Lessons From a Long Marriage

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I am married for 51 years, to the same person. Among friends and family, there are a few half-century marriages. But statewide, we qualify as an endangered species --  54 percent of all California marriages end in divorce, a rate only slightly higher than the entire U.S. Even worse, 43 percent of first marriages end within 15 years. A friend had three marriages end before she found the keeper. When asked, she concluded, "It took me awhile to get it right."

Getting it right for us wasn't easy. When young people ask, "What kept you together for so long?" the answer isn't easy either. If our marriage was a gourmet meal, the main course would be a mix of love and commitment well-seasoned with trust, shared interests and physical bonding. At times our relationship drifted off course. Alarm bells of hurt, distrust and anger rang. Healing seemed elusive and sadness dominated. Yet we followed our lodestar of commitment, and in time we healed.

My husband and I have high energy levels and share many interests. Yet, we're independent souls who respect our differences. When one of us undergoes a major change, we work to adjust to the new status quo. We missed the wild 60s, being busy with career and family. In the 70s we entered a quasi-hippie mode, but at different rates of speed. There were bumps in our marriage until we found a good path.

When love is new, everything seems perfect, all cappuccino and dessert. But love and relationship change. Then you need a complete, nourishing meal -- a sense that "we" is more important than "me," a willingness to listen and an ability to change, or accept what won't change. Another thing that's true about any relationship, or meal: someone has to take the garbage out.

With a Perspective, this is Joan Reinhardt Reiss.