In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin solicited advice for her month dedicated to marriage and one of her friends offered that her grandparents, married 70 years, said the secret to a happy marriage is to enjoy an indoor game and an outdoor game together.
To get another perspective, we asked two couples: Hank and Harriett, married for 50 years, and newlyweds, Dale and Sissi.
Love at first sight for all of you?
Hank: I don’t know if it was love at first sight, but it was attraction at first sight. It was at a fraternity party in college. We picked each other out.
Dale: We were out with mutual friends. And as a traditional southern girl, Sissi wouldn’t give me her number.
What led to the decision to marry?
Harriet: What were we thinking? I don’t know what we were thinking. We met on May 20, 1960, and were married June 11, 1961. There was no drawn out … thing. If you wanted to be with someone, you got married. It was the mindset of that time.
Did you have certain expectations of what your marriage would be like?
Hank: Our aspirations were very traditional. We wanted to have a family and we wanted to grow together. I don’t think we planned for 50 years or even five years down the road at that point.
Why bother with the whole marriage thing? Why not just be together?
Dale: From a guy’s perspective, I can connect with that a little bit. I think it’s more for the girl: Getting married shows commitment. It’s a promise. And if you’re gonna be together, why not throw a good party.
Sissi: For me, it’s that the tradition of marriage means a lot. Having that symbolically is more important than just being with somebody.
Hank and Harriet, did your ideas about marriage hold true over half a century?
Harriet: They did hold true. We wanted to be with one another, to raise a family and to help each other grow. I think we fulfilled that.
Did you ever worry, with all that growing, that you’d grow apart?
Hank: We’ve grown together and separately. We encourage each other in pursuits that the other one is not skilled or not interested in.
Harriet: Yeah. Over 50 years, you’re going to change a lot. You need a partner who’s going to encourage that.
Hank: For example, Harriet has become a professional artist — she’s a sculptor. I can’t chisel a piece of rock and get a flower or what have you, but I’m interested, and I encourage her.
Hank and Harriet, what was your most trying time?
Harriet: When Hank was first given the opportunity to go overseas for work, it was to Switzerland for five years. So we sold our house and moved to Switzerland with everything we had. I had to learn French, the kids were only in kindergarten and first grade … it was really
very difficult. And then, within six months, Hank was asked to go to Australia and next thing you know, we’re packing up to move there.
Years later, on the plane back from Australia, I made Hank sign a written contract that
said we would never, ever pack up and move again. I think I still have it.
So, that’s compromise right there. Do you have any other important rules?
Dale: We turn the TV off when we eat dinner.
Sissi: Yes, and we always sit at the dining table.
Hank: Funny you should say that — we have that rule, too. We like to know what each other has done that day.
Dale: Unless there’s a football game on.
Hank: Oh yeah, for a playoff game we make a compromise: TV on, but no sound.