Many years ago, when I promised to remain my husband’s faithful companion until one of us was lowered into a 6-foot-deep hole, I felt a hint of fear. Would we become one of the average couples who, within just eight years, swaps “til death do us part” for “til we both sign the divorce papers”?
Or would we become one of the extraordinary few who go on to celebrate a golden anniversary?
Now, 14 years in, we’re already above average, and I’d like to gain entrance to that golden anniversary club. Who better to reveal the secrets of a long and happy marriage than couples who have stuck together for decades? These five long-married couples explain how they romanced one another throughout the years.
Take a Yearly Vacation — Without the Kids
The couple: Beverly and Gene Bella, ages 70 and 72
Married: 50 years, 2 children, 4 grandchildren
How they met: Gene Bella glanced across the dance hall and noticed a pretty girl. He turned to his buddy and said, “That girl over there looks nice. Why don’t you ask her to dance?” But as his buddy walked across the hall, Gene had a change of heart. “I intercepted him and got to her first,” he says.
The tall, good-looking Gene easily swept Beverly Thomas off her feet. They have two children and four grandchildren.
How they've kept the romance alive: “We always made time for each other,” Beverly says about the years when their children were young. “Every year we would leave the kids with his parents and we would take a trip together. Often it was just to the Motel 6. That was our getaway for one or two nights.”
Make Each Other Laugh Once a Day
The couple: Betty and Rick Busciglio, both in their mid 70s
Married: 55 years, two children
How they met: While Rick Busciglio was on leave from Walter Reed Army base in Washington, D.C. in 1957, he traveled to Philadelphia to help a soon-to-be-married friend move a stove from his bachelor pad to his new home. Betty Bannerman, a bridesmaid, happened to be visiting and, as Rick was carrying in the stove, she couldn’t help but notice his “cocker spaniel eyes.” When he mentioned he needed a ride back to his parent’s home, she offered. They soon married and had two children.
How they've kept the romance alive: Half way through their marriage, Betty was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. While in the hospital recovering from surgery, she turned on a sitcom on TV. She started laughing so loudly that the nurses ran to her room to see what was wrong. Throughout the rest of her recovery, Rick made it his goal to make Betty laugh at least once a day — a goal he still takes seriously 25 years later. “Sometimes the laughter I provide her isn’t planned,” he says with a chuckle.
Take a Post-Dinner Siesta
The couple: Eileen and Woody Janvier, ages 67 and 66
Married: 42 years, two children
How they met: When Woody Janvier asked Eileen Garber to dance 52 years ago, the two were in the 8th grade. “As soon as I laid eyes on her, that was it,” he says. “I still remember her dress and her little hands that were clammy holding my hands.”
How they've kept the romance alive: “Our time together was always very special to us,” says Eileen of those early years when their children were young. “Woody worked ever changing shifts and nothing seemed routine, but family dinners, when possible, were very important to us.” Always, immediately after dinner, Eileen and Woody would retreat to their bedroom to relax, talk and cuddle. “No TV, no kids,” Eileen says. “Of course as the kids got older we endured lots of teasing as to what was really going on!”
The couple also loves to still go for cruises in the same '57 Chevy (pictured) that, years ago, took them to their high school prom.
Go for a Date in Your Living Room
The couple: Darnay Collier and Andrea King Collier, both age 57
Marred: 31 years, two children, one grandchild
How they met: Andrea King was on her way home to visit her parents. Her boyfriend (not Darnay) would be flying in a few days later to meet her parents for the first time.
“I told Darnay that I was coming home and on what flight, but I was kidding,” says Andrea, author of the memoir "Still With Me: A Daughter’s Journey of Love and Loss." “To my surprise, when I got off the plane, he was there. He had driven to Chicago from Detroit to surprise me.” Within hours, she called her boyfriend and told him not to bother meeting her in Chicago.
How they've kept the romance alive: “Sometimes watching a movie at home and talking was all we got and it was enough. The talking and laughing has been everything,” says Andrea, who adds they they now finish one another's sentences. “Seeing him as a grandfather has made me fall in love all over,” Andrea says.
Have Dinner After the Kids Are Asleep
The couple: Bill McGowan and Donna Cornachio, both age 53
Married: 27 years, three children.
How they met: Donna and Bill both worked in a TV newsroom in New York. Donna eventually became a journalism professor while Bill worked as a news correspondent, then a producer, and later a communications coach. Along with those demanding careers came three children, each one year apart.
How they've kept the romance alive: “Our best strategy over the years was to make sure we were a couple first and parents second,” says Bill, now an author. So they cooked two dinners every night: one for the kids to eat around 6 p.m. and another to eat after the kids were asleep.
“I would get a head start on cooking a dinner for just Donna and me while the kids were still awake and playing in the room next to the kitchen,” says Bill. “Then I would hit pause while we got everyone ready for bed, read stories and eventually turned out the lights. After we came back downstairs, we would sit down, sometimes as late as 9:30 p.m. to candlelight.”
During dinner, the two shared stories from their days, sitting together at the table for an hour or more. “With three children within 21 months of age, it is what kept us sane,” Bill says.