Valentine’s Day might be a day for love, but couples who have been married over the long haul would agree: staying in love is a year-round affair.
Yorkville couple Madeline and Ralph Mead, who are both 84, recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. The couple met at Aurora University and got married in a snowstorm. While they don’t profess to know the secret to life-long love, they do know one thing a marriage must have: respect.
“Even though we have been married 60 years, he has kept his interests, and I have kept mine,” Madeline Mead said. “We respect each other’s interests and find a way to share them. For vacation, we often spent one week going where I wanted to go and then spent a week where he wanted to go.”
They also know there is more to making a relationship work than what is found in a heart-shaped box of chocolates — but small gestures can’t hurt.
James Smithers, a licensed clinical professional counselor and the founder of Polaris Counseling in Naperville, says about 60 to 70 percent of the practice’s clients are “couples in crisis.”
“The crisis can range from newlyweds’ first argument to couples married 20 years who don’t really know each other,” the 37-year-old said. However, he noted that in 10 years of practice, he has never had a couple married more than 30 years seek counseling.
Smithers said there are several ways to keep a marriage in Cupid’s favor. Top on the list is date night. Setting aside a time for a couple to be together alone on a regular basis, without the children, job responsibilities or other distractions is an act of love. Communication is another important way to show affection.
“Try to free up at least 30 minutes every day to catch up,” Smithers suggested.
Smithers noted that every relationship is different, as evidenced by several area longtime married couples.
Aurora residents Elaine and Les Pauls also were college sweethearts like the Meads. Their first date was sharing soda at the student union.
Their secret? Through 58 years of marriage, Elaine, 78, and Les, 84, have shared breakfast together each morning, even if it meant that Elaine had to get up at 5 a.m. so Les could catch the train to work.
Ed, 52, and Gayle Boclair, 51, started their relationship when Ed served as Gayle’s math tutor in college.
“She spent more time flirting with me than she did studying,” Ed claims. The Naperville couple will soon be celebrating 30 years together.
Aurora residents, Mark Rogers, 55, and his wife, Debbie, 53, bumped into each other in a crowded church aisle about three decades ago. Their relationship started there and included a walk down that same aisle to get married 26 years ago.
None of the couples claimed to have the secret to a long marriage, but they all talked of respect for each other, sharing time together and careful resolution of differences. They spoke of marriage as something that took effort but brought great joy.
“We started out together and then we had children,” Ed Boclair said. “It was unbelievable to experience having children and watch them grow, be in sports and all. And now it is back to us together again.”
The couples cite vacations as one of the many highlights of their lives together.
“We used to have a camper, and the whole family traveled together,” Elaine Pauls recalls. “We have been to every state except Delaware. While we were traveling, every night before we went to bed we sat down and cut up pamphlets by the light of a lantern to make a journal of where we went.”
The Pauls have traveled to six continents.
“I took a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti,” said Les Pauls with pride. “My bucket list has a trip to Antarctica, so I will have visited all seven continents.
“The key is to ration out your money, so when you die, it will be all gone,” he adds with a twinkle in his eye.
The Boclairs enjoyed family travel with their three children but planned other trips also.
“You have to make time to be together,” Gayle Boclair said. “Every year we go to a new place together without the kids. The thing I remember most was biking a 28-mile trail down a volcano in Hawaii.”
The Rogers make a point of doing creative activities together.
“We cook together, exercise together, garden together,” Debbie Rogers said. “Right now, we are doing a redecorating project together.”
All of the couples admitted marriage isn’t without its disagreements.
“Just because you are married, it doesn’t mean you understand each other all of the time,” Mark Rogers cautioned. “Miscommunication happens, and you have to just step back and cool off. Give each other space and then try again.”
He recalls that early in their marriage, they couldn’t agree what getting to church on time meant. To him, on time meant 10 minutes before the service, but to Debbie, on time meant when the service began. The difference caused friction until they talked it out.
Smithers would agree that solving problems takes time and understanding. He said there are many ways that relationships fall into danger. Being too critical is one of those relationship-busters.
“It is important to attack the action rather the person,” he said.
So, when a wife spends too much money on a new dress, instead of calling her irresponsible, focus on discussing on how the purchase will strain the budget.
Be sure to discuss issues rather than practicing what he calls “blanking your partner.” This action is when a person removes him or herself verbally and emotionally from the situation, while remaining present in the same room watching as the partner tries to resolve the issue.
Many couples do make it through the rough patches. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 6.2 percent of married women as of 2009 had been married for at least 50 years.
The road to longevity might not be without its problems, but love does conquer all — for some.
“We have a strong bond, and every year we have together is another good year,” Ed Boclair said of his almost 30-year marriage to Gayle.
And that, ultimately, is what love is all about.