New project seeks elders' wisdom on love and marriage

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Syl Kacapyr

On matters of the heart, Cornell gerontologist Karl Pillemer believes that older Americans may be the wisest of all.

To capture their thoughts on love and relationships, Pillemer has launched the Cornell Marriage Advice Project, with plans for a national survey of more than 500 people 60 and older and a newly launched website where elders can share their stories.

"What better source on love and marriage than the true experts, older adults who have been married or in long-term, committed relationships for 50, 60 or 70 years?" said Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Development in the College of Human Ecology. "They've held together families and relationships through extremely difficult circumstances, such as the Great Depression, and consequently have a great deal of knowledge to share."

The new research project emanated from Pillemer's Legacy Project, which gathered advice from more than 1,500 seniors -- including many Cornell alumni -- on living well, covering such topics as raising children, careers and finances, and happiness and health. Pillemer distilled the knowledge into a book, "30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans," published in November 2011, and a blog that continues to collect and share advice.

In that project, Pillemer found that elders were most passionate about sharing their thoughts on love and marriage, from practical tips to profound insights. At the same time, he heard from younger readers of the book and blog that they especially valued what older adults had to say about relationships.

Through the Cornell Marriage Advice Project, Pillemer hopes older adults will offer answers to choosing a mate, dealing with stress and conflict between partners, keeping relationships vibrant over decades, and dealing with divorce and widowhood. The project seeks advice from heterosexual and gay couples.

"What we found with the Legacy Project is that older adults may not always have Yoda-like wisdom on life's biggest questions, but they have the practical advice on how to make things work," Pillemer said. "They've been through the challenges and have years of experience that can't be matched."

Ted Boscia is assistant director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.


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