If you ask Fred Joiner of Del City what makes a happy marriage, he just might tell you that it has a little something to do with scrambled eggs.
Back in 1948, Fred considered himself a lucky man for two reasons. First, he knew about the cafeteria tucked away in Stewart Hall, the girl’s dormitory at what was then Southwestern State College in Weatherford. Second, he knew that he could go there for a last minute breakfast and the pretty co-ed behind the counter would fix his eggs just the way he liked them. Today, Fred considers himself a lucky man for a more important reason—he has convinced that same pretty girl to fix his eggs for more than sixty years.
When Fred first met Joan Cox, he says he knew she was the one for him—and it wasn’t just because of her cooking. The couple was engaged by May 1950 and married the following October. They settled into marriage quickly, having a son in 1952 and a set of twin girls in 1953. “We had three [children] in diapers all at the same time,” Joan chuckles. “I remember having four clothes lines filled with nothing but cloth diapers and all the work tied into that many kids. But we have always had a lot of fun together as a family.”
Preparing to celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary in October, the couple reflects that the past sixty years have been filled with both joy and struggle, but that they never thought of throwing in the towel. And, according to Florida-based relationship author Sheryl P. Kurland, that is exactly why the Joiners have weathered more than six decades together. “Successful marriage is not about commitment,” Kurland said. “Feeling like you are committed equals being stuck in a situation, no matter what, with no real choice. Instead, making a marriage work is about determination. The realization that you might be unhappy at times, but that you never think about giving up.”
Kurland has a unique perspective on marriage, as she interviewed 75 couples from around the country, each married more than 50 years for her book Everlasting Matrimony: Pearls Of Wisdom From Couples Married 50 Years or More. Kurland says her book is more than a traditional “self-help” book, as it is filled with the expertise of ordinary folk who have walked-the-walk and talked-the-talk, and that it reveals several common threads about what makes a woman stay happily married throughout her lifetime.
Do The Small Things
Sitting in their comfortable living room, Joan looks thoughtful when asked what Fred has done over the past sixty years that has made their relationship work. Fred, looking mischievous, decides it is an opportune time to turn off his hearing aids. But the words Joan speaks of her husband are warm and complimentary. “He has always been good to me and respected me,” she said. “We’ve done a lot in our life together and been a lot of places, and he’s always been appreciative.”
Kurland said that Fred’s attitude touches upon one of the main things that a husband can do to nurture his relationship with his wife—be attentive. “Women appreciate the little things more than a husband might realize,” she explained. “Holding open the door, running errands for her or simply asking ‘how can I help?’ All those little things add up to a whole lot of love.”
Joshua Nichols, a licensed marital and family therapist at the Alpha and Omega Family Center in Oklahoma City, agrees that the number one thing that a man can do to make his marriage successful is to remember the small things. “He should put out the extra effort to send the message to her that she is important to him and that he is invested in the relationship,” Nichols said. “He should remember that little things add up, whether it is a small gift, like her favorite magazine or a Sonic drink, or a phone call in the middle of the day just to see how she is doing. Doing things like this communicates to her that ‘you are important to me. I am invested in this relationship and I am thinking about you when we’re not together.’"
Accentuate the Positive
“I find that there are many men who believe that they are doing everything right in their marriage and they don’t understand why their wives misinterpret their actions or inactions,” said Chuck Balash, author of You Can Still Be Gentleman AND Have Better Relationships With Women. “These men are happy with the status quo and don’t want to change their behavior or attitude toward their marriage. A common response from these men is ‘Well, that’s just the way I am.’ They will not admit that their approach to their marriage may be flawed.”
The solution to this problem according to Balash? Being a gentleman and focusing on the positive. “Being a gentleman is a lifestyle of choice. It is choosing to do the right thing, for the right reason, at the right time,” Balash said. “In this age of political correctness and sexual equality, most women still prefer that men treat them like ladies. Women still want to be treated well. This does not lessen their strength or independence. Gentlemanly behavior is not demeaning towards women—in fact, it is just the opposite.”
Balash said that men should always focus on what their wife does right, rather than criticize what she does wrong, and that a husband needs to realize the power of kind words and thoughtful acts in sustaining a relationship. “A gentleman will always find something positive to say,” Balash added. “This is a powerful validation of his appreciation for her and will help him develop a deeper sense of connection with his wife.” He advises men to thank their wives for even the smallest acts, to express happiness for time spent together, and to give her sincere compliments.
Kurland’s research concurs. “Give your wife two meaningful compliments each day,” she said. “It may seem awkward at first, since men don’t usually walk around complimenting each other, but women do.” The key to making sure these compliments hit home? Kurland says they must be genuine compliments given in a timely manner and “not silly, superfluous stuff that a woman doesn’t truly value. Make it real.”
Keep the Home Fires Burning
The third thing a man can do to win with his wife is to increase the romantic gestures, specifically paying attention to the physical affection in their relationship. “Husbands need to touch and interact with their wives, and not necessarily only in sexual situations,” Kurland advised. “A wink from across the room, a touch on the shoulder as he walks by, or just walking beside her and holding her hand can all work wonders.”
“A gentleman understands romance will not simply happen,” Balash said. “He will make time for his wife and limit interruptions so their romantic time is private. Romance does not necessarily mean chocolate and flowers, but more about thoughtfulness and bonding.” Balash said that this type of behavior from a husband will reassure his wife that he is still “head over heels in love with her” and confirm his levels of commitment and attraction.
