Seniors: Humor, flexibility, and of course love, keep marriages strong

In today’s society of Kim Kardashians, flighty celebrities, and the constant search for the best new thing, short-lived marriages seem to have become an accepted norm.

Long-lasting marriages are now an accomplishment, and as such, felt they should be celebrated. Below, two couples who’ve been married for more than 50 years share their stories.


Henry and Millie

The first time they met, Millie shooed off Henry’s advances. They reconnected later that year during High Holy Days services at shul, and Millie finally agreed to go on a date. “She had a very sexy body and I thought she was rich,” Henry jokes about why Millie caught his eye.

Millie and Henry’s relationship is just like this, full of witty banter, playful poking and laughter. At the core of it is a clear and deep sense of love, admiration and respect for one another.

Henry and Millie were married in 1950.

“I just saw her as a very bright and sensitive kind of person, and one of the attributes is that our backgrounds are almost identical. We belonged to the same synagogue, went to the same high school, and shared a tremendous number of common feelings about ideals and philosophy,” Henry says.

Millie says she and Henry weren’t ready to get married, and they resisted her mother’s pressure by claiming that there were no available apartments in the area. Her mother responded by buying them an apartment. “That was a surprise,” Millie quipped.

Henry emphasizes their similar backgrounds as a major cause for the success of their marriage. “I know what she’s thinking before she even realizes it,” he says.

Millie suggests that all newly married couples try to understand each other, listen to each other, adapt to each other’s communication styles. “One of the rules in our house is we never cuss. Sometimes we agree to disagree, but we never let the emotion get out of hand,” Henry says.

“And when you do get mad, you don’t stay mad, you don’t go to bed mad, because then you wake up and multiply your problems. You make up before it gets too far,” Millie adds.

Henry says that humor has played a big role in their relationship. “He has none,” Millie quickly interjects.

“He has always been superior in whatever has to be done. He’s taught himself all of these things, handyman tasks, and took care of our home,” she says.

Henry says that love means, “my wife comes first over everything. I look at things from the point of view of what will make her happy. If she’s happy, I’m happy.”

“Cause I can make him pretty miserable,” Millie adds with a laugh.


Tamara and Leonid

Tamara and Leonid met in Ukraine when they were 15 years old, when he’d walk her home from school every day. Due to his Jewish heritage, Leonid was rejected from university and was forced to join the army for three years.

They wrote countless letters to one another, but the phone in the Soviet Union in those days was a different story. Leonid would write to tell Tamara that on a certain day at a certain time, he would call the main phone line at the post office. Tamara would then have to wait until the day and time, go to the post office, and wait for the attendant to call her name. If she was she late, or if another person’s phone call lasted longer than expected, she and Leonid would have to start from scratch.

Tamara and Leonid married in 1959

For three years, they nurtured their budding relationship in this way, until Leonid finally came home and proposed.

Honeymooning in Odessa, they decided to stay, and with no family in the area or means of living, began their marital life in the kitchen of a friend’s apartment.

Fifty years, two children, four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild later, Tamara and Leonid say their success is due to treating their marriage like a basket: gently weaving themselves together.

When people come together, Tamara says, they need to bend and integrate each other’s personalities and styles into a new marriage and family. This is always the hardest part, she says.

The kids, Tamara says joyously, are the bond between two spouses. “We’re like two bricks, and the kids are the glue that holds us together.”

Leonid adds that there are always the minor things that make life difficult, but if you focus on the important things — that you’re together, that you love one another, and that you can each feel each other’s hands for support — that’s what matters.

Tamara’s health recently took a turn for the worse. “The first thing I did [in the hospital] was open my eyes to look to make sure he was there. When I saw he was, I calmed down. He’s my husband and my friend, and I am that same constant support for him to ensure that he’s happy, and he does the same for me.”