About 3o or so years ago, I attended the visitation for a long time parishioner at the Orthodox Church I attended growing up.  I stopped about 4:00 on my way home from teaching.  All the daytime visitors would have already been there and the evening people had not yet started.  As I walked in, I saw only one of Vera’s daughters, who all these years later, is now also deceased.  We hugged as I had known Sophie my entire life.  Not really close, but from a distance, as  I had seen her every Sunday at Church growing up.  We walked up to the casket and then sat in the chairs in the front row.  She just began sharing stories.  The first one she shared was that growing up with her  other siblings, they would sit down to dinner, many nights without her father who had a coney island restaurant.  They would pray with their mother before the food was served and then their mother, Vera, would spoon out of the pot, the Best portion of the manja or stew, to be placed in a bowl with a cover for their father.  She said that her mother would say something like, “Your Dad is working hard for us all, so we give him the Best to be enjoyed when he comes home.”  And then there was the story that their father, Angelo, had Saturday mornings off, so he would take the children and go to do the grocery shopping for their mother at the Farmer’s Market and he would always bring home a bouquet of flowers for Vera.  If this all sounds quite archaic to you, we’re talking about a woman who was born most likely around 1904, so at an age where her daughter would have remembered all of this, around the mid-late 1940s-early 1950s.  Times may change, but the qualities that make for a good and long marriage don’t.  Vera and Angelo had been instructed well or had good role models.

    We’ve all heard the saying, “Happy Wife, Happy Life,” and we all may know a couple or two who have split up either over that philosophy or from a husband with an attitude like the Bud Leon commercials with the very self centered Leon from the football team in the sketch.  Any happy and successful marriage most likely is a partnership between two separate but equal parties who come together as one.  Any business or company founded or owned by partners would not make it if there wasn’t a sense of respect for both parties and a marriage is no different.

    A marriage, as described in the Bible brings a man and a woman together.  Both bring different qualities and roles.  Neither party is more important and each role in the marriage is paramount to the success of it.  A couple is a family from the time of their marriage, even if they choose not to have children.  If they do, both the role of the mother and the father are crucial to the healthy development of the child.  These two adults are the first and most important teachers a child will ever have.  Like Vera and Angelo, how they treat one another will be a lesson in how to be a good spouse.  These two adults will teach about their faith, how to behave and help establish a set of values and morals.  Each child is wired how they will be from their creator and it is up to the parent to mold their child into a good and productive person who can one day manage their own life while respecting others.

    When a parent is left to raise a child or children solo for a variety of reasons or hardship, it’s a tall order, but with diligence, prayer and a focus on the task at hand, many more than step up to the plate and do a phenomenal job.  It’s up to that parent to educate their children to respect them and their effort, enlisting the help of family, close friends and support people to assist in positive role models for that child or those children.  Yes, it does take a family, and that family can be viewed in a variety of ways, to raise a child, but it is the parents who need to have the most influence on their child.

    Back to the marriage.  Every couple decides what is best for them and which tasks and roles are best for their situation.  If both couples work and contribute financially then BOTH must share in some of the other responsibilities such as food preparation or clean up.  If one person takes on more domestic roles than reasonable and becomes resentful, it can become a ‘Pebble in the Shoe” situation, to borrow a phrase from a very good friend.  The pebble in the shoe initially might not be all that irritating, however, over time, that pebble can become a big problem day after day and on and on.  Some women like taking on domestic tasks and choose to take them on so maybe the husband will take on more of the other maintenance  roles, to even things out.  Like I said, every couple is different in their make-up and what works for them and it is not for anyone to question or judge, as long as it make them happy and works for them.

    Equally important, it ‘s imperative for couples to make their spouse a priority, taking time for dates or even a weekend or vacation away to focus on their relationship as a spouse.  If a couple has children, they are a wonderful addition to a marriage, but parenting and raising children can be exhausting.  In a healthy relationship, a spouse takes top priority, after God, and before  children.   Vera and Angelo showed their children the priority they each had for one another by the two initial examples.  Children need to know their role in the family and they cannot be allowed to divide parents. Parents need to show a child a united front to the children.  If there is conflict on a parenting issue, save it for later or when the children go to bed and discuss it away from them.  A united front as a couple acts as a security blanket for a child.  Parents set healthy and reasonable boundaries for their children for their benefit and for all those around.  Decide on your rules, be consistent and hold them accountable for those rules.

