Half a century and counting

Lara Sierra talks to four couples who have been married for more than 50 years to discover their secrets for a long and happy marriage.

Interviewing three couples, who, between them, have almost 200 years’ worth of marriage experience, is not all laughter and roses. Their words of wisdom are not about how they have kept the romance alive after all these years – they did not tell me memories of how they laughed into the sunset and how they held hands as they watched their children take their own vows.  Rather, their advice was about the realities of marriage and how marriage is not the happy ending – it is what comes after.

Humour is the secret ingredient

Josephine and Austin Griscti

“I have been married to Austin for 57 years,” says Josephine. “We have three children, two daughters and a son. My husband worked a lot and it was difficult when the children were young, but now my oldest is 56 years old and my youngest is 51. We also have five grandchildren and one great-grandson.

“It hasn’t always been easy, we’ve had our ups and downs. But you have to give and take,” she says, adding that for a marriage to work, a sense of humour is critical. “You have to be patient and love each other truly,” she continues. “Like all families, you have to ride the ups and downs and take it day by day. If I think back to when I was younger I could not imagine that we would be here one day, growing old together. I could not imagine that we could get to this age. But I look at my family and realise that God has really blessed me. After all these years, here we are. We have made it.”

Making the best of it

Louis and Maria Abela

Maria and Louis will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this May. They too, have gone through the difficult times, no more so than in the last four years.

“My husband underwent an operation four years ago,” she says. “The operation was not successful and a nerve was damaged. He is no longer able to swallow, he cannot eat any food. I have been caring for him ever since then.

“Marriage is a give and take situation,” she explains. “You have to have patience and when there are arguments, sometimes you have to hold back. People think it’s a game these days, that you can just throw it all away, but if you want it to work, you have to sometimes just accept things.”

“We enjoy what we can. We can’t go out to dinner anymore but we can still travel,” she adds. “He has taken me all over the world. We can’t travel as actively as we used to  but we’ve adapted, which is why we’ve booked a cruise for our wedding anniversary,” she laughs.

“We have a son and two grandchildren, so now we’ve been through all of that, we don’t mind the fights and the arguments anymore. We have made the best of it.”

Romantically in love

Lino and Ċettina Zahra

“Lino and I have been married for 63 years,” Ċettina tells me, as she sits beside her husband, with her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and nieces and nephews laughing and chatting in the background.

“We just clicked in our ideas about what life is all about,” she adds.

“When I look back at my life, my first priority has always been my husband and second has been taking care of my children because they are our own. What we give our children from the first days of life until they go off on their own will remain with them, whether it’s good or it’s bad. If you have experienced parents arguing growing up, you must make sure you aredifferent for your children, so they do not know the same pain that you have known.”

Lino and Ċettina are somewhat experts in these matters. Once their children were old enough, they explain how they became heavily involved with the Cana movement for many years, providing counselling as a couple for everything ranging from relationships to families, drug abuse and education.

“We told our priest that we had no qualifications for this,” Ċettina says, “but his response was that our own family experience would provide the right ingredients to help people.

“As well as counselling couples in difficulty, we had our own challenges too. We had to make sacrifices financially many times,” Lino explains.

“During one period of difficulty, we even stopped going out, which is something we enjoy.”

“Even now,” Ċettina adds, “Lino has been in hospital so much over the last 17 years, we have had to adapt and make sacrifices. For example, we don’t go walking as much anymore, even though we used to do it even on a rainy day. Lino cannot do much anymore.”

Lino agrees: “I try to help but I can’t do much now. I can’t even carry the laundry basket.”

“But you can open the door to the veranda,” she replies sincerely. “So that I can hang out the clothes.”

“There are things which need to be done,” she tells her husband, “which you can no longer do. But whatever I do is out of love and respect for you. After all these years, I am not tired of you.

“Companionship and respect is the most important thing in a marriage and, as well as that, you have to be able to change according to circumstances. That’s the secret to it all. You have to accept situations, be able to change according to circumstances and carry on. But, above all, how shall I say,” she looks and smiles at her husband, “you have to be in love.”

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