Bob and Charlene Reynolds of Oklahoma City are not mathematicians, but they do have a few important numbers in their lives. They were two of only 28 people in their graduating class. As newlyweds, they were separated by nearly 5,000 miles for 14 months. As a young married couple, they moved eight times. Their first child was born seven years into their marriage and their second seven years later. In the course of their marriage, Bob has survived two heart attacks. Currently, they are the proud grandparents to three grandsons and have lived in their south Oklahoma City house for 40 years. But the number that perhaps best defines their relationship? Sixty-five: the number of years that they have been happily married.
The couple met in high school in 1943, when Charlene moved to Sallisaw, Oklahoma. Bob was the quarterback of the local football team, and made a habit of frequenting the restaurant where Charlene worked after school. The couple soon began dating and were engaged a year later, marrying in October 1945. “It’s not like she had a lot of choices,” Bob joked. “There were less than 30 people in our graduating class and not even half were men.”
Charlene, however, told a different story. “Our marriage has always been about give and take. We love being with friends and spending time together. We’ve always enjoyed being together.”
Just three months into their marriage, Bob joined the Army and served overseas in Germany. “It was hard when he was gone early on,” Charlene said. “It was certainly very lonely.” Once Bob returned to Oklahoma, he took a job with Southwestern Bell, beginning a career that kept the family on the move. Over the next 15 years, the family lived in Sallisaw, Ardmore, Norman (twice), Healdton, Oklahoma City, and Del City before finally settling into the house that would become their family home for more than four decades in south Oklahoma City. “I got so used to moving that if I lived in the same place for more than a year, I felt like I’d better start packing,” Charlene laughed.
The Importance of a Healthy Relationship
As the couple prepares to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary in October, Bob reminisced about their life together—which has edured lows (recovering from multiple heart attacks) and highs (watching their grandchildren prepare to marry). “We’ve lived through everything. Nearly 65 years of marriage together and we’re almost getting to know each other,” he quipped. A strong bond has carried them through the peaks and valleys of their shared life.
“A healthy relationship is the foundation for everything else you do,” explained Dr. Patty Ann Turbin (who goes by Dr. Patty Ann), a relationship coach, board-certified psychotherapist and creator of the Relationship Toolbox, a program designed to help couples create the relationship of their dreams. “It makes sorrows so much more bearable and joys so much more joyful.”
Dr. Patty Ann explained that, when it comes to marriage, men and women aren’t as different as one might suspect. “Contrary to what people might think, a man’s number one desire is to be loved,” she said. “But for men, this often comes through feeling wanted and appreciated by their spouse.” While physical touch and intimacy certainly play a part, Dr. Patty Ann stressed that it is important for a wife to let her husband know that she needs him. “Be physically present, hold his hand and give him the nonverbal connections that sometimes speak louder than words,” she advised. “Men are just as sensitive as women, they just express it in different ways.”
Having interviewed 75 couples married 50 years or more from across the country, Florida-based relationship author Sheryl P. Kurland suggests that many couples today have lost the feeling of what marriage is supposed to be about. “It’s about having your best friend with you throughout life,” Kurland said. “It’s about spending your time with someone who wants you to be happy.” Kurland shares more than 4,000 collective years of marriage insight and advice in her book Everlasting Matrimony: Pearls Of Wisdom From Couples Married 50 Years Or More.
Working with the insights gained from interviewing couples who have successfully made marriage work, Kurland says that part of the problem is that couples today are lacking role models that demonstrate what a solid marriage should be like. “Instead, celebrity divorces and quickie marriages are everywhere,” Kurland explains. “We have lost the goodness of what marriage is about.”
Simple Relationship Boosters
Looking to increase the “goodness” in your relationship? There are simple changes that many marriage and family counselors agree will strengthen your marriage:
- Get In His Face – According to Dr. Patty Ann, the biggest challenge facing couples today is direct communication. “With the prevalence of texting, email and Facebook, the art of face-to-face communication between couples has been lost,” she said. “By definition, communication is a two-way street, between two people. The danger of electronic communication is that it allows us to express what we want to say without having to hear the response from the other person.”
If too much of your communication with your spouse is taking place electronically, Dr. Patty Ann stresses that you are at risk of losing the nuances of nonverbal communication, including body language, expressions, and tone of voice. “You can’t underestimate the importance of seeing your partner’s expression or the look in his eyes,” she said.
Perhaps more troubling is the fact that the loss of face time also results in a decline in effective listening—being able to tune into what your spouse is saying and deduce their needs, desires and emotions. “Any sales person will tell you that nothing seals the deal quite like a personal meeting and a hand shake,” she explained. “It is even more true in personal relationships.”
This advice has certainly held true for Bob and Charlene, who theorize that they might have perfected face-to-face communication during their six plus decades together. “I can pretty much tell you what Bob is going to say and do before he does it,” Charlene laughed.
- Get a Tune Up When Needed – In addition to making sure that you communicate one-on-one with your hubby, it is also important to make sure you are communicating about the right things. “What’s not said is perhaps more damaging than what is said,” Dr. Patty Ann cautioned. “It is like cancer to a relationship. If you don’t deal with problems when they arise, they can increase exponentially.”
