July 25th, 2007 06:27 EST
What Makes a Marriage Filled with Joy? Here is One of Six in this Series.
Over the years I have been watching all around me, and I have found that being joyfully married is the exception, not the rule. Why, I wondered? I have been married for almost 42 years. Am I lucky, smart, respectful? Why have mine and my friends marriages lasted so long? So, I decided to ask them.
I sent successfully married couples a list of questions and got back honest answers. I was going to edit them for this series. However, after reading them, I decided to just run with a short bio on each couple, follwed by their answers.
The first couple is Cheryl and Paul. They live near Boston and have been married for 39 years. They have 3 grown children and are grandparents to 6. The vow "in sickness and in health" is the one that applies to them.
A few years ago, Cheryl was found to have colon cancer. Paul quit his job to take care of her, and nursed her back to health-- to the amazement of the doctors who gave her only months to live. A couple of years later, their daughter, Karen, was also diagnosed with cancer and the nightmare started all over again!
I have known Cheryl for 8 years. We met as members of an Internet Message Board. In 1999, Paul and Cheryl came to Orlando to meet my husband, Thom, and me. We have continued our friendship though the Internet, phone and personal visits. We have shared some really good laughs, some really sad time and joys.
I have chosen Cheryl and Paul to be the first couple for this series because of the strengths in their marriage. Their sense of humor is the glue that got them here, and the reason others see hope in their own marriages.
Carolee: Where did you meet?
Cheryl: Paul was my boyfriend's best friend. We used to double-date. We didn't particularly like each other.
Carolee: Tell me what makes your relationship different?
Cheryl: Paul was very, very shy and quiet, and a very nervous person. He had no self-confidence. When we started dating, I thought he was a God, and very intelligent; but, not a book learner. He had a terrible time getting through college. I used to go to classes with him and help him with his homework. Since I didn't get to go to college, this was a great opportunity for me.
I have to backspace. My boyfriend, Bobby, was sent to Vietnam. I had no contact with Paul while Bobby was away. When Bobby was injured and sent home to a veteran's hospital, Paul called me and asked me if I wanted him to take me to visit Bobby. When he picked me up, he had grown up and had gotten very handsome. Still, we just were going together to visit Bobby.
When Bobby got out of the hospital, Paul brought him over to visit me because Bobby didn't drive. When they got to my house, I could only see Paul. I was in love. Poor Bobby. Paul and I had an instant connection. I asked him where Kathie, his girlfriend, was and he replied, "She’s gone.”
To me, that meant they had broken up. In reality, she had gone to Florida for Spring break. We saw each other every night of Spring break. When he told me that Kathie was coming home, and he was going to break up with her, I cried. I begged him not to break up with her. I told him that was my pattern. Once guys broke up with their girlfriends, and I had them, I didn't want them. Well, that was when he decided he was going to marry me. That was in April, and we were married in November.
His parents thought it would never last. Even if I didn't like him, I would have stayed with him just to prove them wrong!
Carolee: The marriage vows are “for better or worse.” Please, tell me about the better and worse?
Cheryl: Back in 1968, people did not make a lot of money. I think Paul was making $48 a week, take home. I was making more than he was, and he worked harder as a lineman. I remember saying to him, “If we could just make $10,000 a year, we would be set for life.”
We bought used furniture from a doctor who was moving to Florida. I am still using the dining room set today. Paul's brother's comment was, "If you start out with junk, you will always have junk.” We didn't need stuff. We had each other. Besides, Paul’s brother was trying to make a bad marriage work.
When I got pregnant with our first child, Michael, I quit my job when I was 4 months pregnant. I felt that it would be the last time in the next 18 years. I didn't see a problem living on $48 a week. All we needed was each other.
Paul was a very calm person and I was a scrapper. It was hard to get used to the fact that he wouldn't fight back. I used to throw things and smash them. I was having a temper tantrum one night and when I threw a glass in the sink, it just clunked. Well, he brought me a crystal wine flute and told me to throw that because it would make a great smash. I started laughing, and I’ve never smashed another thing.
Slowly, Paul learned to speak up for himself and I liked him better quiet.
Then, I got cancer. What can I say? Paul quit his job because I had been in the hospital for 4 months-- 1 month in ICU. My family was told I was not going to live. Paul was my private nurse. He was there by my side when I went into a coma, and when they put me on a respirator.
Paul studied how I would be kept alive. He learned everything he could about ostomy, and he studied colon cancer. He sat in the hospital all 8 times when they rushed me into surgery to again save my life.
Paul learned how to hook up IVs and the morphine monitor. They told him that he would never find a suction machine strong enough to keep the bile from continuing to give me third degree burns. It has been 10 years, and I still have open sores on my abdomen. Paul is my hero. He had no idea how difficult it was going to be on him taking care of me 24/7. He was a wreck.
When I was released from the hospital, he was so worn out, he should have been in a hospital bed in our living room, too, right next to me. He had nightmares every night. He cried every time I took a bite of food because he knew I had spent 4 months without taking my food by mouth. He cried constantly; and, he had never been a weeper.
