By America’s #1 Love and Marriage Experts.

This week, we are on another one of our “love excursions!” As marriage researchers and writers (We have be engaged in this work for nearly three decades now!), we absolutely love to travel around the world and interview successfully married couples.

This week we are traveling in Rome, Naples, and along the Amalfi Coast in Italy. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it! And to be here in the year the Italians celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Italian reunification is a special treat!

We never get tired of witnessing extraordinary marriages – married people who are, as the song goes, “still in love after all these years.” Our fascination with those in love never ends. When you are in the presence of a happily married couple that has spent the majority of their collective lives together, you know you are in the presence of intense love.

And the fact is, as a couple that has been married for nearly 45 years ourselves, we are always in search of the “secrets of success” – always trying to understand why our marriage has worked so well over the years. We have gained great insights into successful marriage, including our own, from our thousands of interviews around the world.

As we are working on completing our newest book, we discovered that we really needed to interview a few more couples in Southern Italy – that part of Italy where the divorce and separation rates have increased at only one-half of the rate of Northern Italy. In the broader sense, we set out to determine the state of contemporary marriage in Italy.

Like their Northern European counterparts, the Southern Italians have seen an increase in their divorce and separation rates, increases in alternative family structures, and transformations in the very nature of the extended family – a longtime hallmark of Italian family life.

Italians are having fewer children (one of the lowest birth rates in the world) and getting married later in life (27 on average for women; 30 for men). It is also clear that Italians are getting married less frequently, achieving their independence from their family later in life, and having children at older ages than the previous norm.

The very nature of marriage and family in Italy – this very Catholic country where 85% profess to religious – is clearly changing. One notable change has to do with weekly churchgoing. Today, only about 25% of Italians admit to going to church at least once a week. This is a big change from their past history.

Even though the Catholic faith frowns on divorce and separation, in modern Italy the divorce rate keeps creeping up nonetheless. This flies in the face of the teachings of their religious faith.

But there are also some continuing positive trends. For example, Italian families still have strong ties across the generations. One scholar noted that Italian families still retain “strong intergenerational solidarity” which allows for a social structure of support for childcare, dealing with health issues, providing for financial assistance when needed, and the like. The extended family in Italy is still strong. The sense of family “connectedness” is still an important institution in Italy, probably much more so than in the rest of Europe and in the USA.

While the very nature of marriage in Italy is changing, the secrets of marital success are apparently not. And that’s a good thing! Let us explain.

We conducted four interviews on this trip and, not surprisingly, we have gotten amazing reaffirmation for what makes for a great marriage in Italy and around the world!

On our second day in Italy, we interviewed Paolo and Luciana in paradise! We met up with these two lovebirds at our hotel in Napoli and spent about eight hours with them throughout the day. We drove with them in their car during the interview, shared a marvelous lunch with them, and took lots of photos along the Almafi and Sorrento Coasts of Italy where we visited such beautiful cities as Sorrento, Positano, Almafi, Praiano, Pompeii, and San Pietro.

During our interview with them we discussed their marriage and the changing state of marriage in Italy. Paolo and Luciana have been married for 33 years. During our interview with them, they reaffirmed all of the characteristics of successfully married Italian couples and others we have interviewed around the world. Trust us when we say this – these two lovebirds have a wonderful marriage! Their responses to our structured interview put them at the top of the list for great marriages. Suffice it to say, their marriage is amazing. They affectionately nicknamed us Dr. Carlo and Dr. Liz. We loved them! It was a fun day.

We followed our interview with Paolo and Luciana on subsequent days with Lorenzo and Regina, Gino and Arianna, and Enzo and Maria.

On our second day in Italy, we strolled in Napoli and topped off our afternoon with a delightful lunch on the Gulf of Napoli. The food here is terrific! Lots of seafood entrees, amazing pasta with clams and mussels, insalata caprese everywhere, and lots of wonderful regional wines. The desserts are awesome! We shared lunch with a terrific couple we interviewed by the names of Lorenzo and Regina. They taught us a lot about love and marriage, Italian style!

Another terrific interview on this trip was with Gino and Arianna, at The Cabiria restaurant in Rome. Suffice it to say – the food at The Cabiria was the best we had in Italy! The food was extraordinary! The company of Gino and Maria was even better. These two lovers have been married for 31 years and are a perfect reflection of our findings regarding great marriages around the world. We also interviewed Enzo and Maria at this same wonderful restaurant the following day. Another extraordinary marriage for sure!

Their marriage, like the other great marriages of the couples we have interviewed on this trip, have reminded us once again of the pervasiveness of the characteristics that make for successful marriage across cultures and continents that we described in our recent book, Building a Love that Lasts: The Seven Surprising Secrets of Successful Marriage (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2010).

While the state of marriage is changing in Italy, the pervasive characteristics shared across the best marriages in this romantic country are very similar. And the truth is, great marriages look about the same around the world. They are simple to understand, difficult to make work, and take lots of patience amongst the two people who form the relationship to make it successful.

But in the end, a marriage is between two human beings, not between a culture or a country and a person. While cultural trends are reflective of changes in general within a country, it tells us very little about the marriage between two people.

As it is elsewhere around the world, a successful marriage reflects an accumulation of having done the simple things day in and day out in a relationships between two people in love. Whether you find a successful marriage in Italy, in the USA, or elsewhere in the world, the formula for creating a great marriage is the same. That is the lesson we learned once again in Italy.

Love well! Arrivederci, Roma!

In love and marriage the simple things matter.

By Dr. Charles D. Schmitz and Dr. Elizabeth A. Schmitz

For hundreds of tips to enhance your relationship get the Doctor’s best-selling and multiple-award winning book Building a Love that Lasts: The Seven Surprising Secrets of Successful Marriage (Jossey-Bass/Wiley 2010) Available wherever books are sold.
Winner of the INDIE Book Awards GOLD Medal for Best Relationship Book
Winner of the Mom’s Choice Awards GOLD Medal for Most Outstanding Relationships and Marriage Book
Nautilus Book Awards Winner for Relationships

Author's Bio: 

As America’s #1 Love and Marriage Experts and award-winning authors, Drs. Charles and Elizabeth Schmitz help international audiences answer questions about love, marriage and relationships. With 28 years of research on love and successful marriage across six continents of the world and their own 44-year marriage, the Doctors know what makes relationships work.

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