The Secret to a Long Marriage

I just saw another of those ubiquitous and supposedly heartwarming posts about a couple who were married for a zillion years (I’m exaggerating — it was only sixty or seventy). They were asked how they stayed together for so long, and they gave the same answer everyone in that position does — respect, love, never going to bed angry, etc., etc., etc.

The true answer and the answer no one ever gives is that one of them didn’t die. That’s how you end up being together for all those years — neither of you die.

Some of us didn’t have a choice about how long we were together. Death came, and that was that. Death didn’t care that we were respectful, that we didn’t go to bed angry, that we cared for each other (in both meanings of the phrase — we loved each other and we took care of each other).

We were never given a choice whether we’d go into our twilight years hand in hand. We were never given a choice about how long we’d stay together. Death chose.

It’s not as if he was careless with his health, either. He never smoked, wasn’t dependent on caffeine or any drug no matter how benign, seldom drank and when he did it was little more than a beer or a bit of wine. He knew more about health than anyone I ever knew, including all the doctors I’ve ever met. He was also disciplined, putting all that knowledge to work — exercising, eating right, keeping his mind active. And he was kind to everyone. (It’s one of the things I fell in love with — his universal kindness. You know those women who fall in love with a jerk who is nasty to everyone but her, and she always says, “but he’s good to me.”? Well, I am not that woman.)

We thought because we took care of ourselves and each other, we’d be ones who would get to have a long and happy old age. But death thought otherwise.

When he was but 63 years old, he died.

So everyone else can ooh and aah over the sweet photos of a loving geriatric couple, but I know the truth. They were able to stay together because death left them alone.

And me? All I have to warm my old age is a photo and memories of a man who died way too young.

I sound bitter, but I’m not, not really. Life — and death — does to us what it wants. I just wish those old folks who remain together for all those years would tell the truth: “The secret to a long marriage? That’s easy — don’t die.”


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

11 Responses to “The Secret to a Long Marriage”

  1. Paula Kaye Says:

    I like to think that it is just because we didn’t find each other soon enough. That is why we didn’t get to have a long marriage. We did get to send 35+ years in each others lives. And that, to me, is a long time!

  2. sumalama Says:

    Bitter? No. Not at all. You sound like you’re telling it like it is. You ARE right…as long as no one dies, a marriage can last forever. Neither of mine did, but that’s an entirely different story.

  3. leesis Says:

    I overheard a conversation the other day. One woman was complaining about the weird stuff happening as she started to age. At 52 I have started experiencing such weirdness so my ears pricked up. Her companion responded “oh yes I know dear, but what a privilege it is to get old…to have lived long enough to get old. You don’t sound bitter Pat. You sound like a woman who misses her companion and wishes it hadn’t been this way. xx

  4. Holly Says:


  5. frederick anderson Says:

    My wife and I are still together, because we are both still alive – but I like to believe we’re working on it…

  6. colonialgoodwife Says:

    Interesting. I never thought of it this way, Pat. No, you don’t sound bitter – you sound like a woman who loved, and was loved.

  7. Thuan Vuong Says:

    Many times I have had the same thoughts when I read about the “long marriages.” My wife died at 61 and we married somewhat late in life, so our time together was short, comparatively (16 years). I don’t say out loud to my friends (with more than double the years I’ve had) the very thoughts you wrote about because, well, it sounds like sour grapes– which, as you well understand, it is not. It is not a sour attitude because I am truly happy for them and wish them more years. But, truth be told, I am also jealous or envious because I didn’t get the same long years. But life is what it is, and I accept the fate it deals me. And I can do this partly because, as is evident even in this blog article, I am not alone in having a marriage cut short by death.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m grateful for the years I had with him, but sometimes . . . oh, sometimes I wish for the impossible. But as you say, life is what it is. It truly is a blessing to be able to connect with those who understand.

  8. Kathy Says:

    The problem is this – many of us suffer in this life because cliches seem to rule it. Questions such as “What is the secret to a long marriage?” It’s actually a thoughtless, narrow-minded question. Similar situations are Valentine’s Day to a person living alone. Or people shouting about their genealogy and ancestors when many adoptees have no idea who they come from. So many “minorities” are changing the things we’re allowed to say and how we view things and thoughtless questions and assumptions should be next. We’ve got a lot of work to do. 🙂

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      So true. And yet . . . as painful as it sometimes is for me to deal with, people do have the right to celebrate their lives. It took almost four years for me to bear seeing couples around my age holding hands or walking together or even just talking.

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