What makes a marriage work? We asked a couple who’ve been married nearly 75 years

Publish Date:

Tuesday, February 16, 2016 12:38 pm EST


News Organization:

The Washington Post

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When Fran and Herb Christoferson met in 1938, the then-20-somethings both liked bowling and tennis. Both were actively involved in the same Northeast D.C. Baptist Church. Both had gone to George Washington University. Oh yeah, and both were in a relationship – with other people.


But it wasn’t long before they started to think there might be potential for something more than mere friendship. “He was very handsome and friendly and outgoing,” says Fran, now 100. “And it was very easy to talk to him.” He’d won over her parents, who were soon “pushing his case,” encouraging Fran to drop her boyfriend.


Herb, also 100, calls Fran “so pretty and a good conversationalist.” They liked the same things, had similar family backgrounds, meshed well on personality. Fran broke up with her boyfriend; Herb broke off his relationship, too, and asked her on a date. Within a year, he’d invited her on a Potomac dinner cruise, where he popped the question (Spoiler alert: she said yes).


They married in April 1941. Nearly 75 years later they’ve moved across country and back again (twice), raised three sons and nurtured a relationship that’s stood the test of time. At The Colonnades, a Sunrise Senior Living community in Charlottesville, Va. where they call home, they’re always together, often holding hands, always supportive of each other. “In other words, they’re the epitome of the perfect couple,” says Colonnades’ Activity and Volunteer Coordinator Joey Warren.


So, what have they learned about what makes a marriage work, decade after decade? Their tips:


Be sure you choose well: “By the time I asked Fran to marry me I had gotten to know her quite well and decided that our chemistry was just right, that I loved her and she loved me,” says Herb, who advises others to do the same in their relationships. And while he thinks love is tremendously important, when it comes to finding a life-long partner, “the more things you have in common, the better,” he says.


Work together: “It gets to be a habit,” Fran says of the type of joint decision-making they both say has made their marriage a success. She credits Herb, who always approached their discussions, “with a sweetness and understanding that allows us to come to a meeting of the ways.” Herb says it comes down to respect, which allows the duo to hear each other out and make decisions big and small together. Case in point: When, early in his career, Herb had a job opportunity that would require moving across country, “it meant quite a change,” says Herb. Though Fran would have to leave her job and start over in a new city, “we talked about it and decided that it was a good opportunity for me and for the family.” Over the years, he’s often joked that the couple has a guardian angel. “Whenever we came to a place where we had to make decisions,” he says, “Somehow we made good ones.”


Be Patient; Be Reasonable: Marriage, says Herb, “is sort of like jumping into cold water. At first it’s a little bit of a shock.” There’s the inevitable adjustment to being part of a two-person team whose lives are intricately entwined. Herb “can’t remember a time that [he and Fran] quarreled,” but he acknowledges there must have been some. When that happens, “you shouldn’t have any kind of a knee-jerk response,” he says. “You appreciate each other’s side and if compromise is necessary, you compromise.”


Create Stability: Looking back, Herb says the couple’s two solid careers, and incomes – their combined income was $3,400 when they first married, a solid sum for the time — helped give them, “a very nice standard of living.” The lack of financial pressure, and a similar view on how to spend their money, no doubt helped them avoid one common marriage stressor. They’re also both grateful for strong family and church networks. Though their own parents didn’t live nearby, Fran kept close connections with her family in North Carolina – Herb calls them “very close, with a lot of love and respect for each other.” Both felt they were embraced and welcomed by the other’s family.  And wherever they moved, the couple “quickly established a connection with a church and then became very active in it,” says Herb.


Make life interesting. Together.: As a young couple, the two played tennis and bowled. Later in life they took up golf. They no longer play – “after all, we’re 100,” Herb points out – but those years of athletic endeavors, as well as a mutual passion for travel, provided the type of shared pursuits experts say help keep a marriage interesting. Even their independent interests tend to stem from similar inspiration: Over the years both took an active role in the operation of their retirement community, him as chairman of the Resident Association Finance Committee, her as head librarian. Different tracks, for sure, but “we loved what we were doing and felt that we were making a difference,” says Herb.

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