The Three Most Important Words in Marriage: Fifty Years of Learning Together
It’s a family joke with us.
We picked it up from a friend who asked,
“What are the three most important words in marriage?”
Our immediate response was “I love you.”
We say those words to each other every day.
We’ve been doing so for more than 50 years.
But our friend said, “No, there are three better words.”
What you need for the long haul are these:
“You’re probably right.”
Family therapist Esther Perel puts it this way:
“You can be right, or you can be married.”
We started to need these words very early in our marriage.
On our honeymoon, to be exact.
Today is our golden wedding anniversary.
To celebrate it, we commissioned a 3-minute video.
We laughed as we looked at the final slides in this video,
which document our first argument.
Can you imagine what we argued about? The source is visible in the video.
Ten years ago, when we celebrated anniversary #40,
we wrote up some advice to young lovers.
This time, no advice.
Have you decided what made my face look so grim in the last of the honeymoon slides?
Does it remind you of any arguments in your life?
Just because I am not offering advice doesn’t mean you can’t!
Hearty congratulations on your jubilee anniversary, Shirley and Stuart! The video is a treasure! I wonder if whatever was in the grocery bags sparked the first disagreement.
Thank you, Linda. We are now back home in Virginia still buzzing with joy.
The grocery bags contained either groceries we ate to save restaurant money in Nova Scotia (you probably noticed me making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in bed) or the groceries we purchased after we returned. I remember going to the store with exactly $13 to spend. And that raisins were on sale for .33.
But no, the groceries did not cause a fight. We have been blessed by a love of frugality and a strong dislike for waste. So we have almost never disagreed over money.
So the mystery remains unsolved. I am sure it will emerge below. 🙂
Shirley — happy, Happy, HAPPY jubilee anniversary. I watched the video twice and it brought happy tears to my eyes both times. I also wonder if your first disagreement had to do with the grocery bags. Maybe not what’s in them, but perhaps how much they cost.
So glad you enjoyed the video, Laurie. I am sure you can say the same about a long marriage. I always enjoy seeing you and Len having fun.
As I said to Linda, we have been blessed by not fighting about money. So, . . .
Cliff and I say, “Happy Golden Anniversary”! And many more to come. 🙂
Because people generally live longer these days, more couples are reaching a 50th anniversary. But, according to our pastor, it’s rare for the husband and wife to still be in love after all those years. You and Stuart are among the rare pairs. So are we.
On Monday, we celebrate our 52nd anniversary. I’ll answer your second question in my blog post this week. Ours was a merger of East and West (and a clash of cultures). Our honeymoon was such a bust, we returned to the Smokies in NC a year or two later for a do-over. “I was wrong” and “Please forgive me” are rare but necessary phrases in our conversation over the years.
The video is a grand keepsake, and a model for generations to come. Well done!
I remember your jubilee anniversary and a little of that honeymoon story. I am sure that “the bust” has become a fond memory over the years. A cautionary tale sometimes and a story of resilience at other times.
We are indeed grateful not just for marriage survival but for abiding love. Our daughter made this haiku for our celebration, and it touched us. If your children see your love (since they also see your quirks and shortcomings), the gift will continue.
50 years in love —
two kids plus three grandchildren —
makes a family.
BTW, my ARC arrived today, and it is lovely! I was delighted to see that you are working with Dan Blank on the marketing and launch planning. I will be sure to put my reviews up before your big day — almost exactly six years since BLUSH. Hard to believe it’s been so long. I know the readers who enjoyed BLUSH will love your book. It will be fun to share.
Congratulations on this important milestone, celebrated while still in good health! Not something to be taken for granted, but something to treasure and appreciate! What made you decide to come to Canada for your honeymoon? Thanks for sharing the video. What beautiful memories! “I am sorry” are also three great words that can melt the ice! You’re both not smiling on the picture just before the one with the grocery bag where you are wearing the dark suit, but I’m not sure I see any evidence as to why.
Elfrieda, you are so right about good health being a special gift at our age and a huge factor in whether we can enjoy a celebration of 50 years. Even while I was having fun with my family I got a text from my cousin, a new widow, that a mutual friend just lost her husband in a bicycling accident. I have far too many friends who are either alone or are unable to enjoy vigorous travel anymore. I know it must be hard to see others’ vigor. And I hope that our joy does not cause pain. We are keenly aware that it can be taken at any moment.
Stuart is the one who picked Nova Scotia, almost as a surprise for me. He had heard glowing reports from someone ( a cousin?) and thought the cool weather would be great for an August wedding. He was right. There were many fewer American tourists there in 1969, and we lucked out in finding a local guide who took us under his wing and shared a fun fishing village and a paper mill and handmade train that only we experienced at the time. He called Stuart “Laddie.” 🙂
You are the first to pick the slide that tells the story. We’ll see if anyone guesses the issue.
