner? Do they think of themselves too highly? Are they willing to accept when they make a mistake?

Participants were also asked how happy they are in their relationship. A correlation was then established.

‘Humility is thinking of other people’

“In relationships you like someone who pays attention to you and is focused on your needs and concerns,” said Galovan.

“Humility is thinking of other people. Not necessarily thinking less of yourself, but being able to accept correction [or influence].”

He gave the example of when your partner tells you “it’s time for bed.” A person who’s able to accept influence would say “ok,” rather than simply disagree.

In the study, humility mattered more to wives than husbands. Galovan thinks this might be because society expects females to be more responsive in general, so the trait in women may get taken for granted.

Men, on the other hand, are generally “socialized not to show weakness,” he says. “So them being a little open may be contrary to expectations.”

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‘Get outside yourself a little bit’

The key to humility, the researchers believe, is to look at your partner through a wider lens.

“When you’re out driving and someone cuts you off, you see other drivers as objects in your way [and] reduce them to a one-dimensional caricature.
“We often do that in our family relationships…If [our partner is] acting a little annoyed, we don’t take a step back and wonder what else could be going on.

“Maybe they had a bad day, maybe someone ripped into them at work.”

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It’s important to be able to get “outside yourself a little bit,” he stressed.

“Go down to the root issue.”

And ask yourself: “How is my partner seeing me? Am I being kind?”

WATCH: More advice for a happy marriage

When you show your partner that you care for them, Galovan believes all those communication skills relationship therapists teach couples (like “how to fight fairly”) will naturally flow from that.

As for Bonnie, she also credits the success of her almost seven-decade commitment to the other “c” word: compromise.

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“A marriage is not a contract, it’s a negotiation…You have to work at making a good home, it doesn’t just happen.”

READ MORE: ‘Flowers every Friday’: Couples reveal what’s behind their long marriages

Her husband has his own recipe for success.

“Listening to your spouse,” Warren said. “Oh, and good food.”

WATCH: Why old clichés like ‘happy wife, happy life’ might be hurting your marriage

Click to play video 'Why old clichés like ‘happy wife, happy life’ might be hurting your marriage' Why old clichés like ‘happy wife, happy life’ might be hurting your marriage
Why old clichés like ‘happy wife, happy life’ might be hurting your marriage – Feb 26, 2016