MARRIAGE MAGIC: Thoughts on keeping the spark that makes a marriage last


When John Horne greeted his bride at the altar to exchange wedding vows 59 years ago, neither he nor his beloved Joan knew with any certainty whether theirs would be a “happily ever after” romance.

As childhood sweethearts — they met at 13, started dating at 16 and got married at 20 — the couple launched a remarkable love affair which John attributes to luck.

“We were lucky,” he says, “that we grew together rather than grew apart.”

That bond, which continues to delight the Illinois couple today, Joan says, has grown even stronger as they have grown older. “’Til you’re 65 or 70,” she adds, “you don’t think you’re as old as those other people. You think you’ll live forever.”

But when your friends and family begin having ailments, she admits, “we think we are on the way down, not up. So we especially enjoy each day and each other. It’s a lot harder to have happiness alone.”

For a time in recent years, marriages were given a 50 percent statistical chance of success, though number crunchers now say, the divorce rate is shrinking a bit for multiple reasons. Therefore, does success simply mean not divorcing? I believe otherwise.

We are not highlighting marriages here that merely have survived the test of time, but focusing on marriages that have flourished over the years with a sense of sweetness, a sprinkle of silly and a dash of heart thumping magic.

A matchmaker couple brought Sharon and Julius Swanson together at a party in Portland on June 24, 1967, and led to marriage 318 days later. It’s impressive because both Sharon and Julius were previously divorced, and in the midst of their blind date, Sharon even told her friend, “He’s handsome and personable, but not someone I’d want to spend the rest of my life with.”

Fact is, after the party, the couple talked until sunrise and — as they say — the rest is history.

So why in the world do some marriages sparkle while others fizzle? Thanks for asking.

Please indulge me my own observations at this point. After 37 years of marriage to Laurie Christopher, my one and only true love, I feel entitled to add at least a few thoughts on the subject of keeping a marriage happy, especially in later years.

I will admit that after a nearly flawless year-long engagement that began at midnight beneath the Eiffel Tower, some strain did creep into the earliest times of our wedded relationship – lover’s spats and stupid arguments over stupider stuff. Now, after years of reflection, I have somewhat confidently figured out why, in the midst of plenty of hugs and kisses, we verbally sparred from time to time.

Though we were a strong-willed, loving couple, I think we subconsciously feared that marriage would cause our individuality to slip away. So, each of us somehow needed to win our fair share of the arguments/disagreements/spats that cropped up. Stupid, right? We were simply defending our territory as best we could. In some bizarre way, it seemed right at the time.

Our debates today are no less stupid than they were 37 years ago, but they are far, far less frequent. And they are often opportunities to turn disagreements into laughter decorated with more hugs and kisses.

So, here are my Unofficial Rules for a Happy Marriage:

There are no rules for a happy marriage. Period. It solely depends on how hard you work on your ever-changing relationship. Legendary columnist Erma Bombeck said, “Marriage has no guarantees. If that’s what you’re looking for, go live with a car battery.”

If there were rules, one of them would be to contentedly gift your partner with 110 percent, and be satisfied with 100 percent in return. Honestly, it all evens out.

Have a fierce determination to make the marriage happy and everlasting.

Always make each other feel as secure as possible: emotionally, sexually, financially, etc. No surprises, threats or nonsense. Gentlemen, consider this quip from drama king Alfred Hitchcock, “The ideal husband understands every word his wife doesn’t say.”

Finally, build your relationship on trust. As I repeatedly told my children, “I will trust you until I have some reason not to.” It’s a mantra that suits adults as well. Trust is glue that binds relationships.

Richard and Janet McDonald were “magic” together, Richard says. “She was her own person, and I definitely was, too. That made life interesting and it continually lit our fire for each other.”

While deeply grieving her recent passing, Richard enthusiastically celebrates the joys he and Janet shared for 37 years, cultivating diverse interests and friendships as they split their retirement time between Illinois and Florida.

Part of their special something, Richard says, was “never let disagreements fester. It’s better in the long run to make your partner feel good than to be right yourself.”

Marriage, of course, is always good for giggles and potshots. And rightly so, since humor keeps the institution lively. The oft-quoted “Anonymous” said, “Marriage is a relationship in which one person is always right and the other is the husband.”

Mickey Rooney — a veteran of eight marriages —quipped, “Always get married in the morning. That way, if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted the whole day.”

There’s no need to waste the nights either, although the matter of sex can be an obstacle in later years. Oregonian Mark Evans says, “It can be hard to talk about (sex) with the one you’ve been having sex with and then seem to be having less of it than you used to have. And if it persists, a wall is built that gets higher if sex discussion isn’t begun.”

Having been happily married to Karen for 43 years, Mark sums it up, “That wall I mentioned crumbles away quickly when you are intimate.”

California couple Walter and Irene Martin say gentle tenderness on a daily basis was a key ingredient for their 48 years of happy marriage. Walter says there has been plenty of romance and “it has been important for us to say ‘I love you’ to each other every day, every phone call, every anniversary. Appreciate the years you have been together. Know that it is a gift.”

Ready for a final marriage potshot? It was the venerable maestro of one-liners, Henny Youngman, who proffered, “The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret.”

Not so, Henny. Even after many years of marriage, the secret is to make an effort every single day. Add a dash of luck and a spattering of persistence and you may well find a happily ever after romance.

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