Many congratulations and i loved the post.
So glad you enjoyed, Maren. You would have written a lovely poem about an event like this. I might muster a haiku or two . . .
Congratulations! Beautiful truth.
Thank you, Lisa, for stopping by. Hope you are well.
Happy Anniversary! Beautiful video.
Thank you, Merril. We are so grateful to a talented nephew who does freelance IT and media work. He digitized the slides (that were starting to deteriorate) and then added the intro and music.
Happy Anniversary! You both looked so happy as you started your life together. I’m glad you and your family were able to have such a special celebration. I keep looking at that slide before the one where you are holding the grocery bags. Is something about the others in the photo bothering you? Whatever is bothering you, you have a cute expression on your face. ?
You are getting close, Tina. Yes, the others in the picture are part of the story. Come back tomorrow and I’ll reveal here in the comments.
Stuart had probably tried to make me smile. That expression was the best I could do at the moment.
Thanks for your good wishes.
Jubilee, Jubilation. Joy! Aww! The ups and downs of marriage. Congratulations as you celebrate your anniversary. And the continued times you say to each other, ‘You are probably right. ‘
A person named June would naturally pick up on all those wonderful J words! Thank you for your good wishes.
What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful relationship. You both look so happy in every photo stretching from honeymoon to grandchildren joy. It is so sweet and made me tear up too (like Laurie). So happy for you! Congrats!
You and I were born the same year, we probably met our future husbands around the same time, but we didn’t marry until 1975 (though we celebrated 50 years as a couple in 2015!) Just the zeitgeist, as you probably noted in the book.
I hope you share many more memories for years to come. Hugs!
Thank you, Linda. You and I have traveled different paths at the same time. And such interesting ones. One of these days we will meet in person and the hugs will be real.
About the argument. Tina noticed the group of people standing on the bridge in the Boston Common, the last place we visited before we returned home to Virginia. When one person in the group asked us for money, I instinctively wanted to do it. Stuart just as instinctively wanted to refuse. He had read that panhandlers feed their drug habits through this method. I had not read this, and I was thinking of Jesus and the cup of cold water given in his name. I also was alert to this first challenge to our unity as a couple. Would we be hard-headed or soft-hearted? Or would we sometimes choose different paths?
We did not give any money. I was still pondering the questions when Stuart snapped the photo. We haven’t resolved the issue yet. Nor has our country. What do you do when asked for money on the street?
Giving money to pan handlers or the homeless is always a dilemma. When we travel we are usually told not to do it by the tour guide. When I am with my big-hearted youngest daughter, she always begs me to give money and sometimes I do. Instead of money, I have sometimes given food I have purchased. So you and Stuart still disagree on this issue?!
Ask, can I buy you a coffee, buy you lunch. In the busyness of our day, the best thing we can offer is our time.
You are so right, June. I am so often in a hurry when I am on the street. Next time I will remember your words. Have you done this? What happened?
Happy Anniversary to you and Stuart!!! This video is amazing! I enjoyed viewing it (before I read the comments), and I did notice the expression on your face in Boston (and knew you were in Boston!) I was going to go back and look again to see if I could figure out what was happening, but then I started reading the comments. I got here late, your story was already here, and so I took the easy way out and read what the disagreement was about.
It’s a dilemma, isn’t it? What to do when people ask for money. Many times I’ve given money to people who asked for it, in the past years I usually ask whether people need or want food instead of giving them money. Once, Ken and I took a homeless man–who was obviously an addict–out for lunch (in Tennessee). It was an experiencing I’m still processing. I do believe that people asking for money generally are very slick at getting cash to feed their habits, and so I’m more inclined these days to offer food or other assistance, in a safe way, in a very public place. The father of my grade school friend was murdered ten years ago (here in Minnesota) by a homeless man he was helping, and I can’t ever forget that.
Just last week, downtown St. Cloud, I was walking for exercise, and a man approached me in front of a pawn shop. He was, to me, obviously a “pro” at getting a couple of dollars from well-meaning people, and I was pretty sure he was high on something. But I knew I wasn’t in danger because I was on the main street, lots of cars going by, etc., and he all he asked me was if I knew when the pawn shop closed. A classic move is to ask an “innocent” question to engage someone, to gage where on the bleeding-heart scale they fall, before asking for money. I stopped and looked him in the eye and told him I didn’t know, but it looked like there was someone inside. Did he need to pawn something, I asked.
