After 38 years of marriage Jay Leno says this is the key to success

Mavis Leno on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" at the NBC Studios in Los Angeles, Ca. October 3, 2001.
Kevin Winter | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Jay Leno may be known for his affinity for cars — his auto collection includes over 100 vehicles — but his biggest commitment is to his wife of 38 years, Mavis.

In a recent Q&A interview with The Wall Street Journal, Leno said, "I always tell people that you should marry the person you wish you could have been. That's a pretty good goal."

He says he's learned a key lesson: "The secret to a long marriage is realizing there's nothing really worth fighting about."

The two met in 1976 The Comedy Store in Los Angeles, where Leno was performing. Despite the length of their union, Leno revealed in a 2014 interview with the Los Angeles Times that their decision to get married wasn't a romantic one – he didn't even get Mavis an engagement ring until years later, because they had just bought a house at the time. Instead, they married because Jay had his own insurance policy and wanted it to include Mavis in case something happened to him.

"Might as well get married," he says he thought. They had a small wedding with just a few friends in attendance.

Mavis Leno and Jay Leno during Jay Leno Recieves 2,156th Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California, United States.
Jim Smeal | Ron Galella Collection | Getty Images

"You should always marry your conscience," Jay says in the Times interview. "By that I mean, in show business, it happens in sports and politics, too, you go through the usual avarice, and you need someone who will go, 'What are you doing? You don't act like this.' If you wind up with someone who enjoys those things, you go to hell pretty much together. I spent half of my life trying not to disappoint my mother and the other half trying not to disappoint my wife. I mean, you have to respect the standard. You need to be able to look in the mirror."

Being an equal partner with your spouse is advice some of the most successful take seriously. Warren Buffett says who you choose to marry is the most important choice you'll make in life because, "you want to associate with people who are the kind of person you'd like to be."

Melinda Gates says it's, "even more important than what career you have" and her husband Bill Gates suggests, "try to pick very carefully and wisely." Before marrying Melinda, he even once listed the pros and cons of marriage on a whiteboard, given the weight of the decision and its meaning.

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

Don't miss: Before he made it big, Jay Leno slept in his car and squatted in empty LA homes

Why the secret to your success is who you marry
Why the secret to your success is who you marry