For Better, For Worse, For Life Couples whose marriages have withstood test of time tell secrets of their success

February 10, 1991|By Harriet Edleson | Harriet Edleson,Special to The Sun

What makes marriage last and be satisfying?

We asked five Baltimore couples who have been married 25 years or more and here is what they said.

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Janet and Bill Janyska of Linthicum, married 26 years:

"It was very close to love at first sight," says Mr. Janyska, 53, an electrical engineer with Westinghouse. "It got better the better I knew her." They met in June 1964 and were married Thanksgiving Day that year.

Communication, commitment, faith, common interests, appreciation for each other and sharing make their marriage work, says Mrs. Janyska, 49, a schoolteacher who teaches one of their five children at home.

They laugh as a family, and they never go to sleep without kissing each other good night.

"We have no secrets," she says. "We have shared so much of ourselves with each other. We're so committed to this relationship that there is no risk in anything. [We] can't say anything wrong. It comes down to 'I love you, it's OK.' It's definitely a sharing of souls.

"We're both committed to the importance of family, being with the kids [ranging in age from 5 to 23]. All relationships have a lot of problems," says Mrs. Janyska. "Passion? It's changed, but it hasn't fizzled."

Says Mr. Janyska, "We were very compatible. We like being around each other. If she's away I miss her. I like sleeping in the same bed. I like knowing she's in the house."

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Ruth and Irwin Wolff of Pikesville, married 40 years:

Common interests, trust, friendship, love, and give and take, says Irwin Wolff, 65, a retired director of consumer sales for Encyclopedia Britannica. "We're pretty much soul mates. We have the same outlook about life."

Says Mrs. Wolff, 62, who works as office manager at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, "We experience the same feelings. It's like maybe we were twins in some other life."

They laugh a lot together, and enjoy the same things, including theater, foreign films and public television. Each also has separate interests. For example, he swims regularly; she never learned how. She has been a national officer of AMC Cancer Research Center based in Lakewood, Colo., and involved in its Baltimore chapter.

"We both like our quiet time and our own space," says Mrs. Wolff, who went back to work a few years ago. He retired in 1983.

"We always put our money together," says Mrs. Wolff.

Her husband says, "It wasn't hers and it wasn't mine. It was ours. I had complete trust in her. I made the money and she organized it." These days, they have reversed roles. "He took over everything I used to do," she says.

Despite Mr. Wolff's illnesses, including cancer and a heart condition, the couple continues to enjoy activities together, including exploring Baltimore.

They are firmly committed to Judaism, but not ritually involved. Their two sons are married, and the Wolffs have four grandchildren.

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Deanna and Bob Margenthaler of Cockeysville, married 35 years:

For the Margenthalers, faith, religious beliefs, common interests, mutual respect, communication and intimacy are central to their marriage.

"We know what each other's thinking without voicing it," says Mr. Margenthaler, 55, a retired Air Force colonel, now dean of the Sellinger School of Business at Loyola College. "To others we would not appear to be that intense. [There are] a lot of words unspoken between us. [There is an] understanding between us. I think it always comes back to values."

Mrs. Margenthaler runs the house and does volunteer work, including serving as president of Women's Watch at the Timonium Presbyterian Church. They have two grown children and five grandchildren.

"We have that independence, yet being one," says Mrs. Margenthaler, 53.

Her husband says, "We're not of the now generation. In our early years things were tight and tough. We worked closely together, saved together, worked through a lot together. We always had to sacrifice, do without something to have something else.

"Whatever I have is hers," says Mr. Margenthaler. "She essentially handles all the money, writes the checks. Everything is joint ownership."

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Etta and Charles Simms of Hanlon Park, Baltimore, married 41 years:

Love and commitment to marriage, church and educating their five children, who range from ages 22 to 40, have kept them together. They also have three grandchildren.

"I think we both have a lot of drive and determination," says Mrs. Simms, 60, a special education teacher at Pimlico Middle School. "We had a lot of problems, but we were just determined to work them out. Our family was the most important thing."

Mr. Simms, also 60, was raised Methodist but converted to Catholicism when the children were teen-agers.

"The two of you work together," says Mrs. Simms. "We sit down together and talk and look at the advantages and disadvantages [of different decisions] and choose the best way to go."

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