I just wanted to show him that I saw him as a human person, and that I heard him, and that he was as deserving of a bit of chit chat on the street corner as the next person. I learned from my encounter from the homeless man in Tennessee, that just “seeing and hearing” a homeless person–reverencing their humanity–means much more than money does.
Last week in St. Cloud I did not have any cash on me; I had left my purse locked in the trunk. After I asked if he needed to pawn something, the man started an elaborate story about why he was in St. Cloud and that he was trying to get back to Duluth, and that he had left “something” in Sauk Rapids that he could pawn. Then he asked if I had 2 dollars so he could take the bus to Sauk Rapids to pick up the item he wanted to pawn because if he walked, he wouldn’t get back before the shop closed.
He didn’t count on the fact that I knew how the busses run around here, and I was by now thinking he was probably on meth, and was an accomplished swindler for the purpose of supporting his habit, and I was feeling quite sorry for his addiction plight, but knew the story about going to get something to pawn so he could take a bus to Duluth was likely an elaborate lie. So I said simply, “But you can’t get to Sauk Rapids and back here by bus in 1/2 an hour. It’s a two-hour round trip” (although Sauk Rapids is only 3 miles away–this is the dilemma of public transportation!!!) And he looked at me very shrewdly, with respect, and said, “You’re right.”
I asked him, so, what are you going to do? He said the police had been hassling him for panhandling and because he was black, and I told him I was sorry about that. Was he okay? He looked well fed, and was clean, so I figured he has resources for food and shelter, but depends on handouts for meth. And I sensed he knew that I knew what he was up to, but at the same time he knew I was not judging or condemning him. Addiction is complicated and painful, and I don’t see it as a moral failure.
When I asked whether he okay, it was like a wall broke down between us and he said, “Yeah, I’m okay. Hey, thanks for talking to me. That means a lot. Most people treat me like I’m worse than a dog. But you treated me like I’m a respectable person.”
“Because you are a person,” I said, “and you have as much right as anyone to be treated with respect,” I said. Then he asked me about the necklace I was wearing. I told him it was a medal of St. Benedict.
“So you’re a religious?” He asked. That’s a question I can’t easily answer, so I said, “I guess you could say that,” and was thinking of how I could best explain myself. But he was done with me, because he was looking for easy cash and he wasn’t going to get it from me.
“Well, God bless you,” he said, and then moved on quickly.
It all happened so quickly–it took less than 2 minutes from the first word until he disappeared around the corner, and it left me feeling really inadequate, confused, a little frightened, and sad. I wasn’t able to recognize, until you asked June “what happened?” and I remembered this incident, that something important had happened.
I had nothing to give him except a moment of respect, and I’ll never know what he made of that. But I will always remember what it felt like when the wall between us came down, and we were just two people standing on the same sidewalk on the same side of the street, talking about how long it takes for the bus to get from St. Cloud to Sauk Rapids and back. It felt like we were just two people recognizing each other as human.
Oh Tracy, thank you for taking time to write this beautiful story. You have poured all the feelings into this exchange, and you haven’t prettified it to fit an existing narrative. That exchange about the bus was a breakthrough, but I am not surprised that it could not last. Addiction is powerful. But so is taking a risk for the sake of giving the great gift of human dignity.
You are a religious. I like that you could claim it.
I have exercised this a few times. Sometimes with success. Other times the person I offer to buy a coffee for or a meal for only want the money. One time I got shot down hard when I had a gift card to give.
I just keep on trying.
We have a great homeless problem here in Sarasota. There are many panhandlers.
I have worked with all kinds of homeless folks in my social work career.
Some can work and are not able , and some truly cannot work due to mental illness or health reasons.
Yesterday, I said hello to someone I perceived as homeless, or at least in great need who was sitting outside the 7-11. Once I said hello,
he started to try and engage me in more conversation. Due to fear, I walked away. He continued to approach me and I saw he was giving
me a flower he made from a palm leaf. It was quite beautiful. He told me he had no intention of asking for money,
but he saw from my bumper sticker that I was from Indiana and so was he.
I was ashamed that I was afraid to talk with him, but at the same time, I felt irritated that he didn’t understand why a single woman
would be afraid to engage in a conversation with an unknown male.
I’m glad I had this venue to talk about this as it has weighed heavily on my mind.
First of all, Bobbi, thanks for alerting me to the fact that you had made a comment. I am often traveling when these posts come out, as I was this time, and I did not get the notification I should have. I need to check with my tech person about why I don’t get an email. Guess what? I had 80-something comments from old posts waiting for approval when I went back to find yours. Oy vey.
