Love evokes many images: high school sweethearts, pledging their undying love; couples separated by war, yearning for each other’s touch; lovers making great sacrifices in the quest for the safety and comfort of their beloved.
These crucial moments paint the highlights of the love stories around us. In the background there may be moments, hours, even decades of the daily aches and joys of love, binding the whole beautiful picture together.
Today love seems a fragile, fleeting thing. Too often it seems that love dies in the blossom of its youth. A love that lasts a decade can seem a rare thing anymore. How precious then is a love that flourishes for 50 years? Stories of love that has lasted so many decades are worthy of admiration and imitation. What are the secrets of these couples who have lasted? We asked several couples, whose love and commitment have spanned the half-century mark, to share their stories, their secrets and their advice.
Edward and Angie Smith were high school sweethearts. They met when they were freshmen and started dating their senior year. They graduated in May of 1944, and were married October 8, 1944, on Angie’s 18th birthday.
Nine months later, Edward was drafted into the army. Of course, the couple didn’t want to be separated, so Angie traveled with Edward as much as possible. But when Edward was sent to Germany for a year, Angie returned to her parents’ home.
During that year, the Smiths did their best to stay close. Ed wrote his wife every day. Angie feels God helped them to be faithful to each other.
Thinking back to those early years Ed says, “Obviously, the early portion of married life can be a ‘testing time’—letting your thoughts, moods, emotions and plans blend into a harmonious unit [in an effort] to become truly synergistic. Having to leave my bride of just over a year behind, while serving in the military at the Nuremberg Trials in Germany, was a sad time.” Finding a job just after World War II was not easy either, and there was very little pay in those days. With teamwork and careful planning, however, he explained that they were able to buy and pay for their first home.
Over the years, Ed and Angie Smith survived many other trials, which tested their faith and courage. “It was not easy at all, but our love for God and one other pulled us through,” he said.
Every love story has its own tempo and its own temperament. Yet, they all share some common themes and experiences.
Jack and Anne Elliott live in East Texas and have shared 53 years together. Those years have been filled with hard work and trials, as well as joyous times spent with family. “The hardest times we faced were the early years when we were getting to know each other on a deeper level, when finances were tight and the babies were coming, and we were still young and centered on self,” said Anne Elliott.
She also reminisced about some of the best memories through the years: “Romantic memories of private times we shared as husband and wife—anniversaries, weekend getaways, special evenings together, times we worked together on projects which sometimes succeeded and sometimes didn’t…. All the little things, planned and unplanned, which transformed our relationship from the hum-drum to the sublime.”
When asked about the most difficult times, Jean Pulliam, who will celebrate her 50th anniversary in March with her husband Ken, said the “hardest times were the financial problems all newlyweds have. We have had our share of trials. But God and love got us through.”
Two years ago Ken Pulliam faced a life-threatening heart condition and the couple went through the trauma of by-pass surgery. Today you’d never know it, as the Kentucky couple walks hand in hand with laughing smiles and a twinkle in Ken’s eye. It seems they’ve learned to look at the bright side. Jean Pulliam said, “My best memories are the whole 50 years….”
Hard Won “Secrets”
What are the secrets of the success of these couples, who have survived the ravages of time and trials? How have they weathered the storms of disease, financial strains, being separated for a year and all the daily trials that can wear down a relationship?
Ed Smith summed up his secrets of true love with these Cs: “Commitment, communication, cooperation and compromise for the mutual care and concern of one another is most vital. Planning and doing things together is very necessary. We never wanted to be apart—where one went, the other wanted to go.
“Love must be shown and genuinely expressed. I often tell my wife: ‘Honey, when I married you 55 years ago—I thought I loved you, and now 55 years later— I know I love you .’ Remain the best of friends and always be faithful to each other,” he said.
Anne Elliott shared these secrets to a successful marriage: “First and foremost there must be an understanding on both hands that marriage is a life partnership—that it was meant to succeed and to provide a stable, safe haven where husband and wife can support and comfort each other through life’s good times and bad times, and to raise a family of secure, well-brought-up children for the next generation.
“No marriage of mortals is ever perfect, because we are imperfect. Our selfish natures often provoke each other in a myriad of ways. But if the love for each other is founded on respect for and admiration of character, it will not fail in any adversity.”
Jack Elliott adds: “More than anything else, our marriage has held together comfortably since we came to understand and practice God’s guidance on marriage from the Bible. After all, God is love and He knows best.”
