LeadingAge Magazine · March/April 2016 • Volume 06 • Number 02

Advice From the Pros: 10 Marriage Tips From 4 Couples and 200 Years of Marriage

March 13, 2016 | by Randy Brown

Advice From the Pros: 10 Marriage Tips From 4 Couples and 200 Years of Marriage

It’s often said, “Experience is the best teacher.” In February, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we spoke with 4 dynamic and refreshingly candid senior couples who have achieved 200 years of marriage experience between them. Here, they share some terrific, sage advice useful to couples in their first or 50th year of marriage. These “seasoned newlyweds” are community members at Rowntree Gardens, a senior living community in Stanton, CA.

Carroll (86) and Bonnie (80) Smith have been married for 62 years. They met at a roller skating party organized by their church. Carroll and his friend saw a “cute blonde” at the other end of the rink. They agreed to race over, and the first to arrive would ask her out on a date. Bonnie had just moved out west, and wasn’t too happy about being uprooted during her high school years. Meeting her future husband changed all that; and they’ve been merrily rolling along ever since.

Mary (88) & Vince (94) Van Velzer have been married for 58 years. They met at a bachelor and bachelorette square dance group event that Vince organized “to meet girls.” He was a seasoned World War II pilot, and she loved the idea of flying one day herself. Their relationship took wing and Mary went on to become a pilot herself.

Gene (85) and Betty (75) Stowers have been married for 55 years. They met through their church youth group and realized they had a lot in common, including dancing, big band music, singing in the church choir and a strong faith in God. She’s a self-described people person who likes to make others feel welcomed and loved. He likes to ask questions and realizes that life doesn’t always provide all the answers.

Jim (84) and Betty (84) Railey have been married for 28 years. They met when he was coordinating the social dancing program as a department head at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She was president of the National Dance Association (NDA). Jim wrote Betty a letter seeking her help keeping the dance program at the school, and she kindly obliged. The next year, while waiting for a bus at the NDA convention, he noticed her name tag, looked up and thanked her for writing the letter. She said, “All you owe me is a dance at the mixer tonight.” They’re still waltzing through life together.

Be willing to forgive your spouse and yourself: “A good marriage is when there is one forgiver. A great marriage is when there are two forgivers. When you make the positive choice to forgive and set aside negative emotions, then your feelings follow your choices and happiness is in your future.”
- Carroll Smith

You can’t agree on everything, but you need to agree on the main things: “From the very beginning, we agreed about how we would raise our children and handle our finances. We were honest and fair with our boys, and always paid cash for everything. If we didn’t have the cash to buy something, we didn’t buy it. We have other differences, but it’s been essential to be aligned on the big things.”
- Mary Van Velzer

You don’t always have to prove that you’re right, because you end up being right together: “I promised to stay with him until death do us part and have found it rewarding to keep those vows with the Lord’s help. We’re a team. When I thank God for the ups and downs of our marriage, the Holy Spirit enables me. I feel my body and mind relax knowing we’re in this together, and it’s better than always being right.”
- Bonnie Smith

Enjoy physical activities together, and celebrate each other’s achievements: “When we were first married, I was a nationally ranked racquetball player and Betty had never played, but was anxious to try. I taught her to play; but at first she wasn’t that competitive. Two years later, we competed in the World Senior Olympics and both won Gold in the 60-plus category. It was a tremendous bonding experience.”
- Jim Railey

Celebrate traditions, and find new and exciting family traditions for yourselves and your own family: “My husband’s family had this tradition of going away on weekends to a remote cabin offering freedom, dirt roads and lots of room for family and friends. So we bought 20 acres in the high Mohave and spent the next 15 years building a cabin with our family and friends. Our sons have thanked us so many times for taking them out of the city and into nature—where they learned cooperation, self-sufficiency, compassion and respect.”
- Mary Van Velzer

Honor each other’s abilities and see differences as a gift: “I’m a detail-oriented planner who likes to prepare and stick to a schedule and routine. Betty is an intuitive thinker, plays it a bit looser and is inspired by the people around her. She is always open to trying new things. While we may value different things, we most value each other. We both care deeply about making each other comfortable with our decisions and feelings.”
- Gene Stowers

Never give up on your relationship, even for a second: “When things are going in a negative direction, don’t ever give up. Talk things through and find a way to reconcile the difficulty to make it work out. Focus on how you enjoy being good to your wife and appreciate how she enjoys being good to you. If the two of you stay appreciative and committed, you can’t miss.”
- Carroll Smith

Make dinner your family time, without distractions: “It isn’t easy, but we always made it a habit to eat dinner together at the dining room table with our sons, with no TV or other distractions. Discussing the things that went well during our day, sharing funny experiences, and talking about important things going on in our lives brought us together and built some amazing memories.”
- Vince Van Velzer

Take the time to talk and listen to each other: “Each new day is an opportunity to show your loved one that you really care about what they think and feel. We’ve always sat around and talked a lot. That really matters in a relationship. The key is to honestly listen to what the other is saying and think before you reply.”
- Betty Stowers

Don’t leave differences or conflicts unresolved: “Be broad-minded, and resolve conflicts as soon as possible. Whenever we have a disagreement or don’t know which decision is best for our future, Jim and I pray on it and talk things out. Keeping feelings inside isn’t healthy for people or their relationships. Sorting out your feelings and resolving differences of opinions will help you sleep better and wake up to a bright, new day.”
- Betty Railey