With any luck then I suppose the music never ends.
September 6, 2006 3:10 AM   Subscribe

You have been together and/or married for a long time. You are still very much in love. How do you do it? What advice can you give someone just starting out?

We're in our thirties and are really in love now. What can we do to make sure that it sticks? So that if there are hard times someday, we make it through them. Without becoming jaded or tired or just detached from one another, but keeping the sweetness and mutual caring that we have now?

Advice from your close observation of happy couples you know well who have been together a long time also welcome.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 146 users marked this as a favorite
I've only been married 3 years (anniversary yesterday - yay for me and mrs mooders!), so I can hardly claim to be an expert and I know you want advice from long-time marrieds, but for what it's worth here are two tips, amongst the thousands you are sure to receive, which I think are really important.

1. Accept that your partner is another person - their own thoughts, opinions, prejudices, quirks, habits and needs. Love and respect what they are, not what you think they should be. That said, if they have habits that are harmful or potentially unhealthy, you [sh|c]ould mention a change would be beneficial to all.

2. Take pleasure in the small things. The grand, sweeping, romantic gestures can only be sustained for a while. Soon, real life seems to encroach and makes the last-minute, surprise weekend in Paris very unpractical. Instead, love the fact that, for example, your partner greets you warmly when you get home, or buys your favourite dinner when grocery shopping, or applies point no. 1 (above) to you, or seeks your opinion when applying for a job and so on.

Both of these points underline they love you, they respect you, they wish to be part of you and your life. Think about it. Of all the things that have to be right for two people to be in love and share their lives with another. It's amazing. Remind yourself of it every day. Then you will never take that person and what you share for granted.

Good luck to you and your undoubtedly wonderful partner!
posted by mooders at 3:30 AM on September 6, 2006 [3 favorites]

Been married almost 20 years and in relationship for 24. What keeps our marriage going is commitment. Commitment is there during the times you can't see the love. Detachment is a necessary part of our love at times too. Neither of us is an extension of the other.
posted by Xurando at 3:32 AM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Going on 10 here.

Honesty. In everything (money, wants, needs, desires...)

But one of the most important things to be honest about is your sexuality. What you both like, dislike, love and hate. No matter how kinky, freaky & non-vanilla.
posted by sandra_s at 4:15 AM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Married for 8 yrs, together for 12.

1. Control your anger. My wife and I almost never yell at one another. That's not to say we don't get angry, but when we do, we step back, take control of our emotions, and come back when we are able to discuss the issue calmly and rationally. This does not come easy, especially for me, but I think it is essential. I can't imagine having warm, loving feelings for someone who screetches at me on a regular basis.

2. Be thoughtful of your partner in all that you do. While you are seperate people and should have your own seperate lives and decisions to make, when you make a decision that does not take the other person into consideration, that is (in our mind) incredibly disrespectful.

3. Be compatible sexually. I know this seems minor, but so many people's relationship problems seem to have origins in the sack -- one partner wants it much more often, one partner is kinkier, one person does not want to indulge the others fantasies, etc. While it is possible to fix these issues, I think it is very difficult, and takes a lot out of the marriage.

There are other things, but I'll stop now (I need to go see the wife off for work).
posted by Rock Steady at 4:21 AM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Compromise. My partner and I have never had a major argument. If there's a problem, we tend to discuss it fairly rationally. Things can get a little tense but I feel that once someone starts shouting, both parties tend to lose.
posted by tomble at 5:07 AM on September 6, 2006

posted by caddis at 5:10 AM on September 6, 2006

Together 11+ years.

1. Never lie.

2. Do some things separately and don't freak out about it. You don't have to share each and every experience.

3. As much as possible, keep the finances separate.

All of the above remove sources of seething resentment.
posted by intermod at 5:31 AM on September 6, 2006

Together 10, married 4.