Ken Pulliam revealed some keys he has discovered. “You have to love and respect your wife. Marriage is a lifelong commitment. Young couples today have the mind-set, ‘if it does not work out, we will divorce.’ You have to work at being married. When you go out together, treat her as your date, show her the same love and concern that you did when you were first dating prior to marriage.
“A sense of humor will go a long way in your marriage and get you over a lot of rough times. See the humor in the situation and you will feel better and things will get better. My wife and I have poked fun and teased each other going all the way back to our dating days.
“Sharing is paramount in marriage—everything is ‘ours’ not ‘yours’ or ‘mine.’ Give her well-deserved compliments, surprise her, when she probably thought you did not even take notice at the time. You have to have a forgiving nature and not pout or hold grudges. We are told not to let the sun go down on our wrath. Kiss and make up—there is a lot of fun and enjoyment in the making up process!”
Jean Pulliam isn’t convinced that there are any “secrets” to 50 years of marriage. “Just be sure you choose the right mate and be true to your marriage vows.” She agrees with her husband that you “definitely need a sense of humor and lots of love. Be sure to dwell on the positive, never the negative. After 50 years, we still hold hands and love each other.”
We asked these couples what advice they would have for those thinking about marriage, and for those recently married. Since the early years of a relationship can be the most challenging, having mentors with 50 years of experience can be invaluable!
Ed Smith reminds couples that “prayer is vital. Ask God to guide the decisions. I still remember vividly praying (as best I knew how): ‘God, if it is Your will and this is the wife I should have, please let it be.’ He graciously answered with the ‘best wife in all the world!’”
He encouraged those thinking about marriage to get to know each other. “Even play some type of competitive game in which there is a winner and loser and see how the prospective spouse controls or loses their temper or composure. Look for extreme mood swings. Observe how the prospective mate handles their relationship with their parents, siblings, friends, etc. Chances are you will be handled in much the same way.”
Anne Elliott also stressed the importance of getting to know the person in many different situations. “What is his or her attitude toward work? Toward play? Is he or she glib with the truth? Does he or she drink too much at parties? Would he or she rather play than work? Do you share similar interests in religion, music, literature, education, recreation?”
To expect perfection in a potential mate while being imperfect yourself shows as much immaturity as the belief that “I know he’ll change because he loves me,” said Mrs. Elliott. “Each partner should realize that just as he wants a worthy spouse, the other one does, too, and so he should strive in his own life to live up to that ideal as well.
“Love and marriage do not change human nature. In other words, ‘What you see is what you get.’ If you enter into marriage blinded by physical attraction, you will be rudely awakened not long after, when the full character of your spouse becomes evident. This is the single most common reason for the failure of marriages today,” Mrs. Elliott said. She also encouraged couples to seek the input of their parents. “By involving parents in the process early on, before romantic attachments have formed, the wisdom of their counsel can be invaluable.”
“Be sure the one you choose to marry is the one you want to spend your life with,” said Jean Pulliam. Then, once you’ve made the commitment, stick with it. Don’t look for a way out, but for ways forward. “Divorce was never in our vocabulary,” she said.
Since work plays such an important role in our lives, Mrs. Elliott advised that a wife should make an effort to understand her husband’s work, and he hers. “In this way they can freely share their work-related experiences and difficulties and gain the emotional support they need at critical times. This may entail some study, but it will pay dividends in communication, closeness and commitment—the three big Cs of marriage.
“After 20 years of marriage I became an architectural librarian and for the first time my husband could talk to me about his work…the problems his department faced when building, remodeling, getting needed supplies and managing the department. We became closer than we ever were before. We now spoke the same language.”
Speaking of work, Ken Pulliam gave this advice to new husbands: “If the wife works outside of the home, you should share the housekeeping chores with her. She shouldn’t have to work eight hours at a job and then come home and do all the housework too.”
Jean Pulliam summed her advice up this way: “Your spouse must definitely be your best friend—one you can communicate with and tell everything to.”
Advice From an Ancient Source
These vintage secrets and advice reflect ancient wisdom—secrets from the Creator of love and marriage. Consider the simple (yet not always easy) keys revealed in what’s popularly called the love chapter:
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 4 Charity suffers long, and is kind; charity envies not; charity braggs not itself, is not puffed up,
5 Does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil;
6 Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
7 Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Charity never fails: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
American King James Version×).
This love reflects the perfect love of God, and is the ideal that we can strive for in marriage and all our relationships. In good times and in difficult times, when our internal resources run short, we can turn to the ultimate source of real, true, powerful love—the eternal God. With His Spirit growing in us, our love can grow and flourish, not just for 50 years, but forever!