Longtime marrieds tell how it's done in book

February 13, 2005|By SUSAN REIMER

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 (Noble House, $39.95).

"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 as this one from Sydney Cooper of Lake City, Fla., married to Rosalie since 1942:

"Always allow your wife to win [she will anyway]."

"The idea came to me when my in-laws celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary," said Kurland.

"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 Basinger.

"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, `Not us, but 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 were 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," said Kurland.

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," said Kurland. "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. I am sure there were points when they were miserable, but they learned how to weave their way out of it."

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.

And some of the advice is profound in its simple good sense.

"Don't discuss sensitive subjects before dinner -- eat first," wrote Renee Flager, of New York City, married to Andrew since 1950. "My husband is very irritable when hungry."

Kurland, who has settled outside Orlando after living in Ellicott City for a while, has been married for 15 years and has an 8-year-old daughter.

She said the testimonies she collected for this book make her feel as if she is headed in the right direction.

"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."

And, she said, the happy couples had one more thing in common.

"They always praise the other person for making the marriage successful."

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