What’s Your Secret?

By Kim Seeley

My husband and I were seeking advice from the local Social Security office. Our counselor was a friendly, ex-military gentleman, and he was a classic combination of professionalism and personality. In the middle of our interview, he told my husband, “I’m going to put you on the spot. When were you two married?”

My husband replied, “July 24th, 1976; we remember it because our daughter’s birthday is the day after it, and it was the bicentennial year.”

We were a little surprised by his response. “Wow!” he said. “That’s a long time. What’s your secret?”

Without missing a beat, I replied, “We both have an extremely high tolerance for pain.” The three of us laughed out loud, drawing curious glances from the other cubicle dwellers in the room.

Since that day a few weeks ago, I have repeated my response to friends, knowing they would get a good laugh out of it. But the question has also made me think on a deeper level, “What is our secret? Is there a secret?” We haven’t hit the 50 year mark, as many other couples have, but we are approaching the 35 year mark. The counselor in the Social Security office was impressed by our marital longevity. We later learned in that interview that he had been divorced and re-married several years ago; perhaps that prompted his question. But is there one answer, or perhaps I should ask, is there any answer?

My initial response is that there is no pat answer as to why some marriages endure and others end up in the family court. This question reminds me of the question posed by Willard Scott to the folks who have reached the century mark on the Today Show. “To what do you attribute your longevity?” A white-haired lady of 102 responds that she has never smoked a cigarette nor touched a drop of alcohol in her life. The grey-haired gentleman of 101 years of age claims that a good cigar and a daily dose of scotch contribute to his lengthy lifespan. They both have their pictures on the Smuckers label, but they took totally oppositional paths to reach it.

When I examine our 35 years of marriage, I see many contributing factors to our resilience, but no one outstanding “secret.” Have there been times when one of us could have walked? I suppose some people might have, but I never seriously entertained the thought. I will admit to sleeping on the sofa once or twice when terribly upset, so I cannot respond that couples should “never go to bed angry.” Some anger takes time to go away, and nightfall doesn’t cure all ails.

I believe one thing in our favor is that we took our wedding vows seriously. We meant every single word of “in sickness and health, till death do you part.” We also have a strong faith in God and a similar religious upbringing, which has helped us through a multitude of trials. When our youngest daughter died nearly eight years ago, we read all the literature that warned about the high divorce rate of couples who have lost children. I can’t imagine anyone else in this world who would know our pain like we know each other’s. Why would we turn to an outsider?

We also chose wisely and well, following our hearts and our heads. We were head over heels in love, but we were both greatly aware of the abundance of other character traits each of us brought to this union. I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt, that as much as I loved this physical body of my husband, that I loved his spirit and his heart even more. I knew I had found someone I could trust, someone who was steady and strong as a rock. I believe he felt the same trust in me.

We were equally aware that each of us brought a good sense of humor into this union. My husband is well known for his droll sense of wit, dropping a line into the conversation that leaves folks in stitches. If there is one aspect of marriage that is often overlooked, I would suggest that it might be a sense of humor. Marry someone who makes you laugh, and laugh whenever possible.

Another secret to a long marriage might very well be one that few people would dare to admit – adjusted expectations. Notice I did not say “lowered expectations,” just “adjusted expectations.” When I was dating my husband, I had been given plenty of hints that he was not a big spender or an

overly romantic fellow. Our courtship was not dotted with lavish flowers or extravagant presents. There have been times in thirty-five years of marriage that I have wished for one big extremely romantic gesture, but that is not my husband’s nature. I am reminded of the fable of the fox and the gingerbread man. The gingerbread man knew the nature of the fox when he stepped onto his back to cross the river. Before the fox eats the gingerbread man, he states, “You knew I was a fox when you asked for a ride.” My husband is no fox, but he is still the same conservative country boy that I married; he hasn’t changed midstream.

So, if I were to answer the Social Security counselor

seriously, what would I say? What is our secret? We fell in love with both our hearts and our heads in full agreement. We are both committed to our marriage and our faith as much as we were thirty-five years ago. We both felt, and still feel, a sense of trust in each other. It always helps to have a sense of humor. We have learned to adjust some of our expectations along the way. Neither of us is perfect, but we are perfectly happy to be married to each other. Hopefully, we will make it to the big 50th anniversary mark, but even if death separates us before that, our marriage has been quite a ride.

About this writer

  • Kim Seeley Kim Seeley, a former librarian and English teacher, lives with her husband, Wayne, in Wakefield, Virginia. She is a frequent contributor to Sasee and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her most recent story, “Amanda’s Jonquils,” can be found in Chicken Soup: Messages from Heaven. She loves to read, play the piano, travel and spend time with her grandson, Evan.

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One Response to “What’s Your Secret?”

  1. Jane says:

    Such a lovely article with a positive message that is spot on. I’m showing this to John because we can relate to your reasons for your longevity. Thanks for your great insights! Always look forward to your articles!

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