Take a healthy dose of respect and mix with understanding, caring, compromise and humor. That, according to long-married couples, is the recipe for a good marriage.
Thursday is Valentine’s Day, and couples everywhere will exchange cards, flowers, candy, jewelry and other forget-me-nots. It’s a day intended for love. But, how do you make it work in the long run? Many people can stay married, but having a strong, healthy relationship goes much deeper than just staying together.
The Dothan Eagle sought some advice from couples at Rose Hill Senior Center who have a combined 197 years of marriage between them.
“Confidence in each other and respect for each other,” said Mac McSween, who has been married to his wife, Mildred, for 58 years. “Everybody says the word ‘love.’ But what is love, really? What is love? I don’t know, I think those two things are love – and caring.”
Mac and Mildred McSween were in their early 20s when they married. They met as students at Auburn University – Mac a Navy veteran; Mildred an Army veteran and a northern transplant. The couple married after knowing each other almost two years. They have three sons.
There are some absolutes they believe about marriage – you should think about finances before you marry and always live within your means, and both parents are needed for children. There are some things they don’t understand about modern couples, such as living together before marriage. But they really don’t understand why some couples can’t seem to stay married.
“How can you love someone so much that you marry, and then be so out of love and separate?” Mildred McSween said. “I don’t understand that.”
While love may seem to be an obvious necessity for a marriage, making a marriage work takes understanding and compromise, said Lester Giglio.
“You have to know and understand the things going on,” he said. “You see a burst of news, and if you don’t understand it, it doesn’t mean anything to you. It’s the same way with a marriage. If you understand things and understand each other, then you work it out and it comes out OK.”
If one person dominates the marriage and always gets their way, then there’s no joy for the couple together, he said.
Lester and Carolyn Giglio met when they were in their early 20s. Carolyn, who lived in Connecticut, traveled to New York with an uncle who was friends with Lester’s grandparents. They’ve been married for 60 years and have five children and seven grandchildren.
Carolyn Giglio said couples have to realize there will be ups and downs – a family business may go under or all five children may have the chicken pox at the same time. The important thing, she said, is to weather the stormy times together and support each other.
“We never really let the children know how bad things were sometimes,” Carolyn said. “I often wondered if that was good or if it did not prepare them enough for their own marriages. They should understand you have these highs and lows.”
Ron and Kathleen Williams have been married 25 years, having both been married previously. For them, love, respect, understanding and patience are all the ingredients needed for a good marriage.
“The biggest thing is if you respect each other, because you can’t love somebody you don’t respect,” Ron Williams said.
Learning to live independently from parents is also necessary, he said. Some young couples today, he said, can’t seem to cope without their parents doing things for them. When they marry, neither the wife nor the husband seems to fully grasp what it is to live on their own or as a couple.
“If I were a young lady thinking about a husband and if he was living at home with his parents, I wouldn’t even date him,” Ron said. “If he can’t take care of himself, how can he take care of a family?”
Kathleen said marriage should be a partnership.
“The husband is supposed to help the wife when they get home from work,” she said. “Most of the time, the woman is in the kitchen, and he’s sitting down watching the dumb box. She’s as tired as he is. Even if she’s a stay-at-home mom, she’s more tired than he is.”
Pat and Willie Smith have been married for 54 years. They grew up on the same street, walked to school together and played together. Their mothers were best friends.
The biggest thing that has helped their marriage over the years has been talking out their disagreements.
“Always sit down and talk when you’ve got a disagreement or concern,” Pat Smith said. “Never go to bed angry with each other, and put God first in your life.”
And, Willie added, keep family and friends out of your marital issues and disagreements.
“If you want to stay long-married, keep people out of your business,” he said.
Pat said she thinks many couples would rather just get out of the marriage than work through their problems. You’ve got to want to be in the marriage, they said.
“We have always done everything together,” Pat said. “We go shopping together, we come home and we clean the house together, we cook together. Both of us can cook. Most of the time, you see one, you see the other. We’ve always been best friends. He’s always been my friend, and I like to be with him.”