Sex Relationships

Valentine's Day inspiration: how to stay happily married

Who better to ask than a couple who are still madly in love with one another after 53 years?

By Karyn Henger

For all of the expert advice that's around on how to find and keep love, sometimes you need look no further than your own family.

I have an aunt and uncle who've been happily married for 53 years... Ros and John Graham (Auntie Ros and Uncle John to me) are the epitomy of a happy couple - finishing each other's sentences, spending all their spare time together and still giving one another butterflies when the other walks into the room.

Honestly, it can bring tears to your eyes just watching them.

After meeting in their teens and marrying when Ros turned 21, they are now in their seventies, with two adult daughters who also have successful marriages (28 years and 20 years, respectively) and two grandchildren whom they dote on. They celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary on January 30.

With another Valentine's Day upon us and Married At First Sight fever at high pitch (with the third season of MAFS Australia on Three at the moment) there seemed no better time to interview them and find out how you remain happily married to someone for so long.

Here are their secrets to finding and keeping love:

Ros and John Graham, still happily married after 53 years.
Ros and John Graham, still happily married after 53 years.

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. However I found out later that when I rode my bike home from school John had followed me on his bike. I never knew this until we met at 19 years old.

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 shy.

How quickly did you fall in love?

Ros: I thought he was really lovely, quite gorgeous in fact. However I wanted to know more about him before I committed myself.

John: I was very keen from day one.

What attracted you to one another?

Ros: He was handsome, lovely company, very caring, made me feel good and happy. His quiet strength and humbleness.

John: She was pretty and petite, her inner strength and determination.

John was keen on Ros from day one, but had to wait until Ros turned 21 before her father would allow them to marry.
John was keen on Ros from day one, but had to wait until Ros turned 21 before her father would allow them to marry.

How soon after you met did you marry?

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

John: We went out together for about 12 months and were then engaged for 12 months.

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 28 years, and Tracey for 20 years.
Ros and John with their daughters Joanne (left) and Tracey. Joanne has been married for 28 years, and Tracey for 20 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. Ros likes to keep the house very neat and tidy and I've had to adjust to that.

How did you divide the roles at home?

Ros: We had traditional roles in the home. We both wanted to have me stay at home and there were a number of reasons: Both girls, Joanne and Tracey, had severe asthma so I wouldn't have dreamed of leaving them and working. I had had a dysfunctional family life so that was my challenge and my dream - for our children to live in a happy home; and I loved John and we both wanted a happy marriage.

Couples nowadays have to both work to make ends meet so we were lucky, though it was very hard to balance a budget and keep to it. I used to sew their clothes and cook every night as we couldn't afford meals out.

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

How do you handle disagreements?

Ros: Sometimes we let things go that aren't so important. Usually we discuss things and come to a decision that we are happy with. We talk calmly as we are not into blazing rows; we try and respect each other's differences.

John: Don't involve other people who may take sides. Saying sorry is important as well as forgiveness.

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

Is it hard work to make a marriage work?

Ros: Yes it is. In fact, every day. Marriage is showing a caring, forgiving heart, loving each other no matter what our differences are. Lots of compromise is needed by both partners. We need to know each other's strengths and weaknesses and work on that. Forgive each other.

John: Working together is very important. Some things can't be resolved instantly.

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.
  • Try not to be boring, surprises are always nice, lots of laughter, being happy.
  • Support each other and build them up as a person.
  • Never go to sleep without a kiss: disagreements you forget about at the end of 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.

This Valentines Day Ros and John will be celebrating with dinner at a restaurant - John has also bought Ros a heart necklace.

"We don't always buy presents for one another," explains Ros.

"And we don't buy cards," adds John.

Those are reserved for their wedding anniversary, which is very special to them both.