Little annoyances (like when he clips his toenails in front of the tv, or when she answers her cell phone in the middle of a romantic meal together) can slowly erode your love and respect for one another if you ignore them or let them fester. This is sort of the "broken windows theory" of relationship management; communicate openly about the stuff that bothers you, but don't get hung up about it and be willing to compromise. It's much easier to fix stuff like weird personal hygeine habits than to rekindle a love that died sometime after you started thinking of your husband as a lazy, disgusting slob.
posted by junkbox at 5:59 AM on September 6, 2006 [3 favorites]

I've only been in a relationship for 3 years, however my parents have a phenomenal relationship, and they've been married almost 50 years. What I've observed from them is:

-LOTS OF FUN AND LAUGHTER - they are a social couple - they're always having parties with friends, going kayaking, skiing, hosting wine tasting, going to cooking classes, going on vacation, going out to dinner together, going to the beach together, going to rock concerts. They spend a lot of time with each other's friends. And they still crack each other up. And they keep trying new things.

-TIME TOGETHER, TIME APART - Neither one is a workaholic. They both get home around 6PM, and rarely work on weekends. They spend quality and quantity time - almost always family dinners, lots of family vacations. They do have their time apart, though. My dad golfs a lot and volunteers a lot. My mom has her girlfriends.

-CO-DEPENDENCY - I'm not sure either would function well alone. On the other hand, they compliment each other well. My mother is organized, clean, responsible, pessimistic. My father is fun, hard-working, easy-going, optimistic. They're very different, but it works.

-MY SISTER AND I - Their commitment to us was instrumental in keeping them together through some very tough times. However, they were married 15 years (together 17) before they had children, and in those years they became financially secure, lived abroad, had some escapades, solidified their relationship.

-MY MOTHER NEVER 'LET HERSELF GO' (OR MY FATHER) - This may be controversial, but the fact is, my mother is still like a teenager in the fun she takes in clothes, hair, purses, etc. (Granted, they're different styles now.) She also keeps my father looking fairly stylish. I don't know how much this matters to my father - they're 65 now - but I'm sure it maintains a certain attraction that might not be there if they were wandering around the house in dowdy housedresses and robes.

-CONFIDENCE - They trust each other, rely on each other, expect fidelity and support from each other.

-LUCK - They've had some bad luck - serious financial problems, bad health, loss of parents - but they've also had good luck - better finances; my father almost died, but didn't; good, healthy children who love them and spend time with them.
posted by n'muakolo at 6:14 AM on September 6, 2006 [19 favorites]

10 years married in a 14 year relationship here:

1.Give your partner honesty, respect, commitment, and space.

2. Don't fight. Disagree, sure. If you start to get hot walk away and take time to simmer down and consider your words and remember the respect, commitment and space part of #1.

3. Don't forget to enjoy each other. Every day.

Good luck.
posted by glenwood at 6:29 AM on September 6, 2006

My parents have been married for about 35 years and are going strong. I asked both of them (separately) a few years ago what their tips were on maintaining a long marriage, and I got two completely different answers:

her: it's basically luck, and having nice kids

him: with a basic attraction and set of common interests, it's pretty much always possible to create a permanent relationship with hard work (the amount of work is inversely proportional to the size of the set of common interests) - the essential things are communication, having conflicts about important matters early on and coming to some kind of consensus, setting ground rules for arguments, always creating time to be together and follow common interests, and (if applicable) agreeing on how to bring up kids and presenting a common front to them.

I think that was the longest email my dad has ever sent me.
posted by altolinguistic at 6:30 AM on September 6, 2006 [3 favorites]

All the above is good. I'd add for the long term:

As you age you'll remain as attractive to others, including each other, as you each find life and the world attractive. If you yourself enjoy life, others will find your company enjoyable. So work on it - stay engaged, find things that facinate you, and activities you love to - you'll remain engaging, facinating, and easily lovable.
posted by scheptech at 7:20 AM on September 6, 2006 [2 favorites]

Together over 3 years-- not long compared to some of these folks-- however, I have something to contribute.

When we first began dating in June 2003, I wasn't necessarily shopping for a long-term thing. One day in August, he started talking about how excited he was to have someone to be with in the wintertime, to spend the holidays with as well as warm times spent escaping the cold.

At that point I was still adjusting day by day to having someone as a fixture in my life, and I replied cautiously, "Let's just get through the summer first, shall we?" The look of surprise and disgust on his face was hilarious, and he was quick to point out what an unromantic jerk I was. And I could laugh and realize that he was right. To this day, anytime I ever try to make a plan for the future, he always kids me with, "Let's just get through the summer..."

