On the occasion of their 40th wedding anniversary, Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas co-authored What Makes a Marriage Last: 40 Celebrated Couples Share with Us the Secrets of a Happy Life. It’s a charming book filled with stories and commentary that’s worthwhile reading for anyone considering the matrimonial adventure… and for those of us in the thick of it.
Here are themes that found resonance throughout the book:
The initial spark of attraction finds durability in a shared outlook, shared values, and friendship. Each partner shows up emotionally available and provides the space where truth, trust, respect, decency, loyalty, and intimacy flourish.
“Looks fade, abilities come and go. So does money. But the character of a person is what you hitch your wagon to.” – Bryan Cranston, actor, director, producer, and screenwriter
“I don’t trust anybody more than I trust Rebecca to have my best interests at heart. And I have respect – genuine respect for her, too.” – Dr. Sanjay Gupta, journalist, medical correspondent, and neurosurgeon
Both partners keep marriage and family at the forefront of their busy lives. They step up, contribute, and feed the good of the whole. They’re “in the foxhole” together no matter what life sends their way.
“You deal with whatever they’re dealing with. Their issues become your issues.” – Tracy Pollan, actress and wife of Michael J. Fox
“Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” – The Reverend Jesse Jackson, civil rights activist
“There is no Plan B. No matter what, we want to work it out.” – Kyra Sedgwick, actress
Each partner values and appreciates the other without expectation of change. Each provides space for the other to pursue passionate interests and continue growing as an individual. Each is a source of sound advice, encouragement, and support. Each takes genuine interest in the well-being and happiness of the other and allows shortcomings to be revealed without judgment.
“Judy’s position is that there are three things involved: the two spouses and the marriage itself. They’re all separate and they all have to be addressed.” – Milton Viorst, journalist
“You’ll be the comedian who I know you can be. I trust you with this.” – Janice Crystal in the early days of Billy Crystal’s stand-up career
“We’re a team, professionally and personally. There’s probably been no other person who comes anywhere close to him [Bob Woodward] as being my advisor and my encourager, who says to me, ‘Take a leap, do that thing you want to do, try something hard,’ or ‘even if you don’t want to do anything at all, that’s fine, too.’” – Elsa Walsh, journalist and author
“I told myself, no matter what he says, do not have any expression on your face. If you have an expression, he might clam up and feel ashamed or judged in some way.” – Kelly Ripa, actress and talk show host
Even after years of togetherness, they are still excited to see one another and really enjoy each other’s company. They keep the romance alive through love notes, date nights, doing things (large and small) the other really values, and giving each other full attention when together.
“Keep shaving your legs.” – Gloria Estefen, singer/songwriter
They’ve learned to communicate effectively; they get the big things right and let the little things take care of themselves. When differing in opinion, they remember that their partners are people they love who proceed with good intentions. They are sensitive to what their partners might be going through and bide their time before attempting resolution.
“If you have the zinger, don’t say it. Especially when you remember you’re the one who lives deepest in the other person’s heart, and that you can hurt them the most.” – Peter Hermann, actor, producer, writer
“We would never say anything in the heat of an argument that we could not live with after.” – Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author, journalist, and social activist
“The secret to a long marriage is a short memory.” – Arlene Alda, photographer and writer
They keep a sense of humor!
The book ends with these final thoughts:
“There is no one secret to a lasting marriage, there are a million secrets. So keep looking for them. Because the longer you look, the more you’ll discover reasons to stay in it. As Jamie Lee Curtis so perfectly said: ‘What’s the secret to a long marriage? Don’t leave.”’