Married 65 years: More than just happy

The way Ann* and Arthur met was serendipity. A boy named Hank had a date with Ann’s cousin, and they were double dating that night with Ann’s sister and her boyfriend. Ann, feeling left out, boldly asked if either of the boys had a brother. Hank said he had a brother named Arthur, so Ann declared, “Well, then tell your brother to call me!” And he did.

Arthur and Ann have now been married 65 years.

This husband and wife are charmingly diverse. When I meet them at their home, he is casually dressed in rumpled pants, a knit sweater, and worn slippers. He is unshaven, and his thin white hair is only slightly combed. In contrast, she is exquisite in a tailored pantsuit with coordinated shoes and jewelry, looking straight out of a fine department store. Her makeup and hair are red-carpet ready. He uses a walker to move around cautiously, while she strides rapidly across the room in heels.

Their meticulous apartment is distinctively decorated with heavily carved furniture, large paintings in ornate frames, and delicate vases. Not an item is out of place in this dignified home.

Both Arthur and Ann are warm, approachable, and talkative. Ann speaks formally and confidently, often leading the conversation. Arthur’s speech is casual, hesitant at times, and full of boyish hometown charm.

From the beginning, they realized they had very different personalities. “He was very quiet and I’m a chatterer,” Ann clarifies. “I love people, I’m more outgoing.” Arthur winks and remembers first meeting her. “She was good looking…but high maintenance and high tempered.” Ann juts out her chin, ignoring the comment but not denying it.

A marriage of 65 years, the couple freely admits, has not been easy. “It’s not that we never had any difficulties,” Arthur insists, “but we learned how to get along pretty early.”

City girl, farm boy

“We were as different as you could ever imagine,” Ann laughs. “He was real quiet and laid back, a farm boy. But I was a city girl!” When they decided to marry, these differences presented a challenge. “Oh no, I would not live on a farm,” she remembers demanding. “I’ve got to be where action is. I like to be involved in things and have lots of friends.”

But reality intervened: Arthur’s company transferred the young newlywed couple to a rural area in the Midwest. Ann rolls her eyes and exclaims, “It was way out in the country, a little bitty town – it was real hillbilly!” When she first ventured out to buy groceries, Ann asked around town for a supermarket, but was told, “We don’t allow them in our town.” There was only a small local store that sold groceries on credit. Ann experienced culture shock. “I was ready to pay but instead of taking money, they write everything on a little pad with your name and you are supposed to come in and pay once a month. I had never heard of that!”

Partners

There were distinct stages in the development of their relationship. “We’ve had several different roles,” Arthur explains. “First, we were lovers. That’s what gets it all started.” He winks at Ann, who pretends not to notice. “But then we became friends, so we could talk to each other about our different problems.” Ann nods and agrees. “We became partners in life.”

Arthur becomes animated and brings up their shared work history. “Then we became partners in business ventures. But if I came up with some wild idea, which I did every once in a while, I wouldn’t necessarily just go do it. We’d talk about it.” Ann listens quietly as Arthur adds, “and some of them paid off, some didn’t. But we were partners always.”

When the children were young, Arthur decided to open his own business. Ann had a full-time job, but she still remembers the financial anxieties. “I just said, ‘How are we going to exist?’ We had to sit down and talk about it. And we decided we would live off my salary. He didn’t draw a salary from the business for 15 years.” She added a part time job to supplement her full-time income, and they put their profits back into the business. Arthur sighs and recalls, “A lot of times I’d wake up at 4:00 in the morning to drive to work, and as I approached the turn I’d think, if it wasn’t for the wife and kids, I would just turn the other way and not come back. But we had to tough it out.”

Ann recalls Arthur taking his hunting rifles to a pawn shop to get money for the kids’ sports fees, then making extra money and buying them back out of pawn. Another day she came home for lunch and found him crying because he was unable to make payroll. So she took out some of her retirement and they made payroll. “This is what it takes. You’re partners,” she earnestly exclaims. “It has all paid off. And that’s why I say God is always there. We do lots of praying.” The company was successful, each of their children has worked there in some way, and the business is still in the family. Arthur confidently explained, “We always knew it’ll work out one way or another.”

Family first

The couple had three children, then added a nephew to their family when he was a troubled teenager. “He is like a son to us – we just love him dearly,” Ann insists. “We sent him to college just like we did our kids.”

They claim to have been strict parents, especially regarding school. Ann insists that on report cards, “I would not accept a ‘C’ in our household. There’s no excuse.” She also prioritized being home when the children got out of school, wanting to “make sure they never came home to an empty house. I just feel like they needed to have supervision.”

 Both admit that raising children had been financially and emotionally challenging. But they take pride that their kids and grandkids still seek their advice, particularly in the area of finances. “They all know they can come and talk to us about anything,” Ann confidently asserts. “But we don’t meddle in our kids’ business – we let them take care of themselves. If they ask, we might make some suggestions, but we don’t tell them what to do.”

Money matters

This couple laughingly acknowledges one surprising secret of their success in marriage: separate checking accounts.

