Married for Forty Years: How Did We Make It?

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Bob Livingstone is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCS 11087) in private practice for 22 years in San Francisco, California. He holds a Masters Degree ...Read More

My wife Gail and I recently celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary. We have been together longer than many of my psychotherapy clients have been alive. When we got married, Richard Nixon was president. We have been together through Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Regan, Bill Clinton, both Bushes and almost one term of Barak Obama.

In an era of uncertainty; where one out of two marriages ends in divorce, I am wondering why we have been able to maintain such a strong bond.


Gail and I both believe in perseverance and hard work. A marriage will never be successful on auto pilot. You have to continue to problem solve and be honest with each other when your relationship isn’t going well. Trusting that your partner has your back and wants to contribute to your safety is essential.

Gail and I each want each other to have career success as much as we desire that for ourselves. The emphasis on supporting each other’s personal aspirations is important.

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Gail owns her own Afro-centric elementary school in San Francisco. I am a psychotherapist and writer. We both value social justice and progressive politics.

We are both athletic, love going to new restaurants and hearing live music. We drum, value friendships and connect well with children.

Having common values and interests is another essential in order to have a successful relationship. How can you expect to connect if you have little in common?

It is important to compromise; it is not fair or healthy to insist on getting your own way all the time. Sometimes conflicts will emerge as you attempt to work through issues. These conflicts are normal. It is helpful to have a conflict resolution plan that you both agree with.

Couples have conflict. If you are in a long term relationship and not experiencing conflict, you are either avoiding fighting or you have buried your true feelings.

Many feel that feelings of anger and disagreement must be extinguished as soon as possible, but this will not make for a strong relationship.

Finding appropriate ways to express your hurt are helpful and will eventually make your relationship stronger.

Working out a compromise can be rewarding for both of you. Giving to your partner is one of the most important aspects of a relationship and it is in your best interest to master this.

When we do fight and we indeed do so, we agree not to be physically or emotionally violent. There are certain words that are off limits and will not be used. It is clear that once you break these boundaries, it will be difficult to undo the damage.

We agree to take time outs when the discussion seems to be going nowhere or if one of us is too distraught to continue a dialogue. We agree on a time to revisit the discussion.

If we do have a fight, we both agree that finding a resolution to the conflict as soon as possible is essential. We don’t want to go to bed at night angry with each other and feeling like a dark cloud is hanging over our heads. Unresolved conflicts lead to a pattern of not working through differences. This pattern will create an unwanted distance between couples.

I realize that it is cliché to say that your wife is your best friend, but often times, clichés spell out the truth. A best friend is someone you would rather be with than anyone else. She is also my most trusted ally and I know she will be honest with me no matter how sensitive the subject matter is.

It is not about “she completes me”. No, I am responsible for climbing out of my own empty space. But, it is so helpful to have a trusted mate to discuss feelings of inadequacy and disillusion. She helps me find a new perspective and suggests new ideas to try.

Being together as long as we have, we have faced the best and the worst of times. She experiences all my strong points and flaws that others are only partially aware of. She gets on my last nerve at times and I know there are times I drive her crazy with my impatience. Other times she is the key to helping me get through the hard times. After forty years, we have gone through the tragedy of losing loved ones through death and health crises. We’ve shared financial meltdowns, falling out with friends, being elated together when watching a sunset, being angry at each other over what turns out to be a huge misunderstanding.

When you have a marriage with forty years longevity, there is the possibility that you will make huge mistakes and intensely hurt the one you love the most. You also have the time and situations to redeem yourself by coming through in extraordinary ways. You can transform a dreadful memory into something positive, compassionate and loving.

After all these years, I still feel like this is what heaven must be like during our most intimate moments. I strive to be a better man for her. That is, I want to be more understanding, more willing to take risks in order for our dreams to come true, to be kind even when I’m agitated and to not give up on anything.

I love it when she walks into a room. I love watching her teach the children. I love the way she smiles when I make her laugh. I love her calm presence. I am an extremely fortunate man.

My dream of being in love forever has come true. I’m signed up for the next forty years.

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