Guest columnist Gene Stammel: Lucky in love — Observations on marriage

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Published: 8/18/2023 5:00:21 PM

“Always get married in the morning. That way, if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted a whole day.” — Mickey Rooney

“I always say, if you’re married 50 years and 10 of them are horrible, you’re doing pretty good.” — Michelle Obama

“Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut after.” — Ben Franklin

Isn’t it interesting that some marriages last six months while others surpass six decades? Theories and studies abound as to why this is so, with therapists and marriage specialists eager to list the essential qualities of a successful partnership. Online searches reveal article titles such as “21 Key Secrets to a Successful Marriage,” “The 10 Ingredients to Lasting Unions,” “The 4 Pillars of Happy Marriage,” to offer a very small sampling.

Every article and list I have read (well, skimmed might more accurately describe my pursuit of information on the topic) include the following characteristics of long-lasting partnerships: patience, honesty, appreciation, respect, and The 3 C’s: communication, commitment and compromise.

Fine qualities indeed! Who among us doesn’t desire relationships based on these admirable character traits? Find two people who embody these virtues, and presto: the perfect marriage!

Oh that was so simple and predictable, dear reader! For haven’t we all known couples who appear to have it all, who seem to incorporate most of the above-mentioned traits and values and who, nonetheless, wind up drifting apart?

I certainly believe that relationships often flourish (or, at least have a better-than-average chance at success) when two people show kindness, tolerance, and understanding toward one another. But I beg your indulgence as I lay out my personal (untested and unscientific) explanations for successful marriages. (By the way, I consider any relationship in which two people love one another exclusively to be a “marriage.”)

My top five reasons couples stay together:

Inertia: I’ve been married for 44 years. I am not saying that my wife and I are together because we are too lazy to separate, no, no, no! When we get annoyed with one another, we are basically too lazy to walk out of the room, never mind packing our bags and moving into a new home! Differences don’t always get fully resolved, but they get buried deep enough to keep them hidden for a long time. And without the effort it takes to separate!

True love: I rank this fourth on my list because, in my experience, true love is hard to come by. Of course, the great majority of people in long-term relationships say they love their partner and probably do. But true love is something deeper and hard to define; like good teaching, you know it when you see it. Incredibly, both my parents’ marriage of 57 years and my in-laws’ 71-year union were examples to be admired.

Sense of time: I believe I may be on somewhat shaky ground with this one, but see what you think. My wife and I are never late for an engagement. Whether it’s meeting someone for dinner, catching a plane, or going to the movies, we like to arrive early and avoid any stress involved with not being on time. This is simply how our nervous systems operate. I can’t imagine living for 44 years with someone who is habitually late. In fact, it couldn’t happen, simply because it would drive me out of my mind!

Family history: I’m too lazy to research data on this, but my experience and gut feeling lead me to the following observation: One’s chances for a long and fulfilling partnership depend, in no small part, on the success of one’s parents’ relationship. Naturally, there will be exceptions, and no one is doomed at birth to have a failed marriage. But show me a couple who were each raised in loving, intact families and I’m very likely to show you a happy, durable relationship.

And the No. 1 reason I believe couples stay together is … drum roll … Luck!

Yes, plain old luck. Let’s face it: Living happily as a couple for 30, 40, or 50-plus years is quite a feat. When I try to think about this accomplishment objectively, it seems almost impossible to achieve and doesn’t sound like much fun! And why is sharing a life together so difficult? My answer is quite simple: People change.

At 73 years old, am I the same person I was at age 29? I hope not! I have, in theory anyway, matured, gained wisdom, developed new interests, and adapted to the challenges of growing older. My wife has done the same.

But here’s my main point (you were hoping there was a point to all this, right?): My wife and I lucked out and changed in the same ways. We don’t share all the same hobbies or interests and we have very different personalities, but our values, beliefs, sense of humor, and sensibilities about living in this world have shifted in the same direction.

Amazing! We certainly couldn’t have predicted this 44 years ago. My only explanation is that we were lucky in love.

Ironically, it was Mick Jagger who sang the following lyrics: “Oh, I’m lucky in love/Yes, I’ve got the winning touch/ I’m lucky in love/Suddenly I’m dangerous.”

This from one of the least monogamous humans on the planet! I guess that’s another thing about lasting relationships: Some folks just aren’t cut out for them.

Gene Stamell lives in Leverett. He can be reached at


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