A couple who's been happily married for 40 years reveals some of the secrets to making love last.
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In marriage counseling, we usually focus on what’s not working in order to establish an adequate plan to help correct the problem.
However, it’s also helpful to look at successful marriages. These can teach us not only that healthy love is possible, but also that we will never cease to delve into its great mystery.
Here’s an interview with a happily married couple (about to celebrate their 40th anniversary), from which all of us can get helpful tips …
You’re about to celebrate 40 years of marriage, and you give clear testimony that love is a union that can continue to grow. What would you consider the main features of your story together?
Husband: For us, understanding each other, which is not the same as getting to know each other. Getting to know each other applies to aspects that certainly have their importance, such as tastes, hobbies, interests and more. Understanding each other is above all learning to live in each other’s shoes, as the best way to love.
We agreed that, in order to achieve this understanding, we had to be absolutely sincere, or else we’d have a dysfunctional relationship. Although, to tell the truth, achieving this has cost us a great deal of work … and we’re still learning.
Wife: I think we’re getting there, because now, when we go through difficult situations such as the loss of a loved one, a failure, or other unfortunate circumstances, we share our pain and distribute its weight between the two of us, so the burden is lightened. On the other hand, when something happy happens, when we share it, the opposite happens: our happiness increases.
For us, the phrase “I don’t know how to live without you” actually refers to “living for the other, while the other lives my life … and vice versa.” It sounds like a tongue twister, but for us, it’s a great truth.
Husband: Before I got married I was too introverted, so at the beginning I was absurdly silent, even when my wife was by my side. But she patiently helped me to be open and to stop getting trapped in my own internal monologue. Then I realized that, in reality, I longed to pour out my interior life to her.
I also used to interrupt her, or not pay real attention to what she told me. Then I learned to listen to her quietly and attentively, to understand her. But then I realized that, in doing so, I had to look into her eyes, observe the expression on her face, the movements of her hands and more, in order to understand that, deep in her dialogues, I could find her motives, sorrows, and joys.
And in this way, little by little, I came to understand the way she wanted to be loved. This is how a lasting marriage is built.
Openness and trust
Wife: The way we’ve helped each other to improve is by opening up completely to each other and allowing ourselves to be truly known. This led to a great deal of trust, as we felt that we were together with someone who shared the same existence.
Of course, there’s a part of our interior life that we can only share with God, and that’s why we respect those spaces of silence in which each one of us prays.
Husband and wife: The greatest lesson we’ve learned is that, even with our natural differences and difficulties, thanks to mutual trust and participation in each other’s lives, we’ve always managed to renew our consciousness of being a “we.” Beyond what we might imagine or our false assumptions, we’ve been able to create our own reality, and with it, our own story together—a story that’s nothing more than our mutual identity in relation to each other.
Most marital and interpersonal conflicts are interwoven with a serious dysfunction of the capacity for dialogue and understanding of the parties involved. This shows that each spouse needs the presence, self-giving, and listening of the other.
It means that there cannot be an “I” without a “you” to embark on the path of love.