Building a successful marriage is hard work, but worth the effort
In December 2004, while visiting the Island of Oahu, my husband Joe took a photograph of the east side of the island. Although neither of us is physically present in the picture, our footprints are embedded in the soft brown sand, a reminder of the journey we began over 30 years ago.
Our paths first crossed in Honolulu in 1967, when a friend invited Joe to my apartment to meet my sister. But as fate would have it, Joe and I ended up talking the entire evening. After dating for a year, we married in September 1968. The old saying that “opposites attract” in our case holds true. I am a 4-foot 10-inch Mexican-American, born and raised in California. I am punctual and enjoy reading, meditation and silence. Joe is a 6-foot 1-inch, Irish-American, born and raised in New York. He’s laid back, likes to watch TV, and silence makes him uncomfortable. Yet despite our cultural and personality differences, and a few bumps in the road, we remain committed to each other, celebrating our 39th wedding anniversary later this month.
Even though we are opposite in some of our personality traits, we do have some commonalities. We are both from blue collar families, raised Roman Catholic, and have the same political affiliation. Our childhoods were similar in that our parents and other close relatives provided us with love and support. These commonalities helped to shape our basic morals and values.
Coincidentally, the day after I began to write this column about marriage, an article in the Nevada Appeal indicated that Nevada has the highest divorce rate in the nation. Arguing about finances and a lack of communication are the reasons cited for most divorces. There are also a growing number of older couples choosing to divorce after several years of marriage.
My parents were divorced and Joe’s parents, although never divorced, had an unhappy marriage. Joe and I knew that we would have to work at our marriage, but we didn’t know how hard it would be. It has taken many years of working through our differences and to learn the art of compromise. Like many couples, we have argued about finances – one of us is a spendthrift, the other a saver. We learned to balance our opposing views about money through compromise and negotiation.
But it is perhaps our life experience together that has, more than anything, made us the marriage partners that we are today. The birth of our son, Marc, 32 years ago began our journey into the joys and fears of parenthood. Joe was present in the delivery room when Marc was born, and we were both awestruck by the sheer miracle of it all. The next 18 years of childrearing made us resolute in our commitment to each other and to our child. Another life-changing experience was the task of caring for our parents. Joe’s mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and mine was diagnosed with cancer. During these difficult times, the moral and emotional support we gave each other brought us closer in our relationship.
There are times, however, when one spouse makes a sacrifice for the other. Like when I decided to finish my bachelor’s degree at the University of Nevada, Reno after we both retired in 2004. This meant postponing our retirement plans for three years. Because of my commute and study time at UNR, Joe and I spent quite a bit of time apart. It was not easy, but when I graduated we both concluded that it was worth the hard work and sacrifice.
Joe believes that laughing together is important in a marriage. For example, he recalls the time when we were watching the movie “Mermaids” with Marc. A situation in the movie struck us as so hysterically funny, that we had to put the movie on pause, while we composed ourselves. Marc looked at us and shook his head. “It’s a generational thing,” we said. Laughing also helps to defuse an argument, especially when there’s been a miscommunication. And, that’s becoming more common as we grow older and hard of hearing.
Life experience and humor are important in a marriage, but learning to love each other unconditionally was the real turning point in our marriage. Unconditional love was reinforced when we returned to our Catholic faith in 1983. In our faith tradition we are called as a community to love and forgive one another. I would encourage couples who are having difficulties in their marriages to seek counseling through their church, marriage and family therapists, or other support groups.
Affirmation is important in a marriage, so take some time this week to share what it is you love about your spouse. And, to couples who celebrate wedding anniversaries this month – congratulations!
Fresh Ideas: Starting conversations by sharing personal perspectives on timely and timeless issues.
• Elizabeth Reville is a freelance writer and resident of Carson City.