Sure, he’s been president of the United States and won the Nobel Peace Prize. But ask 97-year old Jimmy Carter what the highlight of his life has been and he’ll offer a one-word answer:
“Rosie,” as in Rosalynn, his beloved wife.
Meanwhile, the former first lady, 94, has a similar answer—that marrying “my Jimmy” was the best thing she’s ever done.
Indeed it was the best thing for both “Jimmy” and “Rosie” who today are celebrating—get this—their 76th anniversary. Just incredible.
In a time when we hear so much about “gray divorce”—older couples pulling the plug after many years of marriage—the sheer longevity of the Carters’ life together can offer some insight into what makes for a lasting — actually make that long-lasting—marriage.
“We have a couple of rules that we follow,” he told Bill and Melinda Gates in a 2019 interview. The former president mentioned two big ones that he and his bride have followed for decades.
Give your spouse some room. “We give each other plenty of space,” Jimmy Carter says. “She has a lot of interests that I don’t share, and I have a lot of interests that she doesn’t share.” For example, she likes tai chi and meditation; he spends a lot of time in his study, and likes to swim. It’s a view the former first lady echoed in a separate interview last year with the Associated Press. “Jimmy and I are always looking for things to do together,” she said, but “Each (person) should have some space. That’s really important.”
Don’t go to bed angry. This is “a standing rule that we follow pretty meticulously, sometimes with great difficulty,” Jimmy Carter says, “and that is not to go to sleep angry. We have a lot of arguments. We have 21 grandchildren and four children so we have a lot of arguments about our family. But we try to get over our arguments before we go to sleep.” One thing that helps them: their shared routine of reading the Bible together before turning out the lights.
These are good, common sense rules, though as I listened to the interview, it wasn’t lost on me that as the Gates’s were asking Carter for advice on a happy and healthy marriage, theirs was unraveling. In 2021, they called it quits after 27 years, because of trust issues linked to infidelity on his part. This brings us to another obvious key to the Carters’ incredible marriage: their deep and shared trust. Obviously, when trust is lost, no matter the age of the couple, it’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to get it back.
Trust, space and shared values—these won’t guarantee a long-lasting marriage, for there are no guarantees—but they make it far more likely to occur.
“It’s hard to live until you’re 95 years old,” Jimmy Carter told People magazine in 2019. “But having a supportive spouse certainly helps. I think the best explanation for that is to marry the best spouse: someone who will take care of you and engage and do things to challenge you and keep you alive and interested in life.” Easier said than done, and, like they have, you’ve got to work at it every day.
Here’s to lovebirds Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter—married an amazing 76 years—and best wishes for continued bliss.