Nichols added that combining romance with raising children is often complicated, but important. “I think one of the biggest challenges facing married couples today is spending quality time together. In our busy, fast-paced society, couples are finding it harder to be still with one another, to discover one another,” he said. “Along with this comes problems in communication and then moments of deep, personal connection are experienced less and less.”
Nichols says that couples tend to put their marital desires on the back burner while they attend to the parent-child relationship—an innocent, but potentially dangerous, move. “Over time, they gradually quit identifying themselves as husband and wife, and then ‘mom and dad’ becomes their primary status,” Nichols explains. “Then the kids grow up and leave home and they feel like they are living with a stranger. Raising children makes it even more important that couples nourish their marital relationships.” Nichols says that couples often don’t realize that when they take care of their marriage first, they will ultimately be better parents for their children.
Other Winning Words of Wisdom
While experts agree that there are no magic solutions that work in every marriage, they offer up the following tips to husbands seeking to increase marital harmony:
- Give your spouse the last piece of pie—both literally and figuratively. Kurland said that a good marriage requires both spouses to be selfless rather than selfish. Instead of focusing on how your spouse is meeting your needs or how the relationship is benefitting you, Kurland says that giving your spouse what they need first will ultimately come back to you down the line. “When you are working in selfless mode, the other person will automatically reflect it back to you,” Kurland explained. “In the materialistic mind-set of today’s society, it is a different way to looking at things to say ‘I want you to have it.’ But it will do wonders for your marriage.”
- Share the Load—pitch in when it comes to household duties. “A gentleman doesn’t concern himself [with] gender stereotypes,” Balash said. “He knows that helping with simple chores around the house can be an undeniable and exceptionally powerful expression of love and devotion.” Unloading the dishwasher, putting laundry into the dryer, or making the bed are small gestures that may yield wonderful results.
- Listen—but don’t try to fix. Balash noted that many men make the mistake of listening only for problems that need solutions. “A gentleman will realize his wife may only want a commitment to simply sit down and give her his undivided attention,” he said. “Listening and understanding are powerful validations of his respect for her.” Actively listening enables a man to understand his wife’s point of view, even if all she is seeking is understanding and support—not a quick fix.
- Honor Your Traditions. “All relationships have times of difficulty or crisis,” Kurland said. “A tradition is something you do as a couple that keeps connections and serves as an anchor to hold you together.” Kurland’s research provided her numerous examples, including one couple who created a rock garden by picking up a rock from every place they traveled, writing the place where it came from on the bottom, and using the stones to create a special place in their yard that also served as a reminder of their adventures together. Another example was a wife who happened to like potato chips that are folded over. When dining together at home or in restaurants, her husband always passed his folded chip to her plate. “She said each one was like a little love note,” said Kurland.
Sixty Years and Counting
When asked what they think made their marriage work for more than six decades, the Joiners are of one mind. “We took marriage seriously,” Fred said. “We were in love before we got married and that has never changed. We always tried to set an example for our children of how marriage should be.”
“Marriage is not an easy task,” Nichols summarized. “It requires courage, dedication, and selflessness. Couples should make their marriages intentional. In other words, one must wake up every morning and choose to love their spouse.”
That is something that Fred Joiner has mastered in his many years with his wife. “She’s a wonderful person, a wonderful friend, a wonderful wife, and she has never failed to make me coffee, bacon, and eggs, like only she knows how.” Fred ended his story with a joke “Perhaps when she said ‘for better or for worse’ all those years ago, she didn’t know how bad it would really be!” he laughs.
“The bottom line is that what worked for marriages in 1950 still works in 2010,” Kurland concluded. “No matter what curve balls life throws at you, the important thing is to be determined to see it through, determined to restore harmony, determined to enjoy your time together. Make a commitment to only use one ‘D-word’ in your relationship—always determination, never divorce.”
- Both Kurland’s Everlasting Matrimony: Pearls Of Wisdom From Couples Married 50 Years or More and Balash’s You Can Still Be Gentleman AND Have Better Relationships With Women are available from Amazon.com or check availability at your local bookstore or library.
- Sign up for free, weekly tips from couples married 50 years or more at everlastingmatrimony.com
The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative
Since 2001, the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI) has worked to lower the divorce rate in Oklahoma and to strengthen families by providing free marriage and relationship counseling. “We are the largest and most broad-based marriage initiative in the United States,” said Kendy Cox, OMI’s Director of Service Delivery. “We serve more than 200,000 people in Oklahoma.”
The OMI provides both Spanish and English courses, retreats and workshops specially designed for couples interested in improving their marriages, including those in special situations such as stepfamilies, adoptive families, grandparents raising grandchildren, and families with special needs children.
“In Oklahoma, we believe in marriage—our statistics show that. Our divorce statistics also show that we don’t always do it very well,” Cox explains. “There is a science to arguing and we can help couples figure out how to deal with conflict effectively. We can give them hope and show them a whole different way of looking at their relationships and their strengths.”
To find the most beneficial workshop for your relationship, call 1-877-435-8033 or visit foreverforreal.com and click on “Find a Workshop.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: Stay tuned for June's article looking at how to strengthen marriage from the perspective of the husband's needs.
Assistant Editor Brooke Barnett lives in Norman with her husband and two young children.