30 Lessons for Loving


About 30 Lessons for Loving and The Marriage Advice Project

Hello and welcome to the Marriage Advice Project! I’m Karl Pillemer, a professor of Human Development at Cornell University and the project director. Over the past 10 years, we’ve been collecting the advice for living from older people and making it available to young people in search of answers to life’s difficult questions. I’ve published some of these lessons in a book and on a related blog.

On this site, you will learn about the new book based on the Marriage Advice Project, 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage. I’d like to share with you a little about where the idea came from, and what you will find here and in the book.

 Love and marriage in contemporary society create a world of questions. How do I know if the person I love is the right one for me? How can my partner and I communicate more effectively? How should we deal with conflicts that inevitably arise? What will get us through the predictable stresses of marriage, such as child-rearing, work problems, money issues, and in-laws? How do we keep marriage vibrant and interesting? And the most fundamental question of all: How can two very different individuals come together and create a relationship that lasts a lifetime? 30 Lessons for Loving. offers answers to those questions, and more.

For this book, I conducted the largest in-depth interview study ever done of people in very long marriages – hundreds of individuals who have been in one relationship for 30, 40, 50 years – and more.  I wasn’t interested just in a handful of stories; instead, I wanted to take advantage of the “wisdom of crowds,” collecting the love and relationship advice of a large and varied cross-section of long-married elders.

Using social science research methods, I amassed a group of over 700 older Americans who were interviewed in-depth. The average length of the marriages was 43 years; the longest marriage was a 100-year old woman married to her 98-year old husband for 76 years. I talked to these people to get answers to the questions: How did you do it? What helped you make the statement “until death do us part” a reality?

The result is an advice book that I believe is like no other one available. From hundreds of hours of interviews and thousands of pages of transcripts, a set of 30 lessons for loving emerged. The book is organized in five chapters that follow key stages in the development of a committed relationship: finding the right partner; learning to communicate and handle conflict; dealing with predictable stressors as a marriage unfolds; discovering how to keep the “spark” alive in a marriage over many years; and a set of core principles for married life that emerged from elder wisdom.

I hope you enjoy the “Share Your Lessons Page” on this site, where I’ll be posting marriage lessons from readers, and the project YouTube channel with videos of elders sharing their lessons. And please take the time to submit your own “lessons for loving!”

Questions? Feel free to email me at legacyproject@cornell.edu.

About Dr. Karl Pillemer

Karl Pillemer, Ph.D., is one of America’s leading family sociologists and researchers on aging. Ten years ago, he realized that he had spent most of his career focusing on the problems of older people – and treating older people as problems. He explains: “I had been studying issues like disability, chronic pain, and dementia. It suddenly hit me that I needed to focus on older people as critically important sources of wisdom and insight. So I went on a decade-long quest to find out what older people know about living happier and more fulfilling lives that the rest of us don’t, and to share their advice with younger people.”

Dr. Pillemer created the Cornell Legacy Project, which is devoted to surveying thousands of older Americans about their lessons for living. His first book, 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, struck a chord with readers, who loved the sage advice and great stories from extraordinary older Americans who shared what they wish they had known when they were starting out. His second book focuses on the most talked-about parts of 30 Lessons for Living—love and marriage. 30 LESSONS FOR LOVING: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage, will be published by Hudson Street Press/Penguin in January 2015.

Dr. Pillemer is Professor of Human Development at Cornell University and Professor of Gerontology in Medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College. He is also the founder and Director of the Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging, a center that conducts research and develops programs to improve the quality of life for older people. Dr. Pillemer has authored more than 100 scientific publications, is a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America, and has served in leadership roles in a number of scientific organizations. He is a recipient of the Gerontological Society’s Lawton Award, a distinguished honor that recognizes a significant contribution in gerontology that has led to innovations that improve the lives of older persons.

Throughout his career, Dr. Pillemer’s research has focused on how family relationships develop and change throughout their members’ lives. His studies have examined issues like the causes of marital happiness and conflict, how parents get along with their adult children, and the effects of illness and caregiving on families. Dr. Pillemer’s research takes place in the real world of families and professionals who work with them. He has created many model programs designed to help address the problems of families, such as projects that reduce the burden and stress of family caregivers, and developing prevention programs for reducing family conflict.

Dr. Pillemer counts among his greatest accomplishments his work translating research findings to non-academics. He has published ten books for non-academic audiences. He has created the Evidence-Based Living web site, which provides non-technical reports on research for lay people. Dr. Pillemer speaks widely throughout the U. S. and internationally on issues of successful aging, family relationships, and elder care, among other topics. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, PBS Newshour, Marketwatch, AARP Radio, and many other major media outlets. He blogs regularly for the Huffington Post.

Karl Pillemer lives with his family in Ithaca, New York. Follow him on Twitter: @KarlPillemer