NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Achieving a long-lasting marriage or another lifetime relationship is the ideal for millions of Americans.
But it's a quest fraught with failure and pitfalls, with no real road map or GPS system to follow.
Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist at Cornell University's College of Human Ecology, thinks he can help. He's spent the past 36 months talking to (and more importantly, listening to) 800 older U.S. couples discussing love, marriage and what really makes a long-term relationship work.
In the spirit of Valentine's Day, Pillemer this week released the results from his study, with results and advice that can be applied to any relationship:
Don't bring work into the relationship. "All too often, attempts to be romantic are spoiled by the 'spill-over' of work issues into a couple's life," Pillemer says. "What good is a romantic dinner with candles, music, and good wine if your partner's mind is on a fight with the boss or work left undone?"
Disconnect the Wi-Fi. This one may really hurt spouses who embrace their tablets, laptops and smartphones, but to gain a long-lasting love affair, you need to "disengage" from electronic devices. Pillemer cites research that says "staying connected" is a huge romantic turn-off.
Laugh it up. Older Americans in loving marriages often cite humor as a big reason their relationships last so long. Pillemer cites "Jordan" -- aged 94 -- who says a sense of humor has added luster to his 66-year marriage. "We laugh at most everything. I try to turn everything into a joke and she really laughs," he said. "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."
Involve yourself in your partner's passions. The study also notes that the longest-lasting marriages have spouses that engage in each other's passions. The study cites 71-year-old "Molly," who called herself a golf widow for decades -- until she picked up the game to be closer to her husband.
"I learned to play golf," she said. "My husband was tickled and he said, 'When I retired, that is what I want to do is go on a vacation and play golf, and you needed to learn so that you can play with me.' Now that is what we do. It keeps us content and happy."
No hitting the sack mad at each other. It's an old maxim for a happy marriage, but going to bed angry really does breed resentment. Pillemer says virtually everyone he interviewed in marriages that lasted longer than 50 years says "resolving any differences before going to bed" was a big deal. That has to do largely with the bedroom, a place that happy couples say should be about intimacy, not anger.
Longtime, happily married couples also regularly go out on dates together, just like love-struck teenagers. That's by design, too. Dates translate into love.