Anyhow the point is that for a long time each of you will go through varying stages of acceptance or rebellion against your relationship that may or may not match what the other is feeling at the time. If both of you happen to be in a period of rebellion and struggle to assert independence, that can be a tough time indeed. It took us over a year to reach the point where we were both confidently on the same track. With two whole different people involved, these things are never as synchronized as people would like them to be.

Feelings, reactions, judgments-- these are all fleeting. Love is not. If you find yourself in a state that runs counter to your love of someone, take the time to figure out whether the problem is just in your mind. Sometimes it is just your afternoon or your week that is broken, not your love. And if the person you love happens to be confident and secure in their appraisal of the relationship, they'll give you room to sort it out and not take personally (though they are entitled to point out that you are an asshole, as long as they smile when they say it.)
posted by hermitosis at 7:38 AM on September 6, 2006 [17 favorites]

Another short-timer who still thinks he has something to say: married 2.5 years, have lived together 3, very happy, don't fight.

Totally ditto junkbox's broken windows theory -- don't let resentments fester. When you see bitter couples argue, it always escalates very quickly out of whatever the nominal proximate cause is to a laundry list of past crimes. So much as presuming benevolence on the other's part got lost somewhere. Deal with the little stuff. Bring up the things that bug you, even if you know you're being irrational. Be willing to humor the other, even if you're positive s/he's being arbitrary. Don't insist that one of you must be right and the other wrong in any disagreement.

Know each other. People have very different approaches to the world, and you can get in big trouble projecting your own inner processes onto others. Read up on the Myers-Briggs Type Instrument, the Five Languages of Love, Deborah Tannen's You Just Don't Understand, David Deida's Dear Lover and The Way of the Superior Man. You don't have to agree with everything (I don't) but they're useful for giving guidelines and a vocabulary for discussing how people think differently. Realize that "Why can't you be reasonable?" pretty much always means "Why can't you think like me?" so you can catch yourself when you're thinking that.

Know yourselves. Know when you're cranky and irritable, know what your hot buttons are, communicate these things.

Actively check in with each other. Is there unhappiness about the household division of labor? About where money is going? About mutual and individual priorities?

Maintain some individual priorities and pursuits.

Don't allow yourselves to turn into just roommates and financial partners. Make it a priority to have quality time together.

Make it a priority for each of you to have quality time alone, too.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:44 AM on September 6, 2006 [7 favorites]

Married 16 years, 2nd for each of us:

You must challenge each other, push each other. Stop growing and you stop being the wonderful person she fell in love with. Don't take it for granted: earn her love and respect every day.

Make plenty of time for each other. When you have stressful careers and kids and aging parents and and and and there's never enough time to be together. There are always things that HAVE to get done and dating can get lost. Make sure being together, alone, is something that HAS to get done.

There are no sure fixes for getting through "hard times."
posted by johngumbo at 9:58 AM on September 6, 2006 [2 favorites]

n'muakolo, that brought a tear to my eye! It sounded very much like my own parents, who'd just celebrated 50 years when, shockingly, my dad died suddenly and my mom 'followed' suddenly too, four weeks later.

They were active, fun and just nuts about each other, despite the hardships of life. Also, they weren't always examining every word, deed or action or lack thereof and making a 'federal case out of it' as my dad used to say. They were much more forgiving of each other than my contemporaries tend to be ... They also had a very healthy attitude: the kids are the kids -- they grow up and go away someday, and that's as it should be, so take everything with a grain of salt except your spouse! They were loving engaged parents, but I always felt that their fundamental focus was each other. That impressed me when I grew up and realized how hard it is to keep the "couple" in tact when parenting threatens to take over.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:27 AM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Together 11 years, married 2. I don't think there are simple answers, but if this helps:

Have your own life. If your entire world depends on your partner, it's a heavy weight for them to bear. Plus, new ideas, new experiences and new information keeps conversations more interesting.

This depends a little on personality, but we've found: It's okay to fight. And to honestly feel angry when you do, and to not feel guilty later for getting angry. But you have to be willing to fight fair, and keep it on target about the issue at hand.

