What's the secret to a happy marriage?

Three couples share stories of how they met and their secrets for a long, happy relationship. 

Marriage and long-term relationships can bring huge joy, love and comfort to those of us who are lucky enough to have found someone special to share our lives with.

According to recent research marriage has also been shown to be very good for your health. A Duke University Medical Centre study of almost 5000 people who were born in the 1940s discovered that people who never married were twice as likely to pass away in midlife compared to those with a long-term partner.  

It is Valentine’s Day and we are celebrating by speaking to three happy couples who have made love work through the decades. What’s your story?

Love through tough times: Mike, 66 and Marie, 61  

In any long-term relationship there is bound to be conflict, but it’s how couples deal with the issue that matters most, according to Canberra resident, Mike, who has been happily married to his wife Marie, 61, for almost 40 years.  

Mike says he is the peacemaker. He is the one who brings the family together to resolve issues, and stops arguments before they escalate.  

“We have a strong rule that we resolve that conflict the same night or next day,” says Mike. While Marie, who comes from a nursing background, is the healer in the relationship. 

“She’s got what we call healing hands,” adds Mike. Together, Mike and Marie have relied on these traits to get through the time times.  

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“It all comes down to love and the love you have for your partner and the love you have for your children.” - Mike

“When we experienced a period of financial hardship, facing up to things and tackling issues head on is what got us through it,” adds Mike candidly. “It all comes down to love and the love you have for your partner and the love you have for your children,” he says. 

Along the way the couple has also maintained mutual respect, a sense of independence and learned plenty of new things from one another. “When I first Marie I was living on the NSW South Coast and I was a pretty keen gardener. I taught that to Marie and she is now a passionate gardener,” says Mike, who also is an avid fisherman.  

The couple grows fruit trees and boasts an extensive veggie garden, which Mike says, is all thanks to Marie and her hard work. In April the couple will be celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary and plan to take a family trip to the Gold Coast.  

“It’s going to be a bit like a ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’, as the girls call it,” Mike chuckles.   

What relationship advice would you give to your future grandchildren? 
“Never be judgmental. Being tolerant, being empathetic when it’s appropriate. And above everything else it’s about compromise,” says Mike.   

Love at first sight: Sally, 59 and Gerry, 69

It was December 1979 and Sally Thibault, a young merchandising manager from Melbourne, was travelling around the US and Canada on holiday when she was introduced to Gerry, a handsome, charming Canadian who asked her out on a date.  

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The pair hit it off instantly

Trouble was Sally was leaving the country the next day, but she took a chance and decided to meet with Gerry anyway. The pair hit it off instantly.  

“It was the middle of a Canadian winter. The restaurant was on the top floor of a hotel and it revolved, enabling a 360-degree view of the city, covered in white, and the ability to see Christmas lights as far as I could see. It was like I was sitting at the top of a sparkling city. The restaurant itself was spectacular, there was a live band playing and we danced. He ordered Alaskan King Crab Legs in clarified butter, a beautiful bottle of wine, and we talked all night long,” Sally recalls vividly. 

The next day Sally had a tough decision to make: to get on the plane and say goodbye to Gerry and his romantic winter wonderland; or to take a risk based solely one date. “I was due to fly out to Boston to meet a guy I had met in Australia, and I knew he wanted to take our relationship to the next level. I knew at that moment that I needed to make a decision,” says Sally. 

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A beautiful poem written by Gerry to his new wife

“I remember thinking that if I got on the plane I would never see or hear from him [Gerry] again. Remember those were the days before Internet,” adds Sally laughing. In the end Sally’s intuition prevailed and she never stepped foot on the plane to Boston.  “It was a huge risk we both took, but there was just something about that night that I knew it would all work out in the end. Perhaps put it down to youth,” she says.  

For the next couple of months Sally stayed in Edmonton, Canada, and started dating Gerry. By February she had to fly back home for her sister’s wedding and she and Gerry resumed a long distance relationship.  

Soon after, Sally applied for a working visa and six months after their first date, she flew back to Canada to reunite with her new love. From there the couple would travel back and forth between Australia and Canada, eventually settling down on the Gold Coast.

