They have been married for 77 years. Les is 97 and Betty is 93. Age has affected them physically, mobility is difficult and they require assistance in caring for themselves and moving around. Even with their motorized scooters getting to the dining room at the assisted living facility has become difficult, so staff brings their meals to them in their small apartment. There seems to always be a styrofoam container of the previous meal present when I come to visit.
Routine is important to people in their nineties and they are no exception. They sit in their same recliners for most of every day, watch the same TV shows (It is ALWAYS on Fox News), and he tells the same jokes over and over again.
There is something else about them that never changes. They love each other. Even more, they like each other. They enjoy one another’s company. A few months ago he was hospitalized twice in a matter of days with pneumonia. There was a concern that he was losing the ability to protect his airway and might not be well enough to remain in their assisted living facility. He was told he needed to go to a nursing home so he could be kept out of the hospital. I told him he could stay in assisted living with his wife if but that if he got sick again he would need to go on hospice or be transferred to a nursing home. Since a nursing home would mean separation from his wife the decision was a simple one for him. He would rather live a few months or less with his wife than live a few years more without her. “I want to stay with Betty,” was his firm answer.
Their story stands in stark contrast to many of the stories I hear in my office. Unhappy marriages are so common they appear to be the norm. Patients who speak fondly of their spouses, who talk about marriage as if it is a gift, stand out as exceptions. When patients hear me talk about being happily married for over 32 years they are often surprised. Long, happy marriages are not something they often see.
I often wonder why this is.
As with so many things in life I think success in marriage is a matter of choice. Successful marriages occur when a man and woman make a conscious decision to build a quality marriage. Happy couples understand the costs associated with this commitment. Sacrifice and self denial are required daily. Faults need to be overlooked or graciously accepted and effort needs to be made to intentionally focus on the good things in a spouse’s character and personality. Over time, things that once required effort become second nature, and love grows. When we focus on the good in our spouse they grow in value and we enjoy them more.
Lisa and I are 44 years behind the example set by Les and Betty Miller, my grandparents, but we are on our way. We have experienced firsthand the joy that marriage to your best friend brings, the work required to keep a marriage strong and the contentment that comes from not wanting to be with anyone else. Life with your one love is a very wonderful thing.
If you are in a marriage that is unhappy, get help. Your marriage is worth fighting for. If you are in a marriage that is “just okay” get help. Fight to improve it. You will never regret making your relationship with your spouse your top earthly priority! Remember you can subscribe to the blog by clicking the button on the page or follow me on twitter @bartbarrettmd.