He went in for a sleep study and was put on a CPAP machine at night. The very first night, he was nightmare-free. He finally had gotten into REM sleep and the nightmares never came back. He is my HERO. The only thing that he would not do was come into the delivery or labor room when I had my 3 children. He has to have one fault!
One thing that has kept us as a great team is, during a crisis, Paul completely loses it. If we have to rush one of the kids to the hospital, he is a wreck: pacing, white, shaking. I am like a rock, strong as a horse. Then, as soon as the crisis is over and everything is fine, he is back to being the strong one and I turn into a blubbering pool of mush.
Carolee: I would rather marry a person I can live with rather thanr one I cannot live without. Which is truer for you?
Cheryl: I think both are true. Once I fell in love with Paul, I could never live without him. I don't know how these brave soldiers go off to war and leave their spouses. But, on the other hand, Paul is so easy to live with. We don't let the small stuff bother us. He doesn't have a temper, but, when he makes up his mind, I know not to challenge him.
Carolee: Tell me about the time you most treasure with your husband.
Cheryl: Family time. We try to get the family together once a week for a meal and Paul loves his family. He shines. But, to chose one special time, it would have to be the big cruise from Hawaii to Alaska. We both love Alaska and enjoyed Hawaii; but, we thought the Caribbean was nicer and less commercial.
Carolee: Tell me about the time you never want to happen again?
Cheryl: It would have to be illness. I suffer so when he is in pain, and he suffered so, mentally and physically, when the reality of my death was very probable.
Also, the diagnosis of our daughter, Karen's, cancer and knowing she would be in pain for the rest of her life. I am trusting God that He will spare her life until her children are grown and they can deal with the loss of their mom.
Carolee: How would you feel if Paul stayed home 24/7?
Cheryl: My husband is home with me in the summers-- unless he can pick up part-time jobs. We were never apart that first year that I had cancer. There is nobody I would rather spend time with than my precious Paul.
Carolee: Does one of you finish the other’s thoughts?
Cheryl: Sometimes. I depend on him to supply me information that I have forgotten, and vise versa.
Carolee: Do you like it better when you are quiet, or when you are talking together?
Cheryl: Both. We tend to have quiet times in separate rooms more often now than in the early days. I think that might have something to do with the computer. We do email each other.
Carolee: What traits do your kids have that are just like you and/or just like Paul?
Cheryl: I think our youngest son, Andrew, has his father's temperament. He is calmer, but tends to holds things inside.
Karen is her mother, for better or worse.
And, Michael is probably a blend of both of us. I wish he had less of his mother, but I think that his aggression got him ahead in business. Paul was always too nice. He could have been very successful; but, in his life now, teaching children, he is the most successful man in the country.
Carolee: Do you want your child to marry someone like your husband?
Cheryl: Oh, please! I married someone who I thought was very much like my dad, and Karen married a fellow who was a jerk. It makes no sense to me. Her ex-husband is nothing like her father and has never supported her children. Paul would dig ditches before he would fail to pay child support. I can just pray that she does find someone like her dad the second time around.
Carolee: Does Paul want his child to marry someone like you?
Cheryl: Probably, but with a little more patience. Kim, Michael's wife, has a lot of me in her ways. She lets him think he is the boss, but she really rules the roost. She is a good wife to Michael, and she is a good mother.
Andrew's wife, Jillian, seems to make Andrew very happy. They are very much in love. Andrew sort of has my problem of I want it and I want it now, but Jillian tends to control his spending. Paul never said, “No.” to me. I think the boys are very lucky with the wives they married. I just wish my daughter, Karen, the same happiness.
Carolee: At the end of the day, what would you change and what would you keep the same?
Cheryl: I guess I wouldn't change a thing. It is the trials and tribulations that make us the people we are. If life was too easy, we wouldn't appreciate those good days. If the tough days don't kill us, they only make us stronger.
Carolee: Tell me how you and your husband are different?
Cheryl: We were very, very different when we were in our teens. He was very quiet and shy and nervous. I was very loud, outgoing and confident. The longer we were together, the more confident Paul became, and he turned out to be an excellent speaker. He comes off as having a lot of confidence, but he admits that he really does not-- he just hides it better now.
Carolee: Opposites attract?
Carolee: In what ways are you and Paul same 2 peas in a pod?
Cheryl: Hmmm. We really are not. He is cold, I am hot. Neither one of us are extremely neat people. We both procrastinate. I wish we were both really neat people. We would have a much cleaner house and be much more organized.
Carolee: What makes your marriage something special?
Carolee: What is your definition of joy in a marriage?
Cheryl: Being able to see the blessings in even the awful days. You have to keep your sense of humor. Never wanting to think what life would be without him.
Carolee: Last question: How did you stay together so long?
Cheryl: It will never be long enough. We fought to stay together, and I fought to stay alive. He fought to keep me alive. It has not been long enough.
Carolee: What can I add to that, except Bravo!