“Gerry wanted our children to grow up by the ocean. I would have liked to stay in Canada, but the lure of living on the Gold Coast totally outweighed the cold Canadian winters. In fact, we left Canada on a day it was -30 degrees and arrived on Melbourne Cup day 1984 and it was 30+ degrees. I pretty quickly realised we had made a good decision,” says Sally happily.  

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“Thirty-six years later, this very sexy Canadian and I still have beautiful dinners, lovely wine and can talk all night long.” - Sally

More than three decades on, Sally says she and Gerry are madly in love and continue their first date tradition.

Sally happily adds, “Thirty-six years later, this very sexy Canadian and I still have beautiful dinners, lovely wine and can talk all night long.” However, like many couples, Sally admits she and Gerry have had their fair share of challenges along the way. 

“We have been through some pretty rough patches. Our eldest child was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in 1996, which created many dramas for all of us.  We lost our house in the recession during the 1990's and really struggled for a long time to get back on track,” she adds.

“The thing that really held us together is that we both really liked each other. Even in the tough times, I couldn't imagine not having him in my life. In fact, I would often remind myself that he was a good, kind and gentle person, a great Dad and somehow we just got through it all.”  

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With more than three decades of marriage, Sally and Gerry are still going strong

What relationship advice would you give to your future grandchildren?
“Two things my mother told me: To thine own self be true; and sometimes it is better to be kind than to be right. But I would also add to that now that a lasting relationship is when two people decide that they just really like each other and they are better together than apart,” says Sally.

Love despite their differences: Robyn, 59 and Alan, 60 

In 1980, young and energetic Alan from Melbourne caught his girlfriend Robyn completely off guard when he suggested they get married.  

The couple had been dating for a little while, but 24-year-old Robyn was shocked and hesitated at the thought of making such a big commitment, and for good reason. Only weeks before meeting Alan, Robyn was planning to marry another man.

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Alan and Robyn - happy together and in love

“Everything was organised, we had even put a deposit on a house,” Robyn says. However, in the end Robyn couldn’t go through with it. Earlier that year, her fiancé found himself in trouble with the law and Robyn decided to break the engagement and cancel the upcoming wedding. 

“It was the best decision ever,” Robyn adds. However, from that point on, Robyn tread very carefully when it came to relationships.

Although she liked Alan very much she wasn’t ready to take another big leap.

“We had a celebrant marry us, and kept everything simple." - Robyn

Yet, after a few more months of dating, Robyn finally opened up and admitted she was in love with Alan. However by this time, Alan was the one having second thoughts. Robyn adds, “To my disappointment, Al got cold feet and changed his mind. The whole wedding procedure frightened him.”  

Head over heels in love and determined to not let him slip away, Robyn says she chased after Alan a little until he came around. The couple went on to purchase a home together and eventually they wed.  

“Once we had made the decision to buy the home, Al was more comfortable, and even though we had a lovely wedding reception, we had a celebrant marry us, and kept everything simple,” Robyn says.

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“Al is quiet, and I am known for often not taking in air while chatting.” - Robyn

Robyn and Alan have been together for 36 years, married for 35, and have two adult children together.  “We have had a wonderful 36 years, but we are different,” says Robyn.

“Al is quiet, and I am known for often not taking in air while chatting. Al went back to school for the first three years of our marriage. When he completed his schooling and became an Electrical Draftsman, I got my long service and we started a family.”  

The happy couple is currently in the process of building their retirement home, but life is certainly not slowing down. “Life has got busier, rather than quieter,” says Robyn. “We have had holidays and a wonderful social life.”  

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Robyn and Al looking very happy together

What relationship advice would you give to your future grandchildren? 
“My advice is to the young of today is, crawl before you walk, save a little spend a little, you don't need the biggest or best, there is nothing wrong with recycling, and second hand things. I have to say both our kids have done that. I was surprised but pleased,” says Robyn.

What's your best relationship advice? And let us know your love story! Join the conversation below.