Secrets to a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship
I'm newly married. That means that like all newlyweds, my husband and I are awash in the bliss post-wedding life brings. It also means I have all sorts of relationship advice for all my single friends.
I'm sure they’re super excited to hear another rant from the happily married newlywed: "You just need to have total trust. You just have to really want it." Yeah, they love that.
The real test of a marriage, though, is something my new husband and I won't have for a while: time. But until we have the credibility that comes from being a long-married couple ourselves, I am lucky to have a legitimate resource at my disposal: my grandparents.
My grandparents Nick and Colista Leone have been married for 61 years. Their many stories are a collection of myths and legends so cemented into my psyche that I'm not even sure what's true anymore, so I called them for a refresher on what it takes to build a happy lifetime together.
In September of 1951, Nick and Colista met at a bus stop in Monterey, Calif. At 17-years-old, Colista was new to the area, originally from Missouri, but raised in Modesto. She'd recently relocated to Monterey to live with her aunt and uncle. Nick was fresh off the train from Brooklyn after an Army assignment to the Defense Language Institute to become an interpreter for the Korean War.
Strangely, what would become their story's most significant lesson came from the time soon after they met. "We had challenges from the start," said Nick. Neither family approved of the relationship. Colista came from a Southern Baptist background and Nick hailed from a strict Italian Catholic brood. Never lacking in passion or tenacity, the two eloped after three months. "Nick's mother didn't talk to him for two years," Colista said.
This adversity only brought them closer. In fact, over the years since, it’s always been the hard times that have helped strengthen their relationship. "So many things that happened to us were extraneous," Colista posited. What may have seemed catastrophic at the time was really just a blip in the span of a lifetime. "Even after losing everything, we got it all back. We got even more back, actually, although there was no way we could have known that at the time."
Other couples contribute their relationships' longevity to patience and compromise. Paula and Carl Ott of Modesto have been married 59 years. "We had an even division of labor, with Carl taking care of the family dairy and me taking care of the children and the house," said Paula. Their shared values, faith and community were also unifying forces. "We've led a very blessed life."
Jeanne and Mel Nelson couldn't agree more. Brought together when they were just 16, the pair met in church and sustained a relationship throughout college. Mel's career as an engineer took them all over California, Washington and Florida and after 56 years together, they have a few tips for newlyweds like me. "Do things together," advised Jeanne. "The biggest reward comes from sharing your life with someone. You can't just do your own thing and expect to grow closer."
Maintaining a happy relationship may mean sharing common values and interests, but it certainly doesn't mean you have to agree on everything. "You'd be surprised how many things there are to disagree about," laughed Nick.
But disagreements don’t have to be negative, either. Challenging each other and your relationship can lead to unexpected rewards. "We took a lot of risks," Nick said. "But I gained a lot of confidence through Colista's belief in me. I wanted to prove I was worthy of her faith."
According to the Leones, self-confidence was the glue that held them together. "If a person doesn't feel confident, they feel vulnerable and they get defensive. The fear of failure or getting hurt can be at the heart of a disagreement and you don't even realize it," said Nick. "Neither of us were very confident when we first met and we earned that through our relationship."
Through the eyes of those who have accomplished a lifetime of it, commitment looks beautiful. "It wasn't always easy," said Colista. "But we were both just determined not to give up."
For someone just a few months into married life, seeing the commitments in the generations before me have given me hope for a lifetime of joy with my new husband. Maybe in another 61 years, I’ll be the one giving the well-earned advice. Until then, I’ll keep giving the unearned kind. At least as long as my friends keep listening.