The Secret to 70 Years of Marriage

After getting a picture message from my sister today, I could not help but laugh. The picture was of the gag gift we are going to give to our grandparents for their 70th Wedding Anniversary today. The gift consists of two medals each congratulating them on putting up with each other for 70 years. The whole gift idea started when I was back on the west coast having breakfast with my family. Somehow, a joke started about their anniversary coming up and how they should receive awards for being married so long. Then, the conversation turned into a debate over who deserves the medal for putting up with the other one. My sister and I just could not resist; hence the joke present. Then I started thinking…

I would have to get married tomorrow and live until I was 100 years old to get to where my grandparents are today. After talking about it to my patients yesterday, I have come to realize how rare it is to find a partnership that lasts 70 years. To my family, it really did not seem like such a big deal. My grandparents have just always been together. I hadn’t really thought about it until I was talking to my patients who are amazed by their long lasting successful marriage.

So of course, I had to do the cliche thing… I called my grandparents last night and asked them to tell me the secret to being married 70 years. My grandmother’s answer: “I don’t know… we fight a lot.” Then, followed by “we tolerate each other.”

One time in high school, my grandparents were compared to George Costanza’s parents from Seinfeld. The cute Jewish New Yorkers who always loved feeding my visiting friends and always opened their house to anyone I brought home to visit. Over the years, they have had countless “adopted grandkids” aka. friends of mine who had no grandparents of their own.

My grandparents have this amazing dynamic. They are real. Just like my grandmother’s answers.

I always have wondered why marriage success stories are at an all time low. There are so many of my friends getting married but also so many of my friends going through awful divorces. Do movies and television shows give us a false sense of what marriage should be? Are we neurologically programmed to think that every first kiss will end up being a happily ever after without any fights or quarrels? Or every fight is going to end up with an audience laugh like a sitcom? Is my generation striving for a perfection that does not exist?

I don’t know. What I do know is that my grandparents have the most realistic relationship I know. And yes, they do fight… a lot… as my grandmother pointed out but I remember reading that when couples fight, they grow. If a couple is not growing, their relationship is dying. My sister and I have grown up loving to hear my grandmother loudly screech my grandfather’s name. We even give her a 1 to 10 score and laugh about it with her. My grandfather would yell back her name as well. They did not falsely address each other with a pretense of politeness. They did not pose as an impossible “perfect” relationship.

I think the best part of my grandparents relationship is their unconditional love and acceptance of each other. Yes, they have been through struggles just as bad as any other couple, but they stuck by each other accepting the other person for who they are even with their flaws. Trying to find a perfect person is impossible. Trying to change a person is even worse. Finding someone that you love and accept no matter what is the key. Like my grandmother said, “tolerate” them even their faults.

Tolerance is a huge lesson in itself. When you hear the word “tolerate,” there seems to be a negative connotation but let’s explore this further. We all love our significant others but they all have faults. No one is perfect… we are human. By tolerating someone’s faults, meaning accepting who they are and not trying to change them, we can truly love them wholly. You do not have to love their faults… come on, realistically that’s why they are called “faults.” Trying to love someone’s faults is not realistic and putting that unattainable standard in a marriage makes them doomed to fail. However, if you can tolerate the faults, then you are accepting the person fully. Now that is love.

After some more chatting, my grandmother added “he takes care of me.” I have always loved watching the way my grandfather cares for my grandmother. Through small actions of kindness, he shows without saying how much he loves her. My grandmother had a heart attack due to a complication from surgery last fall and I flew out to California to say goodbye to her praying on the plane that she would make it so I could say goodbye. I still cannot talk about it without getting choked up. Miraculously, the moment I showed up, her health started to stabilize but she was not out of the woods. I decided that I was going to stay until she improved. At one point, I sent my exhausted family members home and just my grandfather and I were by her side. Those few days, we rode the worst roller coaster that I have ever been on. There were times that she was losing her will to live. It was at that moment, watching and listening to my grandfather, that I realized another important key to their marriage. I will never forget what he said to her during her bad moments… “You are my girl… You are not going anywhere… We are a team.” That was exactly it. My grandparents are a team. Just like any team, there will be players with strengths and weakness. You must accept each player and focus on their strengths.

Simply: Love and accept, tolerate and take care of each other.

I am so grateful to have my grandparents in my life and I admire them so much for what they have accomplished. They have been such important role models and I love them so much. I want to congratulate them today, on their 70th Anniversary, and thank them for teaching us all about love and acceptance. Congratulations Alex and Mimi! I look forward to celebrating many more anniversaries!