What does it take to make a marriage work for the long haul? Not for just five or 10 years, but many decades? How do you arrive at your golden anniversary, happy and cheerful, looking back on the years you’ve had together? Jim and Stanya Owen have some answers. The Austin, Texas couple and parents of two children have been married for 49 and a half years. They are not famous or experts in the traditional sense. They are, however, a couple who has remained happy and in love for nearly five decades and have some wisdom to share. In our book, that makes them worth listening to. So, as Jim and Stanya are steadily approaching their golden anniversary, we asked them to share some of their tips for a long-lasting, happy marriage. Here’s what they had to say.
Remember That Some Years Will be Harder Than Others
“It’s not all been easy years. Young people will say, ‘Oh, you almost never fight.’ We say, no, au contraire, we fight all the time,” says Jim. The important distinction here is that, despite the fact that some years were marked by more work and fights than others. Jim and Stanya always knew they were in the relationship for the long haul — and that the easy and rough patches were all a part of the ride.
There’s work through conflict, sure. But there’s more than that. “You hope you have luck, but you hope that you’re able to really have the same goals, to work hard towards that goal. If it’s to keep your marriage alive, then you have something to work with. You can make it happen, but it takes a lot of work. It’s not just something that you can just ho-hum through life. It’s a lot of work and a lot of fun. At the end of the day, you should really feel like a contributor.”
Focus on the Little Things
Both Jim and Stanya believe in the adage it’s the little things in life that matter most and always made small gestures to show their love. Every time Jim would leave town for work, as part of his former career, for example, Stanya would hide post-it notes deep in his luggage: one might have a happy face, another might simply tell him how much he meant to her. She’d wait until he’d pack his suitcase and bury them deep inside. “If he was going through it in a couple of days, when he’s really getting tired, he’d find that note in there,” she says.
Be Specific About Your Love
Stanya says Jim is “wonderful” about giving her compliments. “Nothing syrupy,” she says. “It’s not just saying the words if we’re feeling it at that moment. It’s the surprise! You never know if he’s going to be complimentary or not because his mind is on a lot of other things. But, when he is, I know these days that this is for real, for him. The simple pleasures make you feel good.”
Face Issues Honestly
“I’d always heard that old adage from my mother and grandmother: ‘don’t go to bed mad,’” says Stanya. “I thought it was just a hoax. But it’s really played out to be true.” In the beginning she says she was much more open than Jim about her feelings and would keep him up until 4 o’clock in the morning to really get down to the basics of the discussion. But over the years they have really worked to understand one another better. “It’s lessened a whole lot with time. But we’ve really gotten down to the issues much quicker. We face them realistically, and not hopefully, but with real true, realism,” she says.
Don’t Live in the Future
“I’m always surprised that young people who date for two weeks say, ‘I think I finally met the one that I want to spend my life with!'”, says Jim “It’s almost like they visualize the next five, 10, or 20 years. I don’t think we’ve ever done that.” He and Stanya stress that, while they planned for the future, they always tried to stay in the moment and never looked forward to their children growing up. Instead, they worked on enjoying what they were going through. “We don’t live in the future. We don’t think, ‘It’s going to be so much better once this or that event happens.’”
Remember That There Is No Such Thing As a Perfect Marriage
Jim and Stanya both warn against the tendency to look at — and idolize — other people’s relationships. “I think that one of the issues that young people face is that they look at social media, they listen to celebrity stuff, and they think that somewhere out there is a possibility of marriage made in heaven, where there are no issues,” says Jim. “Like some people have the perfect marriage. And that’s simply not true. Every family has issues. We’ve had our issues.” What makes the marriage good, according to Jim, is not a lack of issues, but how those issues are grappled with.
Always See the Humor In It
Marriage requires a lot of work. But that’s not to say that it shouldn’t or can’t be the most fun and fulfilling job of your life. “You do really have to continue to work and strive for. Not to an extent that you can’t have a lot of fun,” Stanya says. “We dance around our kitchen island to Garth Brooks and sing with him and do all these hokey little things, which just make us smile. Just simple little things like that. That has been a really wonderful godsend for us.”
“I think we’re positive,” says Stanya. “That brings out the laughter, because you don’t get bogged down in yesterday, and if you work through the issues from yesterday, then you’re freer to go through with a positive reference to life.”