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Couples married for decades share longevity secrets

DETROIT - Every year dioceses across the country honor couples who have been married 25 or 50 years or more with special Masses. And inevitably, reporters from diocesan newspapers often ask these couples to share the secrets of what makes a marriage work.

At the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, more than 800 couples attended a Mass commemorating 25 to 75 years of marriage.

One couple, Pat and Bob Deffinbaugh from southern Maryland, told a reporter they didn't have any magic secrets to their 50-year commitment. Instead, they simply believed God had been with them in good times and in bad.

The Deffinbaughs, similar to other couples, might not boast of anything special they have done over the years but no doubt they'd have words of wisdom for the newly and not-so-newly married.

The Chicago Archdiocese is convinced this kind of practical advice is worth sharing. For the past eight years, Kim Hagerty, assistant director in the Family Ministries Office, has sought information from couples married for five decades that she has compiled into a booklet called: True Soul Mates: Couples Married 50 Years Give Their Advice for Successful Marriage.

Advice from the booklet includes:

- "Marry someone you think is perfect - not someone you will change after you are married."

- "Take good care of each other."

- "Understand the commitment and when children come, have a unified front in guiding them."

- "Be each other's best friend. Marriage is not always a 50/50 proposition. Sometimes you need to give 90 percent because there are times when you only give 10 percent. That's when your spouse, best friend, takes up the slack."

- "Learn how to enjoy each other's company. Do as many things as you can together."

One spouse offered the understated secret: "I agree with my wife."

Jack and Patti Salter, parishioners of the National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Mich., credit the longevity of their marriage to little things they do each day along with communicating, being honest and sharing their faith.

Every night since they were married, almost 50 years ago, Jack kisses his wife, Patti, and says: "Good night, beautiful." She kisses him back in their end-of-another-day ritual.

No matter what kind of day they have had, a good-night kiss is always a good way to seal the day. That's just one piece of advice they offer to engaged couples.

"Communication is another key," said Jack, 80. "We talk things over. If we have a problem, we talk about it. She's usually right, and that's the truth."

Sharing a value system and their Catholic faith has helped through raising four children, all adopted through Catholic Social Services, and welcoming nine grandchildren.

"And don't ever lie," Jack added. "If Patti asks if I like a dress, and I don't, I don't say that I do. But I try to be nice and say, 'You might not want to wear that again.'"

Patti, who is 78, said "respect for each other and integrity" is necessary. Prayer is also important. She tries to make it to daily morning Mass before going to her part-time job, has her favorite daily prayers and knows whenever her husband wakes up in the middle of the night, he prays a decade of the rosary. "Throughout the night it ends up being a whole rosary," he said and laughs.

The couple, who were married in 1962, said it's important to establish traditions even if they wouldn't mean anything to anyone else.

For example, Jack brought Patti a poinsettia on their first date, just before Christmas 1961.

Every year since, as Christmas nears, when he presents her with a poinsettia, they're reminded of when their love was new.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013