And finally, I think both people should have something where they're the undisputed champion. If one person's always the best, the other person starts to feel inferior. It makes things easier if there's some balance, like "My spouse has an advanced degree, but I'm the financial investing guru" or "Yes, he's a great dancer, but I'm the top chef in the house".
posted by synapse at 10:39 AM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Her job is to buy chocolate (the darker the better) and bring it home to me. My job is to hide the chocolate so she doesn't eat it all in one sitting. This raises my meager husbandliness to the status of Eternal God of the Home. But my responsibility to learn her moods and know when she needs a nibble of chocolate -- before she has to ask -- to make things better is tremendous; and this has taught me many things about empathy and commitment to our common goal of not killing one another because the world can be unfair.

(Side note, I was at the grocery buying flowers [I look young for my age and live in a college town] and the young lady at the register studied my flowers and magazine purchase and finally said "You must be a wonderful son, or a wonderful boyfriend." I laughed and replied "Nope I was so good at the boyfriend temp position that I went perm! I am now a wonderful husband.")
posted by iurodivii at 10:48 AM on September 6, 2006 [11 favorites]

Communicaton - I can't stress it enough. Lots of talk especially when you're tired, jaded and/or detached.

Together seven years this December.
posted by deborah at 11:36 AM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

One thing I forgot to mention:

A 12 step slogan that I read once and have often leaned on in my relationship is "HALT" which stands for "Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired". all of these are triggers for our most hurtful behavior. The key is to never let yourself stray too far in any of these four directions if you know it will cause problems. Or at least be able to back down out of a conflict and realize that an unrelated factor is what's really bugging you.

For example, my boyfriend and I have placed a moratorium on seeing each other right after work without at least a half-hour cooling-off period first-- we began noticing how many of our relatively few arguments took place if we met up immediately after work.
posted by hermitosis at 12:07 PM on September 6, 2006 [10 favorites]

Together 10 years, married 7. It's impossible to imagine myself without her, anymore.

You're both going to change a lot over the years. Change with each other, not away from each other.

If a fight's coming, go ahead and fight. Don't bottle up irritations until they incubate into full-scale resentments; deal with them while they're still small and relatively harmless. Advanced course: learn how to talk to each other about disagreements and conflicts without it turning into a full-fledged fight.

When you do fight, don't be focusing on venting your frustrations and anger and making the other person feel bad; focus on finding a way to work out a solution to whatever you're fighting about. (And if you realize you're not arguing about anything specific, stop doing it.) Say what you mean, and listen to what the other person is saying. No, really listen. If you're doing it right, every argument will end with some variation of "okay, now I know that _____ really bothers you, so I'll try to stop doing it; it'd really help out if you did ____ more often; let's try that and see if it helps."

Remember to spend time with each other that isn't routine day-to-day stuff. Remember to tell each other things you wouldn't tell other people. Remember to do things with each other you wouldn't do with other people or on your own. Remember to keep having conversations. Real ones.

Trade tasks you dislike. I cook. She does the dishes. She pays the bills. I mow the lawn. We both hate vacuuming; that's what the roomba is for. It may sound petty, but little perqs like never having to do the dishes really make a difference over the long term.

Most important: the more effort you put into pleasing your spouse, the more s/he'll wind up pleasing you. The more effort you put into trying to make them please you, the less they actually will. This applies to everything from housecleaning to sex.
posted by ook at 1:52 PM on September 6, 2006 [11 favorites]

Oh, and that last bit doesn't need to be a mutual pact... surprisingly enough, it even works if you do it unilaterally.
posted by ook at 1:54 PM on September 6, 2006

T15/M3 (we're both procrastinators).
1. R-e-s-p-e-c-t.
2. When you argue, realize that it's always about something else. (Money, job insecurity, sexual frustration, Republicans.) Learn to work that shit out on your own. See #1 for the reason why.
3. Luck. Sometimes you just hit the sweet spot, and find someone who isn't bothered by your faults, and finds assets where others see none.
posted by turducken at 2:14 PM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

I agree with a lot of what I see above, and I have a couple more things to add. My husband and I have been together 23 years, and both feel very glad to have one another.

If you have certain expectations of what a partner "should" be -- question them. They'll lead to disappointment and resentment if they don't match up with the person you've got.