Their original intentions were different. “In the beginning,” Ann remembers, “we were going to be the kind of couple that has all their money in one pot. But that’s bull!” she exclaims. “That kind of partnership did not work because we both wanted to be the boss.” They decided to have separate accounts and divide up expenses according to income: not equal but proportional. As Ann recalls, “We did sit down and talk about it often. We worked the financial part out pretty good. I think that helped our marriage a lot.”

“I’ve never been poor,” Arthur clarifies. “I’ve been broke, but I’ve never been poor. It’s all in the attitude.”

Both Ann and Arthur believe that a big conflict in many young marriages today is finances, especially debt. “If you’ve got a debt,” Arthur insists, “somebody owns part of you.” They say they talked openly with their children at the supper table about finances and the family business. To avoid student loan debt, they told their four children if they wanted to go to college, they could live at home and go to the local university. It was practical, and, as Arthur admits, “it’s all we could afford.”

Their deep spiritual faith has enabled them to survive tough financial times. “We’ve worked very hard,” Ann acknowledges, “but God’s blessed us in so many ways.”

Faith walk

Ann shifts in her chair and takes the lead in discussing her spirituality. In their early days together, Arthur’s company moved them often. “They transferred us around a lot,” she remembers, “but we always made friends by going to church. That’s the best place to meet new people.”

Both grew up in Christian homes. Ann’s father was in a leadership position in their church. “We always went to church,” the insists. “We just knew, you go to church regardless.” Although Arthur’s father was not active in church, his mother was and insisted Authur attend through his teenage years. When they married, Arthur and Ann both wanted to raise their family with a strong faith. Arthur’s face lights up as he acknowledges, “I do lots of praying, and God has helped us through so many things.”

“We’ve had children who were at the point of death,” he asserts, “but God was always there.” One of their sons contracted a serious illness as a toddler. He lost his memory, his personality changed, and he went from active to lethargic. Ann somberly recounts, “We’d put him on the couch, and he would sit there and not move for hours.” Doctors told the couple their son could have brain damage and be severely impaired. But today, their son is healthy and they call his recovery a miracle.

 Ann intently leans forward and gestures with her hands. “You’ve got to be strong with God. He sometimes punishes us and tries to wake us up. But God’s blessed us, too. The main thing is you’ve got to have God in your life.”

Keys to success

Communication and compromise have been valuable to this couple. Ann describes marriage as “a lot of give and take. And you have got to be able to talk about things openly.” Arthur agrees, adding that they had to learn to discuss uncomfortable issues. “No matter what, we had to talk about it. It prevents a lot of wondering.”

Forgiveness has also been important to them over the years. Arthur strongly believes, “If you hold a grudge against somebody, they own you. So you gotta get rid of that.” He teases Ann, claiming piously that “all that bad stuff she has done to me over the years, I forgot it.”

The retirement season

Both agree that adjusting to retirement has been fairly easy for them. Arthur acknowledges he misses the business world, but they are both very involved with a variety of activities. Arthur laughs, “Ann always had so much of her own stuff to do that it didn’t make any difference whether I was hanging around or not!” They have been on cruises and have traveled in a motor home. In trying to convince Ann to buy their first camping trailer, Arthur begged, “You’re gonna like this, Ann.” But she balked, saying, “I can’t stand it, I gotta have a bathroom. I am not a camper.” An upgrade sealed the deal, and their sightseeing days began.

Loneliness is a sad reality for many their age, Ann notices. She reports that many of their peers in the retirement community where they live have little or no family contact. Her voice drops softly as she remarks, “I feel sorry for people here, because our kids and grandkids are here all the time. But several of our neighbors have children who have not visited them in years.” She expresses gratitude for her own close family ties and says she reaches out to her neighbors who are lonely. She adds, “My heart goes out to them.”

Retirement has also brought some medical challenges. Arthur has heart problems and admits, “There were times when I didn’t think I was gonna make it.” He recalls one point when he began preparing himself for his own death. “My business was in decent shape. Ann does a good job – she can take care of herself. And as far as my faith, I’m in good shape. So that’s a pretty good feeling – if I’m going to have to go, I’m at peace.” Ann marvels, “His doctors can’t figure out how he’s still here.” Then she leans toward him and touches his arm, murmuring softly, “But you’re here – you’re still here.”

A few years ago, Arthur agreed to an experimental surgery, one that took a team of twelve doctors over eight hours. When the operation was over, Ann went in to see him. “He opened his eyes and said, ‘Are you an angel?’ I said, ‘No, I’m your wife and your lover.’ And he answered, ‘Then I must be alive.’”

At the time of the surgery, they owned several rental houses as well as their family business, and Ann began to worry how to manage it all if Arthur didn’t recover. Without telling Arthur, she sold the rent houses and invested the money. “I didn’t tell him for four months – I was afraid he’d have a heart attack,” she confesses. Arthur jokingly grumbles, “I still don’t know what she did with the money!”

More than just happy

Their long, successful marriage is a source of pride for the couple. “We’ve come a long way together in 65 years,” Ann says. “We’re more than just happy.” With a wide grin, Arthur adds, “That makes it more interesting, don’t you think?”

 

*To protect their privacy, names and certain details have been changed.

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