How to stay happily married – advice from a couple who still give one another butterflies after 54 years

''Marriage is showing a caring, forgiving heart; loving each other no matter what our differences are.''
Ros and John Graham - secrets to a happy marriage

For all of the expert advice that’s around on how to have a successful relationship, sometimes the best comes from those who are living and breathing it.

Ros and John Graham, my aunt and uncle, celebrate their 54th wedding anniversary on January 30, and after all of this time you couldn’t find a couple more in love.

After meeting in their teens they married when Ros turned 21 and went on to have two daughters, Joanne and Tracey, who now have their own successful marriages (29 years and 21 years, respectively).

The doting grandparents-of-two finish each other’s sentences – and still give one another butterflies when the other walks into the room.

How do they do it? I asked them to share their secrets to a happy marriage:

Ros and John Graham, happier than ever after 54 years of marriage.

Before we get to your secrets, can you tell us how you met?

Ros: We were match-made – introduced by friends of John’s mother. When I met John I thought he was really lovely, quite gorgeous in fact. However I wanted to know more about him before I committed myself.

John: Ros didn’t know I existed until about three weeks before we went out together. But I knew who Ros was. I was very keen from day one.

Ros and John on their wedding day in 1965.

How soon after you met did you marry?

Ros: Two years, my father said I couldn’t marry until I was 21 years.

What have been some of the high points in your relationship?

Ros: Wedding anniversaries, the births of our children and I love to celebrate special occasions, like achievements in family, career.

John: Having two lovely children. Working through problems particularly when I was retrenched twice and then finding suitable work.

Ros and John with their daughters Joanne (left) and Tracey. Joanne has been married for 29 years, and Tracey for 21 years.

What have been some challenges you’ve overcome in your marriage?

Ros: John has always suffered from asthma and now also has heart problems, so we’ve had to practice love, patience and putting our lives on hold while he recovered. Sometimes John can be set in his ways.

John: Raising two children on one wage. I had two jobs for seven months so we could meet living expenses. (Joanne and Tracey both suffered from severe asthma as children so the couple decided Ros would remain a stay-at-home mother.)

Ros likes to keep the house very neat and tidy and I’ve had to adjust to that.

The couple that dances together stays together. Here, Ros and John are line dancing during a holiday in Canada.

Ros and John love spending time with their family and dote on their grandchildren, Ben and Lucy.

And now the big question: what are your secrets to a long and happy marriage?

  • Do something nice for each other every day and try to put each other first no matter how busy you are. John cooks a poached egg for me every day, no matter how he feels. At times it has been a real effort for him because he has been so sick, but he just loves to do it. He tells me how he loves me every day, not just once or twice but all the time. These are the things that make a marriage, the caring and looking after each other.

  • Don’t sulk and hold onto grudges. Communication is important.

  • Let things go that aren’t so important – and for the things that are, discuss them and come to a decision that you’re both happy with. We talk calmly; we try and respect each other’s differences and we don’t involve other people who may take sides. Saying sorry is important as well as forgiveness.

  • Try not to be boring, surprises are always nice, lots of laughter, being happy.

  • Support each other and build one another up as a person.

  • Work on your marriage every day. Marriage is showing a caring, forgiving heart, and loving each other no matter what your differences are. Lots of compromise is needed by both partners. You need to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and forgive each other.

  • Never go to sleep without a kiss, even if you’ve had a disagreement during the day.

  • Celebrate your love and cherish each other.

  • Accept each other, warts and all.

  • Be happy with what you have.

  • Don’t let other things interfere with your marriage e.g. work, recreation, hobbies.

  • Work together and do things together.

  • Don’t compete with other people’s marriages.

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