Couples who made it work share their secrets

  • By Susan Reimer / The Baltimore Sun
  • Monday, April 4, 2005 9:00pm
  • Life

Don’t go to bed angry.

If the couples who told author Sheryl Kurland their secrets to 50 years of happy marriage have one secret in common, that would be it.

Don’t let anger be the bundle lying between you in bed at night. If you can’t resolve the argument, resolve to banish it until morning.

There is plenty of other good advice in Kurland’s new book, “Everlasting Matrimony: Pearls of Wisdom From Couples Married 50 Years or More.”

“Remember your children will hear if you lived right,” wrote Alice Chancey of Tampa, Fla., married to Guy since 1931.

“Family and friends talk a lot, make it good.”

“We got one piece of advice from the minister who married us, and it is one we carried with us from the beginning and one that works,” wrote Suzanne Concelman of Pittsburgh, married to George since 1950.

“He told us that there is no such thing as a 50-50 marriage. A good marriage is 75-25 – and both sides give 75 percent.”

The book has the look of a wedding album, and it includes the wedding pictures of the couples who agreed to write down for Kurland the secrets to their long marriages.

Both the husbands and the wives responded, including such pearls of wisdom as this one from Sydney Cooper of Lake City, Fla., married to Rosalie since 1942:

“Always allow your wife to win (she will anyway).”

Kurland said the idea for the book came to her when her in-laws celebrated their 50th anniversary.

“It was about the same time that all the celebrity couples were getting divorced: Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid, Alec Baldwin and Kim Bassinger.

“I wondered what the difference was.”

Kurland noticed that most of the marriage self-help books were written by third parties – observers of marriage – and not by the men and women in the enduring marriages.

So she decided to ask them herself what made their marriages work for so long.

She put ads in newspapers and visited retirement homes, churches and synagogues. Many of her interviews were the result of referrals. “People would contact me and say, ‘You should talk to my aunt and uncle out west,’” she said.

She had hoped for 50 couples but got more than 75. The only criteria was that the couple be married for more than 50 years and both spouses were living.

All the couples in this self-selected group testified to being happily married. “Those who were unhappily married didn’t want to participate,” Kurland said.

Most of these couples were married during wartime and were separated for months or years in the early days of their marriage.

“I envy the newlyweds today, who are with each other from the day of their wedding and can set up housekeeping immediately,” wrote Edna Crowley of Norfolk, Va., who married John in 1943.

“We had to wait a few long years, so maybe that is why it was so very special and precious to us.”

And all of these couples married very young by today’s standards – 18 or 22 years old. That’s not a formula for success, either.

“These couples grew up very fast,” Kurland said. “But the part that intrigued me about the war stories was the will and determination and commitment of these people. Divorce just wasn’t in their vocabulary.”

Themes repeat themselves in the written responses included in Kurland’s book: the importance of faith and church; the importance of sharing the financial decisions; the need to give each other space; the value of children; and the tremendous pride these couples have in them.

Kurland has been married for 15 years and has an 8-year-old daughter.

“One of the things that sticks with me is that, for so many of these couples, marriage is a way of thinking. It is selfless. You are always thinking about the other person’s well-being and welfare, about how to make them happy and their life richer. If you do that, it will come back to you.

“They always praise the other person for making the marriage successful.”

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