    Over time, respect or lack of toward one another can make or break a marriage.  Or,  can cause a long time spouse resentment and frustration leading to an unhappy marriage for one spouse over time.  There are a variety of reasons a marriage doesn’t make it or is unhappy.  It can be financial problems, lack of intimacy, not making the marriage a priority which all boils down to a lack of respect in one way or another.

    It takes time and effort to make a marriage successful.  The strong couples who endure the storms of life, might make it look easy but to “have it together” takes mindfulness and exercising those “muscles” that make a marriage strong, like respect, time, faith and intimacy.  Taking care and managing your health is part of a strong marriage too.  Being healthy increases the chances that you will be able to be there for your spouse for the long haul.  Being healthy and taking care of yourself is not only good maintenance it means you put your best foot forward, getting out of the sweats and workout clothes occasionally and looking good for you and your spouse.  If you would get dressed up to go out with friends, why wouldn’t you do the same for your spouse? Most people are pleased when their spouse looks spiffy, and who knows, it might even be fun to take good care of yourself and get dressed up once in a while and have something nice to look forward to.

    When you think of the people you know or who have come across, you can easily pick up on who gives off positive energy and who seems to show respect for their spouse.  the husband who puts his arm around his wife or holds her hand.  Or the wife who, when getting up from the table asks her husband if she can get him anything. None of us know what goes on in the privacy of one’s home, nor should we, we can pick up these little gestures and seeing happy couples inspires me to be nicer, or up my game, and unfortunately, likewise, the opposite can happen as well.  I have seen people take on unfavorable qualities of those they are around, such as women or men who talk poorly of their spouse in public.  I remember once I had said something I should not have said to my spouse and then got together with some gals.   When I arrived,  I mentioned that I said something I had regretted and that I really needed to go home and apologize.  One of the women replied, “He’ll get over it.  Let’s go out.”  That women and her husband divorced shortly after that incident.  I immediately left that evening to go home to apologize for being a jerk.  Kind gestures over time are a deposit into the marriage account.  Over time they help solidify a good relationship and same with the opposite although the results may not be as good.  Also important in a good relationship is  to admit when you are wrong, apologize sincerely and for both to be able to put it behind them.

    There are times when people can’t make it work.  Some times it’s one person  and sometimes it’s both parties who cannot get along or respect one another.  It’s sad, and no one knows what leads a person to decide when  enough is enough or that staying is better than going.  Maybe good counseling and the desire to change can made a difference depending on how bad the problem is and how long it has gone on.

    Last year I came across a couple, both in there fifties, who met, both having been married before.  The two hit it off and within a few months their both felt pretty confident that this would be a permanent relationship.  I asked them both what made this relationship seem different than the others.  He told me that they were both willing to look back at the mistakes “THEY EACH” made in the past and be mindful of not wanting to make them again.  Observing them, they looked like somewhere between a first real love and and old married couple who could finish one another’s sentences (without being disrespectful).  They listened carefully to one another and sometimes repeated to make sure they understood what the other was trying to say.  It was refreshing to be around two people so caring toward one another, and again, it made me want to “Up my game.”

Thirty-five years of marriage goes by pretty quick.

    Valentine’s Day is right around the corner.  If you have a special person, let them know it, maybe you could ‘up your game,’ it’s always better to give than to receive and sometimes when you give, the receiver is more receptive to giving, not a reason to give, however, it’s a nice healthy benefit of being a giver.  If you are hoping to meet someone, still up your game.  People are attracted to good people who give off positive energy.  If you had a wonderful person who is no longer with us, be grateful for them in your life,  the time you had with them, reminisce about the good times and share with loved ones, stories of the good times which just might inspire a loved one who who might be looking for the right person, to look for in someone with the qualities that made your love last.  The love and memories can last a life time…until you meet again…and that my friends…will be…A  Great Day ❤️