You have to really believe -- you have to know -- that the two of you can find a way to deal with any problem that comes around. Or rather, when things get rough, you have to keep it in mind. Sometimes that's not easy. But simply saying out loud, "There is a way... we will find it" can help a great deal.

Counseling can really help when you find yourself having the same argument over and over. In our case, we both hated the guy - with his whiteboard and his colored markers and his role-playing - so much that we said, "This is bullshit... we can do better than this clown." And we did.

And I agree with all the things synapse said, especially the part about "have your own life."
posted by wryly at 3:08 PM on September 6, 2006 [2 favorites]

Married almost 25 years...

All the other stuff said here is valid, and very good advice. We rarely fight, we both communicate pretty well; we married in our late 20s and didn't have kids until we'd been married eight years. (so we knew ourselves pretty well, and got to know each other pretty well before those tax-deductible distractions showed up in the cabbage patch). Our common interests have drifted apart as time went on, and there's not much going on sexually anymore, but there are lots of hugs, kisses, tickles, word games, lots of just doing things together as time and money allow, and indulging each others' interests even if they're not enthusiastically shared. It's really important that we put each other first, not ourselves.

I think the biggest thing, though, is that we went into our marriage not seeing divorce as an option. We have relatives who got married with the same ideal, but hate each other now and still won't get divorced. We weren't about to let ourselves be so miserable. We determined to do our best to put each other first (this is critical!), laugh (and hug) a lot, and be determined to keep doing this until death do us part.

Did I mention we each try to put the other first?
posted by lhauser at 3:14 PM on September 6, 2006

I agree with all of the above (particularly n'muakolo) and humbly add:

Be ridiculously silly with each other, as much as humanly possible. If you establish this now, it will allow you to interject levity to almost any situation, no matter how serious it gets.

My favorite quote to write in wedding guest books:
"Anyone can be passionate. It takes real lovers to be silly." - Rose Franken (per Google)
posted by pigwidgeon at 3:25 PM on September 6, 2006 [4 favorites]

For actual data on which relationships work, look for the book "Why Marriages Succeed or Fail," by John Gottman, Ph.D.

He counters the misconception that fighting brings down a marriage. His point is that couples have lots of different styles of being together and dealing with conflict, but the ones who succeed have certain characteristics, which he's observed and recorded. Some fight ferociously, but there's some way they show respect in the process.

I haven't read the book, however. I only heard him interviewed on "This American Life" on NPR (www.thisamericanlife.com; episode #261, aired 03/26/04).

(Sorry, no time today to figure out how to make links or italics. So you get references and quotes around the titles.)
posted by aimless at 3:57 PM on September 6, 2006 [4 favorites]

Together 17, married 12 years.

What can you live with,
and what can't you live without?

That's the simple, personal version that's allowed us to compromise.

For an empirical study, I'll quote:
Belsky, Jay, PH.D and John Kelly. The Transition to Parenthood. New York, Dell Publishing: 1994.

Constructive Fighters are the only ones who know how to use conflict to promote long-term marital happiness. To the untrained eye and ear their fights may look and sound like everyone else's. But in the middle of serious disagreement each partner gets an opportunity to air his or her thoughts on important issues and to ventilate frustrations and grievances

The second characteristic of Constructive Fighters also arises out of their high mutual regard. For most husbands and wives the chief priority in an argument is winning. While this is also important to Constructive Fighters , just as important is the desire to end the interruption of their happiness. And research by Dutch psychologist Cas Schapp shows that this desire makes Constructive Fighters different from other squabbling couples in a second important way. Even in the midst of the most heated arguments they continue to offer olive branches to each other in the form of concessions and compromises.
posted by dragonsi55 at 4:02 PM on September 6, 2006 [3 favorites]

Tomorrow is our 32nd wedding anniversary :) but you could safely add 2 "together" years on to our total. We enjoy each other's company, do things alone and together, allow each other to grow at his/her own pace, love each other more than anything else in the world, cherish our 2 children above any other life forms and do a lot of um, snuggling. Yes, that's it, snuggling. I highly recommend it!
posted by Lynsey at 4:40 PM on September 6, 2006

Current relationship: 4 years, and engaged.

