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The enduring power of love and marriage

MarriageFamilyThe Miami Herald

Something's in the air, something sweet and tender, innocent even, because I've recently read two stories about the enduring power of love. In this era of disposability, when throwing out seems easier than fixing up, couples who've been married for decades -- entire lifetimes! -- make me misty-eyed.

The Hubby claims it's my allergies, but that's only because he tends to be sheepish about romance.

(Take note, newlyweds and the soon-to-be married: Accepting each other's disparate responses is probably one reason we're still married. Marriage is an "as-is" contract, after all. Don't delude yourself into thinking your partner will be miraculously transformed once rings are exchanged and signatures penned on the certificate.)

But I digress.

Last week, 28 couples with 1,500 years of marriage between them renewed their vows at a retirement community in Pompano Beach, Fla. The length of their unions ranged from 45 to 75 years. Another couple in the Midwest toasted to their 80th.

"Que aguante," my late mother would've said. What stamina, indeed. You don't share a bed and bathroom sink with someone for that many years without perfecting the skill of negotiation.

At the John Knox Village, some celebrants came with their walkers, others in their military uniforms. All carried their original wedding photos. They sported boutonnieres and corsages. And they said their I do's to each other again in front of news cameras and an appreciative audience. Then they were offered cake and champagne, though most chose apple juice instead.

"Love and loyalty alone will avail as the foundation of a happy and enduring home, which I'm sure you know very well," said chaplain Gregory Fitch, the retirement community's spiritual life director.

Surely Irwin and Paula Woolf, 98 and 96 respectively, have tested the seams of loyalty. As the longest married couple at the retirement community ceremony, they received the special honor of cutting the cake. Seventy-five years ago, they wed in a Manhattan hotel and, because finances were tight, their honeymoon was a ride on the Fifth Avenue bus to their uptown apartment.

Things probably got better after that, but I imagine they weren't always hunky-dory. Nothing ever is. Which may explain why, in a spontaneous display of playfulness, Paula Woolf dipped her finger in the icing and smeared it on her husband's nose. Take that, naysayers.

The Woolfs have learned that humor can serve as balm. So do a sense of wonder and the ability to not take yourself too seriously. Another note worth taking.

I love reading heartwarming stories like the Woolfs', true life tales about couples who finish each other's sentences, about people who defy the odds by staying together. The advice they offer is always so sensible, all the more useful because it's the cliches that prove to be truest. Stay connected through a shared passion. Fight fair. Think before you speak. Don't take your partner for granted. Keep God in your relationship. Communicate. Never go to bed angry. Develop your own interests. Forgive.

In the next few weeks, I have two family weddings, then a third in the spring, all for cousins' children. Their parents have stayed together in good times and in rough, when one or the other thought the relationship had grown stale or frayed or boring. When they might have been tempted by the mirage of alternatives.

As is customary, I will sign their greeting cards, include a check and scribble a few bon mots, considering myself clever. But I wonder if it wouldn't be better to include a copy of the story about those combined 1,500 years of marriage. Then nudge them with a simple verity: Imitate your parents.

(Ana Veciana-Suarez is a family columnist for The Miami Herald. Write to her at The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132, or send e-mail to aveciana(at)

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