As of this month we have been married 50 years. I don’t view it as a great achievement; all you have to do is stay married and live long enough. It was June 16, 1962, just before the sexual revolution. Probably just as well, otherwise I may have been caught up in that movement.
I declined to renew my marital vows, figuring that if they worked till now, I wouldn’t need a booster. Besides, back then I was too nervous to know what I was saying. Now, I might want to renegotiate. We dated five years before we married at 23, so we grew up together. By the time we were 30, we had four daughters. Our son was born eight years later.
Looking back, I have no regrets. Perhaps it could have been better; certainly it could have been worse. Trying to substitute the perfect for the good accounts for many of today’s broken marriages.
Learning to appreciate what you have, which involves emphasizing strengths and overlooking weaknesses, is necessary for a successful marriage. Tolerance and patience are as much a part of love as respect and devotion.
If distance lends enchantment, togetherness buys reality. The glow of early love soon evolves into the adjustments and accommodations of a more mature relationship. At 50 years, one is at the comfort stage, which is marked with appreciation, understanding, and few surprises. I long ago learned that if you’re going to lose anyway, why bother to argue in the first place. Save yourself the aggravation and just give in.
My wife has qualities that I respect and admire and a few I find annoying. I expect in a generous moment, she would say the same about me. I admire her strength and courage -- she is great in a crisis. Rarely down, she is energetic, efficient, and fully engaged in several hobbies.
She has been a great mother and grandmother and as far as I’m concerned, that’s most important. Nothing binds us closer than our love of family. They are the center of our lives and she is the heart of our family. We have a shared history, a lifetime of joyful experiences and a few that were sad.
She rented a large waterfront home in Woods Hole in July for a week-long celebration. It will accommodate all 22 of us. Since we don’t expect to be around for our 75th, we’ll make the most of this one.
Our parents were of a generation that believed marriage was for life. Divorces were rare. Things have changed. We have gone from one extreme to the other. Too often, it seems, couples split for reasons that have more to do more with the routine and tedious side of marriage than any fundamental problem. Those looking for reasons to stay in a marriage will find them. Those looking for ways out will also find them.
If you want passion and excitement, you won’t find it at the center of a long-term relationship. What you hopefully will find, if you get beyond the honeymoon stage, is a deeper love that involves loyalty, understanding, shared sacrifice, mutual respect, forgiveness, and self control. It matures into a comfortable balance between two people who have adapted to each other’s humanity – the strengths and weaknesses.
I just feel better knowing she’s around and I believe she feels the same. That’s as good as it gets.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.