Relationship Advice From The Elderly: Friendship Is Important!


Too many people learn life’s valuable lessons too late. Many waste years getting it wrong and lament that they have so little time to get it right.

Enter an invaluable source of help, if you’re willing to listen: elderly people who have learned these lessons over time and can help guide younger generations.

The Cornell Legacy Project interviewed more than 1,000 older Americans from different economic, educational and occupational strata. And what they concluded was, well, what you may have read one or two times on this very blog:

“A satisfying marriage that lasts a lifetime is more likely to result when partners are fundamentally similar and share the same basic values and goals. Although romantic love initially brings most couples together, what keeps them together is an abiding friendship, an ability to communicate, a willingness to give and take, and a commitment to the institution of marriage as well as to each other.”

Read the New York Times piece about this study here, and read the life lessons from the elderly here.

Do you think that there’s some hard-won wisdom from someone who’s lived 70 years? Or do you think that their advice is passe and irrelevant if you’re under the age of 40?

Join our conversation (15 Comments).
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  1. 1
    Karl Pillemer

    Evan, thanks for sharing these ideas from my book! The “friendship is as important as love” theme came through strongly in our surveys of over 1200 people. My favorite quote on the topic is from Sharon, age 79: “Find a life partner based on intimacy. A good test is: ‘Is that someone you would want to play with in the playground if you both were 6 years old?’”

  2. 2

    This really touches my heart so much. When husband and wife become old they enjoy each others company a lot. What is written in the blog is really true and agree to it. Thanks for it.

  3. 3

    Evan, my parents are 75 & 80.   They will be celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary in March (and, yes, it’s a good marriage).   I think they have a lot of wisdom about relationships and I feel blessed to learn from them.

  4. 4

    There is nothing passe and irrelevant about it.   We all know that the super romantic passionate stages of a relationship are short lived in regards to the long haul.   Friendship absolutely IS the core of a lasting multi decades long relationship…no doubt about it.   I’m 40ish, not 70, but I strongly agree that this is true.

  5. 5

    I agree with the importance of friendship in an enduring marriage. But i also think it’s important to never take the romance for granted. Romance is, as the article states, what brings people together in the first place. I’ve heard those stories of elderly couples, where the husband brings flowers to his wife every Friday, for their entire lives. My own grandparents kept their love letters to each other in a shoe box in the closet. When they reached advanced age they took these letters, re-read them once more, and burned them in the fireplace. My grandmother explained that she and my grandfather didn’t want anyone else to find and read the letters after the two of them had passed away. This was a touching tribute to their romantic love, which they continued to nurture throughout a nearly 60 year marriage.  

  6. 6

    Funny you should post this article now. The past couple days I have been talking with an old friend of mine from many years ago. We have always been friends over the years, but now that we are both single (I’m in my mid 40’s, he in his early 50’s), we have been talking for hours every night. I have found that we want the same things out of life, enjoy the same type of activities, have the same family values, and we laugh with each other. I have been considering that maybe with the foundation of our “friendship” that maybe we could actually make a great couple. I think he has been having the same thoughts as well as in he keeps telling me how much he is enjoying my company. Also how smart and pretty he thinks I am.  

    My only concern is I have never felt that “attraction” to him. Although the past times we have gotten together either he or I was in a relationship, or just ending one.  

    Now the situation is different. I know that “animal attraction” when you first meet someone fades, and if you aren’t friends beyond the physical it doesn’t last.

    Let’s face it, if you build a house with out the foundation being strong, it will only stand so long. The same goes for relationships.   

  7. 7

    We can learn much from older people, but we mustn’t assume that every senior citizen is necessarily wise.   That being stated, I agree that friendship counts for a lot on a marriage.   My parents were well-educated, feisty and certainly not “simple & easy” types but they truly liked each other and worked hard to remain friends through their long, relatively happy union.   I learned much from their example and think one of the greatest gifts you’re giving your daughter, Evan, is a real-life, up-close demonstration of a marriage based on kindness and mutual respect.  

