Couples Share their “Secrets” for Long, Successful Marriages

By Christine A. Holliday

While millions of Americans marry every year, statistics also suggest that nearly half of these marriage participants find reasons to end their unions. Problems with finances or sex or in-laws, lack of communication, stresses of parenthood and unreasonable expectations can all lead individuals to conclude that they would be happier without a spouse.

Happily, many who do marry stay together. The 2010 census indicated that more than half of the country’s couples have been together at least 15 years, about a third have celebrated 25 years of marriage, and six percent have celebrated 50 years of marriage.   

We asked three local couples, all married more than 35 years, to explain the “secrets” of their long-term relationships.

39 Years


John Irwin met his wife Joyce on a blind date when both were students at the University of Toledo. They dated for five years before their 1977 marriage.  John laughs as he explains their secret, “She never gave me a Honey-Do list, because she knew I couldn’t do any of that stuff! We communicated about that from the beginning and have lived our lives with communication and faith in God as our keys to success.”

Joyce notes that, “We have always given each other freedom to do whatever he or she wants, but we have made a point of spending at least one night each week as a ‘date night.’ With three kids, the logistics were different at times, but we have committed to spend some time alone.” The couple insists that their faith has gotten them through some tough times and given them the support to keep their marriage growing. “You cannot do this on your own,” Joyce said.

The Irwins look forward to retirement; John has already retired from a job as Vice President of Product Development for a local company, while Joyce is deciding when she will retire from her job as Assistant Principal at Toledo’s Christ the King School.

48 Years


Pam and Bob Kelso believe that fate led each of them to the party where they met in 1968. “Neither one of us knew the person having the party, but we both crashed the party with friends,” Bob remembers. “I think I held the door for her and said ‘hello’ to her. I got her phone number and called her the next night for a date. Six weeks later we were engaged, and six months after that, we were married!”

After 47 years, they agree on what has made their marriage work. Pam explains, “Maybe most important is the respect we have for each other. We have strong personalities and we each like our own space, but we always have things to talk about when we do come together. We always considered ourselves as equals. And, he makes me laugh!”

Bob agrees, “She comes from an effusive, outgoing family, while my family was very reserved. So there was some adjustment there.  We have learned that you have to have a sense of humor when you get married, and we are happy to say that we amuse each other. We laugh a lot!”

The Kelsos have two sons and four grandchildren, and a 50th wedding anniversary celebration in 2018 will be a small family affair.  In the meantime, Bob plays tennis regularly, when not working as the owner of his own insurance agency. Pam continues to write poetry, travel, paint, and do all the creative things she couldn’t do before she retired from work in the public relations field.

62 Years


Norm Craig had to work a bit for his first date with Katie, his wife now for 62 years. They were employed in different buildings at the same company and he first met her when she approached him while collecting funds for the Community Chest. Katie remembers, “He asked if we could discuss his donation over dinner, but I wasn’t interested. Later, they finally connected while working on a company Halloween party, but came to the party with other people.

Then, Norm proposed at a dinner at by putting the engagement ring in her drink, he recalls “I worried that she might swallow it!”

Their 62-year union has produced two children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. The Craigs keep busy attending sporting contests and other activities. Family life has brought them typical challenges, but Katie emphasizes, “We never let bumps in the road turn into boulders. We have learned to compromise and share the responsibilities of our home and family. For example, I always do the cooking, and I tell people that he helps by being the entertainment!”


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