Accept that at some point you'll need therapy. Eventually you become family to each other, that may include transference of feelings that you individually have from your families to each other. It's common, normal, treating your girlfriend like your mother and not knowing how to stop stuff. If you want to stay with this person you'll have to realize that you have to be dedicated to dealing with yourself so it doesn't fuck up your new family.

You are two different individuals coming together, don't expect to be alike, know that you have to make requests of each other (no mind reading), don't make assumptions but ask questions, look into each other's eyes when you argue, and stop trying to be right.

I haven't read the thread so maybe I'm repeating, forgive me.
posted by scazza at 8:34 AM on September 7, 2006

Been with my man 12 years, lived with him 10.5 (not married, don't see it as important).

There's so much good advice in this thread, a lot of it really resonates with me. The only thing I'll add is: do what works for you guys. Every relationship is different as every person is different, you'll know what is good advice for you and what isn't.

For example, we fight. I have a bad temper, I yell, I've even been known to throw things (not at anyone). Mainly I blow off steam when he's not around but he's been known to cop it occasionally too. But I don't do it a lot and he's very stable, somehow this isn't an issue in our relationship. We talk out the real issues and are very respectful and loving, this is all just part of our dynamic. The idea of a relationship where we don't fight (like so many above) seems claustrophobic to me. I've had friends and relatives over the years tell me they want a relationship like mine, we're a great couple that works. So work your dynamic whatever it may be. Enjoy your partnership, enjoy the life you have together and screw outside expectations.

At the same time you need to notice when it's not working and be prepared to do something about it. That's when reading advice from others can really be useful, a different approach or fresh ideas can break a deadlock. I'm not sure how to articulate what it means to not be working, I think you just need to be engaged enough with the relationship to recognise when it's happening. Notice when it's not working for your partner too, these things aren't always even.

The fact that you care enough to ask about this stuff is a good sign. Don't overthink things. Allow yourself to be present in that relationship and be open to your spouse and it will be fine.
posted by shelleycat at 3:59 PM on September 8, 2006

Sovereign ingredient for a happy marriage: Pay cash or do without. Interest charges not only eat up a household budget, awareness of debt eats up domestic felicity. -- Robert Heinlein
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:15 AM on September 9, 2006

I'm informed by my wife that we've actually been together for 11 years and married for 9. How the time does fly.
posted by ook at 8:39 AM on September 9, 2006

My SO and I have been together for eight years and married for seven (our anniversary was last Friday). We've been through some terrible times, and while outside forces were at work, we only made it harder on ourselves by not communicating.

You *have* to talk to your partner, about everything. Not just about how you feel, but about what you thought was funny that day, and which books you're reading and that you saw a cloud in the sky that looked like a bunny. Let your SO be a true part of your life, not "just" someone to fill the romance slot.

And you have to listen, when your partner wants to talk. Really listen, not just wait for a pause so you can talk again.

Presents and surprise parties excepted, don't keep secrets from one another. For one thing, if there's ever someone in your life who wants to divide and conquer the two of you, this will make it far easier for them. And for another, if you're going to share your lives, keeping secrets is an impediment to that.

Have your SO's back. This doesn't mean you have to always agree...but not agreeing isn't a reason to run someone down, or to let other people do so.

Laugh. Tell jokes, watch silly movies, just be dorky together.

And, respect one another's limits. For example, not wanting to be tickled isn't being a stick-in-the-mud, it's a limit that should be acknowledged and respected.

Try not to fall into what society thinks your roles should be. There's no law saying the female has to make dinner and the male has to take out the trash. Divide responsiblities by what each of you like to do. Go down the list of what has to be done and if there's something both of you hate to do, either flip a coin or take turns doing it.

Have as much fun as possible, and delight in one another.

posted by myschyf at 6:36 PM on September 19, 2006 [7 favorites]

I want to echo a few commenters.

John Gottman is fabulous. Check out his "Seven Habits for Highly Successful Marriages" book. The clincher, according to Gottman, for a successful marriage, is the repair attempt after an argument.

When I married in 1998, we agreed that divorce wasn't an option and that there are no dealbreakers.

We work well together; we appreciate each other's strengths and we cover the other's weaknesses; we amuse each other and we each enjoy the other's company.

I am lucky, I suppose. If marriage is "work," I love my job.
posted by Heels at 12:14 PM on September 25, 2006

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