  8. 8

    I have to agree that friendship is one of the most important aspects of any good relationship.   My favorite quote from the article is “You are not responsible for all the things that happen to you, but you are completely in control of your attitude and your reactions to them.”     This attitude is exactly what I get from reading Evan’s blog!   Thanks Evan!!

  9. 9

    Totally agree with this – though I did have a “friendship” with my ex husband, there was a severe lack of intimacy.  (sex on average twice a year since and probably shouldn’t have married).  Had we maybe had that as well as the friendship it could’ve developed into a much deeper commitment than it had been and would’ve lasted longer than 14 years. I know the sex part goes away eventually but you really do have to have that to a strong extent in the beginning in order to develop a bond of trust and comunication and full on commitment so when that part of the relationship wanes, you’ll still feel that deeper link to one another.     Otherwise you’re just “roomies” in your 30’s and the  connection never develops fully enough into a bond that will  last into the later years.  

  10. 10

    I agree with Panda #9 – I was great friends with both my husbands, AND I felt a strong sexual attraction to them, however the sexual part was never strong on their side and ultimately this created sadness and frustration for me and  distance within the relationship. At the end of the day I am one whole person, and I can’t be “right up close” to a man emotionally and as a friend but “way over there” sexually. It just killed me, that we could have a great weekend together, laugh, share things, plant trees, play with our dog, cook together and then….no sex. To me it was heartbreaking. I think, top be honest, that the most important thing is that the relationship has to be coherent. In some ways, if we’d been less close emotionally then the lower amount of sex would have somehow made sense and been less painful.

    I think it takes more than one thing to make a successful marriage, and you can’t always compensate for a lack in one area with extra  stuff in another  . Its like a car – a great porche with leather seats but   no wheels just doesn’t work! Better a regular car with all the parts functional to a reasonable extent. So yes, friendship is important in a marriage but in itself it is not enough.

  11. 11
    Larry Goodman

    Evan, after the spark wears off you need some fuel to keep the fire burning.

    After the attraction , if you do not ADMIRE your mate for who they are it will never last. Age should bring on wisdom – yet many people never learn this simple fact .

    BTW super i-date presentation and congrats on the award. Larry  

  12. 12

    Seemed to work for my grandparents.
    From what I was told it was more their core values than friendship but they stayed together for 37 years until my grandfather died.
    And they also said that they had good communication.

  13. 13
    Two of Us Dating Service

    Ive always went to my Grandmother for advice about relationships, figure she might just of seen a thing or two in her time. But I totally agree that open communication is the key to a truly healthy relationship!!!

    Great article!!  

  14. 14

    I agree with Karl:  

    “Find a life partner based on intimacy. A good test is: ‘Is that someone you would want to play with in the playground if you both were 6 years old?’”

    So true, I work with older people and this is pretty much what the happy,  loving and successful couples display well into their nineties.  With the  primitive mating drive  slowing down companionship becomes   more important. Also, how the husband has treated his wife during those ‘animal drive’ years greatly impacts their companionship success or lack of   later, that’s what I observe through my work anyway.

  15. 15
    Mrs Happy

    From only a female point of view:
    One of the most memorable newspaper articles I’ve ever read was published a decade ago, and summarised about 9 women’s attitutes towards male partners, across the lifespan. Women from ages from about 18 to 90, were interviewed about what they thought was important in a partner. The younger girls/women said things like – good muscley body, nice car (it was actually funny reading what was most important to them); then women in their 30’s and 40’s said things like, good job, good provider, stable, good father.
    But as women got older they said, looking back on decades of marriage – the most important thing is not the man who gets more promotions or has more assets or a hot body, but this: find a man who is kind. A man who, when you are sick, gets you a cup of tea. Who holds the screaming baby to ease your burden. Who is not selfish. Who supports you emotionally, and thinks about your needs, and provides for them. Who is a nice person… because such a man will be nice to you, day in day out, for decades. The older women said they never fell out of love with such men, the simple acts of care kept the couple close.

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