She likens the marital relationship to a car, where a troublesome noise under the hood can often be put off or ignored, usually from a lack of time or energy to address it at the moment. “It then turns into a major repair or a major breakdown that could’ve been prevented,” she said. “Don’t expect your partner to just know what is wrong or how you think or feel. You must communicate with them and take care of problems as they come your way.”
Joshua Nichols, a marital and family therapist at the Alpha and Omega Family Center in Oklahoma City, concurs. “A marriage is a give-and-take relationship. We expect certain exchanges to take place, [and] if they don’t the marriage tends to deteriorate,” he explained. “The different exchanges that take place will be unique to each couple.”
Bob and Charlene are no strangers to these exchanges. When asked why he thinks the divorce rate is so high between couples today, Bob explains, “It’s a matter of understanding each other and not letting pride get in the way between you. Say what needs to be said.”
- Say It Like a Man – Once you’ve gotten a grip on saying what needs to be said, Dr. Patty Ann says that you should look at the very words you are using to communicate. “Women need to communicate to men in a very clear fashion,” she said. “Tell him how you feel, don’t play games or expect him to read between the lines. And, perhaps hardest for women, talk less. Just be emotionally and physically present.”
She said that wives should use the same communication skills with their spouse that they would use in a work or social situation and always treat their spouse as well as they treat friends, colleagues and others outside the marriage.
When it comes to conflict, she advises women to communicate clearly about the difference and then let it go. “If it can’t be settled, agree to disagree, and always respectfully,” she said. “Every couple fights about money and has time limitations. But, if you can truly communicate with your partner about your expectations, goals and dreams, you can survive anything.”
- Take It Like a Man – When it comes to the words coming from your husband’s mouth, Kurland brings what she calls the “Horton the Elephant Principle” into play—remembering that, just like the elephant in Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who!, your man said what he meant and meant what he said.
“Remember to not take things out of context and don’t read more into it than what he actually said,” Kurland cautioned. She provides the example of a hard-working wife who cooks dinner and then asks for her husband’s feedback. When he replies that it was fine, but needed a bit more salt, the wife becomes upset. “In the wife’s mind, it’s easy for her to feel like he secretly didn’t like the entire meal,” she said. “It spirals into ‘he doesn’t appreciate me when I work so hard’ when all he truly wanted was just a bit more salt.”
Nichols says accepting this type of honesty requires couples to establish a level of trust and vulnerability. “Becoming vulnerable means that spouses have to put down their defenses and make themselves open to the other, even at the risk of getting hurt,” he explained. In order to keep a marriage afloat, this level of vulnerability and open communication is essential. “Be honest with each other because things are not going to be good all the time,” Bob added. “Be trusting and back off during hard times, don’t go headlong into it and do something you might regret.”
- Honor the Five-Second Delay – Counting to five makes up the fifth piece of advice from Kurland, who says that in day-to-day communications, men have a tendency to pause.
Especially when answering a question, many men will take a moment to collect their thoughts before answering. “In this situation, the woman can think that he hasn’t heard and the stress level in the situation automatically goes up,” she said. Give your man five full seconds to compute and formulate a response before getting snappy or repeating the question. “I swear it works because I use it in my own marriage,” she promised.
- Give Him Some Props – When it comes to keeping your husband happy, Kurland says the sixth step is simple but among the most important for marital bliss— let him know how much you appreciate him. “Make him feel like he is your hero,” she recommended. “When men do things that we think are ordinary tasks, like doing the dishes or vacuuming, they want a big thank you and a hug. Give it to him every chance you get.”
Kurland says that if household chores can be ranked on a 100 point scale, many of the tasks that a woman would assign a “2” or “3” will tip the scales for a man. “He feels like helping around the house is worth 99 points,” she said. “It’s just a difference in perspective. A key way to make a happy marriage is to give appreciation and show gratitude, no matter how big or small the effort.”
Nichols says that giving gratitude is one of the biggest things a wife can do to show love to her partner and that she should take steps to be his biggest fan, admirer and encourager. “In our culture, the last thing a man wants to feel is like he is a failure, especially to his wife,” Nichols says. “She needs to remember that her opinion of him is the most important one of all. Her words of encouragement will help him understand how much she values him.”
Adding It Up
For one of the husbands in Kurland’s book, marital longevity is simple math. Instead of marriage being 50/50, he said it is actually 75/25. “It’s a good deal that way, because you both get 150 percent back if you always give 75 percent to your spouse,” Kurland said. “And there is no other investment in the world that doubles your payback when you give more of yourself.”
For Bob and Charlene, the equation has always added up to happiness. “It all comes down to whether you marry the right person,” Charlene said. “But even when you do, you still have to try.” Looking back over six decades together, Bob sums up his relationship with Charlene in ten simple words: “You couldn’t keep me from doing it all over again.”
Looking for More from Our Experts?
- Visit drpattyann.com to subscribe to Dr. Patty Ann’s free weekly eZine featuring relationship advice using strategies, tools and techniques proven to rekindle romance in your relationship. Also, follow her at @Dr.PattyAnn on Twitter.
- Visit everlastingmatrimony.com to meet some of the couples that Sheryl Kurland interviewed for her book and to sign up for free, time-tested weekly relationship tips from couples married 50 years or more.
- Visit aofcllc.com to read Joshua Nichols’s blog or follow him on Twitter at @JNicholsLMFT.
Assistant Editor Brooke Barnett lives in Norman with her husband and two young children.