Family and Marriage

How to Stay Together 40+ Years

By Laura Foti Cohen

A marriage of 40 years or more doesn’t happen without love and work. In honor of the unofficial season of weddings, Ebell members approaching or past that milestone share their stories of staying together.

Suzanne Rosenblatt is a marriage and family therapist who doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk. She and Jeff Buhai married in March 1972 after knowing each other 11 months. What’s made it work for 40 years? Suzanne says, “We were young when we met, so there was a certain amount of dumb luck and good timing. But we knew we shared similar interests, values, a sense of humor and irreverence. Those things that drew us to each other are still very much a part of what makes the whole thing work.”

That doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Suzanne points out, “Marriage with children is very stressful, especially when both parents have careers. We just decided to make it work. And at the core there’s a tenderness, caring and a feeling of being lucky to be with the other person. I’m much better off with Jeff in my life. He’s a supportive and consistent partner, and he feels the same way about me. We’re both independent and low-maintenance. We do a lot of things separately, including sometimes vacationing.” Suzanne and Jeff’s two children are grown and pursuing successful careers.

Asked whether she believes it’s harder for the young and in love to make a lifelong commitment today, Suzanne says, “Expectations are very high today. No relationship is perfect and no partner can make you a whole, happy person. People expect happiness more now, and today’s stresses make it easy to blame a partner for unhappiness.”

She believes experience is the best teacher. “Having had previous relationships helps you know when you’ve found the right person.”

Loyce Braun, married to husband Joe for 46 years, has a different perspective on finding a life partner early. “These days, people have more baggage when they come into the relationship they’re finally going to commit to. So many people have lived with someone or been with lots of people. Every one of those experiences leaves a little footprint, not necessarily damaging but it does make it harder. We were very young, but we were fortunate that we could figure out how to do things that were new to both of us, rather than unlearn things that we’d done with other people.”

Loyce and Joe have been together since their first date, when they both attended UC Berkeley. They lived in the same apartment building, Loyce with two girlfriends and Joe with two other members of the school’s marching band. Loyce says, “My roommates and I would hear these sounds through the wall – they played with toy instruments and we were fascinated.

“One night Joe invited a girl to go out and she turned him down, so he asked me instead.” They went in Joe’s Pontiac to a party where they danced to the Beatles, and the rest is history. The couple marched together at Berkeley, and Loyce started teaching in Oakland. “He would pick me up on Fridays and the kids would hide behind the bushes to see my fiancé.” The couple was married 10 years before having their first child, then had another four years later. Both are now happily married.

Their marriage works in part, she says, because “Joe is so good-natured and fun, and he doesn’t get rattled. We’ve had a lot of adventures together and enjoyed every minute of it. One and one makes three: there’s this marriage that’s better than either of you separately.” Her advice: “Have a sense of humor and keep things in perspective. Be willing to entertain each other’s enthusiasms. Be willing to take a flyer at what the other loves, but also agree that if you don’t both love it, you do yours and I’ll do mine.”

Barbara Allen and her husband Stephen celebrated their 41st anniversary on Valentine’s Day. “We met on an airplane,” Barbara says. “I was a stewardess – not a flight attendant, since I I started working in 1960.” They married at the UN Chapel in New York in 1971 after dating several years.

Steve was originally from California and wanted to return; the couple moved to Los Angeles in 1973. Barbara retired after flying for 25 years when their son Michael was young. (Michael is now 29, married and living in New York.) Steve ran a direct mail marketing company that he ended up buying with a partner. They sold the company about five years ago and he retired, although he now works as a consultant.

Of her long marriage Barbara says, “We were both 31 when we got married. You know what you want then. It’s always a gamble, though. You wonder if you’re doing the right thing. But our values were similar. Fortunately I married a very good man.

“You have to be very considerate of one another. That person should be your best friend and you should enjoy being together, as well as having your own time. Celebrate every occasion – that’s more and more important the older you get. Always focus on the positive.” Her bottom line: “Be respectful, appreciate the other person and learn to keep your mouth shut.”

Ramona and John Selby have been married 39 years this month, after “courting” for seven years prior to their wedding. Ramona says, “We went around together long enough to understand each other as much as humanly possible. But of course you still learn something new every day.  As my mother said, you never know someone until you marry them. You have no way of being in the situations before you say ‘I do’ that come up afterwards. But if you’re tolerant and you work with each other, you can make it. John was a gentleman when I met him and he still is a gentleman.”

Couples don’t always lay such a strong foundation. “It’s harder now,” Ramona says, “because people don’t take time to get to know each other. You have to be in different situations and environments to see how the other reacts. You have to ask hard questions and get an understanding. Marriage will not make everything OK. You need to get on the same page ahead of time.”

The most important part of a strong foundation, she says, is, “We like each other. We are in love. Our relationship is based on trust and mutual interests.

“A marriage is two different people coming from two different points joining up in the middle. You can’t change the other person, you can only change yourself. Both of you have to want to change or make modifications to please the other to keep the marriage going. If you have worked things out, if you really love each other and are respectful of each other’s individuality, then it can work very nicely.”

Special thanks to photographer and Ebell member Mary E. Nichols for the Braun and Buhai photos, and John Hough (salome1@pacbell.net) for digital photography services.

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