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Put down the flowers and take Valentine’s Day cues from a gerontologist

Forget lingerie and chocolate retailers. How about looking for Valentine's Day cues from a gerontologist? Karl Pillemer of Cornell University's College of Human Ecology studies what older people have learned about love and marriage for his Marriage Advice Project. He's busted out a few timely tips from his survey of more than 800 people – some of whom tied the knot back when the Second World War was wrapping up.

A big one: He suggests making your relationship a "save haven" from work. Francis, age 66, made this decision with her husband, says Pillemer in a statement. "When you leave work, leave work at work!" was their motto. Pillemer uses a vintage Star Trek analogy to reinforce the idea: Just think of your front door as a "decontamination chamber before you enter the ship."

Other tips from Pillemer's statement:

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Keep your sense of humour: "When things in a relationship get tough, joking about them has almost magical properties to bring an out-of-sync couple back into equilibrium," he says. He quotes Jordan, age 94, who says this about his 66-year marriage, "We laugh at most everything. I try to turn everything into a joke and she really laughs. If I think of something that I know is ludicrous for the argument we're in, but it's funny, she'll laugh about it and I find it calms things over."

Try one of your partner's interests. Don't like her yoga or his hockey? Pillemer says many of the seniors he's spoken to say don't shrug it off. He mentions Molly, age 71, who was a "golf widow" for decades, he says. "Finally, she got tired of being resentful and decided to take action, 'I learned to play golf!'" Apparently her husband had dreamed of golf vacations and she has obliged. "Now that is what we do. It keeps each other content and happy," she told Pillemer. (No word on whether hubby picked up one of her hobbies, but I digress.)

Don't go to bed angry. A classic tip backed up by almost everyone happily married 50 or more years, Pillemer says. Debra, age 87, tells him she's in "the happiest marriage I could ever imagine," adding, "Even though you don't agree, you can say, 'Well gee, honey, maybe we can work something out in the morning. Let's have a good night's rest and then talk about what the differences are and see how we can come together in the middle somewhere."

Go on a lifetime date. How about this for romance: Leigh, age 70, told Pillemer: "We made an agreement when we got married. We decided we would have a lifetime date. That was really a wonderful way to frame our relationship. Because you think: Oh, I'm on a date! I've got to plan fun things and keep the positive emphasized. So we have had a lifetime date and that's worked out really well."

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More


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