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Love that lasts
Two couples that have stood the test of time share their secrets
By JILL ELLIS, Special to QMI Agency
CANOE - Lifewise Updated: addthis

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(Shutterstock)

    Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the happiest couple of them all? If it's not you and your special someone, then the advice of these long-married couples may help.

    Valentine's Day is reportedly an awful day on which to be single, but those in long-term relationships often resent it too.

    "Valentine's Day pressures you to be romantic, even if you're not feeling it," says one wife, whose nine-year marriage is going through a dry spell.

    A recent study by the Vanier Institute of the Family estimates that four in 10 marriages end in divorce, so inquiring minds want to know: how do you make love last?

    Londoners Pam and George Hernandez* have been married for 30 years. This is no accident, according to Pam; her relationship with George is so happy that "if I didn't have him around, I wouldn't remarry because I couldn't replace him." This, however, doesn't mean that the couple hasn't gone through tough times. "We lost of our first child as an infant. That's enough to tear a relationship apart, but it made us stronger."


    These high school sweethearts were apart for their first year after graduation, when Pam studied in Europe for a year.

    "When I came home I knew he was the one," she says. Here are some of the concepts that have kept them glued together for three decades:

    We lived together for six years before we got married; we both knew well what we were getting into.

    We have similar careers, so we speak the same language and can understand each other's work frustrations.

    We have similar interests. We love the outdoors and water sports, like golfing and sailing.

    We respect each other's differences and have mutual respect. We have separate interests.

    We share the chores. He's not shy to pick up the vacuum and help out.

    Pam explains she thinks the last point has been vital to keeping peace in the house for so long.

    In the United States, couples in second marriages have a higher divorce rate - 70%. In Canada, the number is only 29%, according to Stats Can, but second marriages have specific pitfalls.

    Hannele and Norm Hobb, of Lakefield, Ontario, have been married for 29 years, and it is the second marriage for both. They met on a ski trip and have been having fun together since. That's one of their key ingredients, according to Norm.

    "Our emphasis is on doing most things together and enjoying that. It sounds corny, but we are best friends. I would rather spend time with Hannele than go on a guys' weekend," he explains.

    Hannele adds that each partner having and controlling his/her own money has been important to the relationship. This professional couple contributes proportionately to shared expenses, with no joint bank accounts or credit cards. They have different money spending styles and this ensures that there are minimal conflicts with respect to financial matters.

    Echoing the Hernandezes, the Hobbs list mutual respect and respect for their individual skills as important to their longevity. "Hannele is the 'techie' in our house. I always defer any electronic hookups, etc to her. I don't need to be the 'man'," explains Norm.

    Irving Augustine is a registered marriage and family therapist with Family Service Thames Valley. Recognizing that a good marriage has the positive physiological effect of lowering blood pressure, achieving better mental health and making one more resilient, Augustine helps couples achieve better marital communication in his Couples Communication groups. His message: pay attention to how you react to your partner's words or actions.

    "Disproportionately strong emotional reactions are an invitation to doing your heart work. . . . . You need to figure out where it came from. It's often from a past reaction or situation."

    He goes on to say that an overblown reaction may stem from childhood and that it's not fair to project that on one's partner.

    Augustine has two tips to help couples take time to ensure that they aren't overreacting. "Take some time every day to ask: What am I doing? How am I doing? How am I responding emotionally to the important people to me? The act of being self reflective is a maturity producing activity."

    He also advises couples to take a practice golf ball and write the word mulligan on it.

    "In a golf tournament, you can take a mulligan - a do-over - with no penalty," explains Augustine. He adds that this effective tool can be used to remind each partner that sometimes they need to 'take a mulligan' when overreacting to each other during a verbal exchange gone wrong.

    "You can hand it to the other person and say 'Would you like to try that again?' It flags the issue; it's invitational instead of instructional. It allows the other person to reflect on what just happened. It says 'I want to be close, not confrontational' - what an invitation!"

    For more information:

    Family Service Thames Valley (Couples Communication group starts March 30, 2011)

    Family Service Canada (For similar groups across Canada)

    *Name changed by request

    This story was posted on Mon, February 14, 2011

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