My Aunt and Uncle Just Celebrated Their 50th Anniversary. How Did They Do It?

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How many couples do you know who have made it to their 50th anniversary? I know just one—my aunt Julie and uncle Nick. Sadly, over 40% of marriages are expected to end in divorce before they reach five decades of marriage. So finding couples who are living “happily ever after” so long into their union has become as rare as spotting a blue lobster in the sea of love.

Last weekend there was an intimate gathering of family and friends at Julie and Nick’s Quebec cottage to celebrate their milestone. We all raised a glass to their success and shared our best memories of them as a couple. Their young grandchildren said cute things, their little faces lighting up when they spoke of the kindness of their grandparents, but it was their middle daughter Sandy who said it best.

Sandy read a long poem she wrote. There is one verse that I think sums up what it really takes to make a marriage last:

          Feed each other’s minds

          Nourish each other’s souls

          Know each other’s limits

          And help the other reach their goals

As I listened to Sandy’s words I reflected on how Julie and Nick have put the principles above into practice. I also couldn’t help thinking what a helpful reminder this was to those of us who aspire to be in a long and happy marriage.

Feed each other’s minds

After many years of marriage, it is easy for couples to become boring to each other. Exciting conversations in the early years of marriage that “feed each other’s minds” can descend into small talk about household chores, useless gossip, or the weather.

Although Julie and Nick are officially “retired” and in their 70s, they continue to be fascinated by the world around them. They read the paper every day, have seasons tickets to a classical concert series, and take German classes together (three of their grand kids live in Germany).

I listen to them talk about everything from family news to world politics with mutual respect and admiration. And sure, they talk about trivial domestic stuff too like what to put on the grocery list, but that doesn’t overshadow the more meaningful chatter.

Nourish each other’s souls

Julie and Nick are not “showy” in their love. They don’t have to prove it by buying each other expensive gifts. They know that there is no substitute for genuine affection, empathy and understanding. Love cannot be bought.
They spend real time together doing simple things like working on cryptic crosswords (ok, perhaps not so simple), taking care of their grand kids, and quietly reading side-by-side in bed. And they do little things that make each other happy, those small acts of kindness. Nick makes tea and delivers it to Julie’s bed every morning; Julie makes the effort to cook something new for dinner because Nick hates leftovers.

It isn’t those grand gestures that nourish their souls, rather knowing the other has their back no matter what.

Know each other’s limits

Many couples marry because they have fallen in love with the other’s good qualities like their sense of humour, ambition, or even their looks. But fewer couples marry each other because of their faults, not despite them—and that’s an important distinction.

Julie is not athletic like Nick. But I have never seen Nick push Julie past her limits. He will walk at her pace, and doesn’t make fun of her for being a slow poke. Nick doesn’t have Julie’s bottomless empathy, but Julie doesn’t hold him to the same high standard.

It’s easy to live with someone’s good qualities, but you have to embrace (and love them for) their less desirable ones too. Julie and Nick respect the other for who they are, and rarely make a big deal out of what the other may lack.

Help the other reach their goals

Marriage requires compromise and even the odd sacrifice. It’s no longer about “me” but very much about “we”. Too few couples can make the transition because they can’t or won’t put their partner’s needs and interests ahead of their own, at least from time-to-time.

Julie and Nick make small and bigger concessions, with generosity and little complaint. Julie is very shy, but routinely attended Nick’s work functions because she knew it made a difference to his career. Nick never wanted to buy a cottage because he didn’t want the expense and upkeep, but said “yes” when Julie fell in love with a big place that could accommodate large family reunions.

Being part of a couple means doing things you don’t want to do, just because it makes the other person happy.

Role models are important. Unfortunately, too few of us have older couples we can look up to for guidance and inspiration on how to make a marriage work. I think these four principles offer sound advice for living happily ever after.

Source on divorce rates:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/statistics-canada-to-stop-tracking-marriage-and-divorce-rates/article4192704/

Originally published in  eHarmony Canada

Photo credit: Flickr/Michell Zappa -hearts

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