Submitted by Patricia Bubash, M.Ed., LPC
My parents’ marriage does not look like my marriage or that of my friends. This is not just because they have been together 70 years (wow, a lot of togetherness) or that they are much older, but it is a difference in the blueprint of what marriage is to them vs. what it is to us baby boomers. Baby boomers when talking about a good marriage will often say, “Sue and Bob are very compatible”. We admonish that it is important to be compatible with our spouse. Compatibility is “key” to a successful relationship. My dad dispelled this theory for me when he revealed a different scenario for his and my mother’s marriage. Quite an unexpected revelation!
Five years ago my husband and I were visiting my parents, making preparations for their sixty-fifth anniversary. As we sat eating our breakfast, my little feisty Irish dad, looked up from his plate of bacon and eggs to say, “You know we really are incompatible”. This was an unsolicited comment, no foreword, no gradual entering into this topic, no earlier conversation about marriage, but there it was –what we all strived not to have, “an incompatible marriage”, and my dad is telling me I am sitting in the middle of incompatibility! Everyone who knows my parents observes that they are very different in temperament: he is the one that sees the “cup half full”- she observes the same cup as “half empty”. When they eloped at the very young ages of 17 and 19, friends and family predicted, “It won’t last!”
As the years have accumulated, I have become very aware of the positive person that my dad is. I admire him as he continues to be active, to try to keep a positive outlook with this difficult task of aging. My mom does not share his life view, and I see how it wears on him. Her negativity certainly wears on me and I am not with her 24/7. So how have they sustained this lifelong marriage with such different perspectives, attitudes? Well, I have no doubt that if they were a couple of today, they would not be celebrating even ten years of marriage. Statistics tell us this- almost half of all first marriages fail. Today our blueprint for marriage is one where a couple enjoys shared interests, similar views, recreational time, and the less stress, the better. If these situations can be achieved, the odds are lessened for divorce-maybe! Today’s couples have work days filled with stress, high expectations, competition in the work place. Typically, this is the day for both spouses. Our society sees fewer and fewer marriages where the wife stays home, as did my mother.
So back to the question: “So how have they stayed married”? My parents are members of what has been termed “The Greatest Generation”, and the attributes of this generation were: integrity, loyalty, commitment, staying power, and at the altar when the words, “till death do we part” were spoken, it meant just that! A commitment to marriage was forever-no exiting. This belief, vow, commitment has not been embraced by the last two generations, their children, and my children. We have one of the highest divorce rates of the century. Marriage gurus, talk show hosts, authors, have advised us, if our marriage was not compatible, happy, and fulfilling, and then get out of it. Divorce became a very acceptable status for baby boomers.
My sisters and I admire our parents, and are certainly grateful for their longevity in age and marriage. As my younger sister said with relief, “I am so glad they stayed together because where would we be if they hadn’t”? Our marriages do not look like theirs, but we can still learn from their examples. Examples that show their care for each other as they age, cherishing each other, and their memories, love for children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, sharing a love of God, and strength of character. So on this celebration of their 70th anniversary, we, simply, chuckle at my dad’s past revelation, grateful for their mutual love and commitment, and celebrate their marriage. We are anticipating and planning for a 75th celebration for their “incompatibility”.
Read more from Patricia in her book Successful Second Marriages:
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