Your description of the encounter with the man on the street rings many bells. I had one or two experiences similar to this in Haiti. One was from another ex patriate who assumed I was a missionary and started harassing me for that. Many others were desperate beggars. Sometimes I gave and usually I didn’t, due to the number and the fact that one gift could attract many more hands, more than I could handle.
“Heavy on my mind” describes the lingering reminder of how hard it is to do the right thing. Blessings as you continue to try, and don’t be too hard on yourself when you don’t think you got it right.
I have given money sometimes, when I’ve been asked for it for food or gas. I don’t know if it was the best decision. And there have been times when I’ve said I’m sorry, I can’t. I like the idea of offering to buy a meal.
You describe the range of responses I have made. And I never feel absolutely sure I am doing the right thing. I do know that saying words like “I’m sorry” and doing anything kind, making eye contact, etc., makes me feel better. I can’t be responsible for how it is received.
We keep granola bars in our car and give them to people who ask for handouts.
A practical idea indeed, Elfrieda.
Glad to finally see your response here–the pictures were so lovely and romantic, and then puzzling, and what a story. Interesting dilemma which came up on our errands about town today!
First major arguments can be so unsettling, especially on the honeymoon. We had one. But still hanging together and our issue still surfaces from time to time as well. 🙂 I once wrote about it in a small publication from Mennonite Broadcasts office which was called Alive.
Yes, we have the same issue in our own town. And talking to a shop manager has given me a sense of how complex the issues are.
Glad to know we weren’t the only ones who had to learn how to fight fair on our honeymoon and who still haven’t settled certain issues like this one to the satisfaction of either of us. One thing we do feel now as we decide what to do with someone asking for money on the street is that we are on the same side of the table trying to figure out how to balance head and heart, dignity for the person even if we do not comply with the request.
I love the video, Shirley, and that you took the time to have it made to celebrate your 50th and how you’ve had several events to mark the anniversary. Congratulations! And not just for making 50 years, but for still loving each other!! Marriage researcher John Gottman says every marriage has solvable and unsolvable problems, and that when we marry someone else, we’re often simply exchanging one set of unsolvable problems for another set! Knowing this, Rick and I often are able to acknowledge with humor even in the midst of a disagreement that we’ll still be arguing about this issue when we’re in our 90’s. We kind-of resolved the giving-money-to-people-on-the-street one, which has followed us around the world: Rick’s contribution is the policy work that targets the underlying conditions: I’ll feed those who are asking. And if they’re buying drugs or alcohol or manipulating, that’s on their conscience.
Love this, Carolyn. Thank you for the empathy and for the John Gottman quote. Yes, we continue to find our way, and our partners continue to think and contribute to society in their ways separate from ours. Eventually we recognize that there is strength in both approaches and making space is another way to love each other and the world.
But first we have to get to the end of the honeymoon. 🙂
Congratulations to you and Stuart, Shirley! Wonderful to celebrate 50 years together and to do it in such a meaningful way with your family. Clay did a fabulous job with the video. I’ve watched it three times and it touches me with each viewing. “You may be right” are important words in any relationship, but particularly in marriage.
Stuart is an excellent photographer. You have amazing photographs of your honeymoon. Photos from that time often don’t survive so well.
Thank you, Carol. It has been quite a jubilee year so far, and the trip to Nova Scotia was all that we dreamed of. The “probably” in “you’re probably right” is what makes the phrase stick. One can say it straight-up, tongue-in-cheek, or outright sarcastic and the effect still works.
The photos of the honeymoon were slides originally. They survived 50 years of storage, most recently in a damp, mold-producing cellar! That’s why we asked Clay to digitize and then turn into a video. You remind me of one more project . . . you’ll see it in the next post.
I have to include here a lovely poem sent by friends Sharon and Parker Palmer.
The Longly-Weds Know
By Leah Furnas
That it isn’t about the Golden Anniversary at all,
But about all the unremarkable years
that Hallmark doesn’t even make a card for.
It’s about the 2nd anniversary when they were surprised
to find they cared for each other more than last year
And the 4th when both kids had chickenpox
and she threw her shoe at him for no real reason
And the 6th when he accidentally got drunk on the way
home from work because being a husband and father
was so damn hardIt’s about the 11th and 12th and 13th years when
they discovered they could survive crisis
And the 22nd anniversary when they looked
at each other across the empty nest, and found it good.
It’s about the 37th year when she finally
decided she could never change him
And the 38th when he decided
a little change wasn’t that bad
It’s about the 46th anniversary when they both
bought cards, and forgot to give them to each other
But most of all it’s about the end of the 49th year
when they discovered you don’t have to be old
to have your 50th anniversary!!!!