Last week, I had the honor and the privilege to interview a lovely Temple couple — Keifer and Sammie Marshall — who have been married 67 years (their anniversary is the 30th).
To say this is an accomplishment is a bit of an understatement, particularly in this day and age.
They did not offer complex explanations or theories for why their marriage has lasted this long.
In fact, Sammie merely attributed it to that four-letter word that gets thrown around so often and so casually. She said that each year, they just loved each other more.
How sweet. How simple. How very, very difficult.
There is a reality show on TV right now that is trying to crack the code of marriage and what makes a successful one.
It’s called, “Married at First Sight” and the premise is intriguing. Two people are matched up by a panel of experts (including noted sociologist Pepper Schwartz). The couple meets on the day of their wedding, so are literally strangers when they say “I do.”
In the ensuing weeks, the cameras follow them as they get to know one another, live together, and take on all the daily tasks and compromises that come with being a couple, only with the added obstacle of skipping over the giddily-fun, (albeit often anxiety-provoking) part of dating.
When I stop and think about never having those first slightly awkward dates with my husband — when we went out to a bar on Halloween and listened to live music while pretending not to look at each other too much, and having to shout over the din, or the time we ate clam chowder at the Yorktown Pub restaurant and he later told me I had a bit of an “attitude” — it’s like skipping the steak dinner and ordering a big, sweet dessert that you can’t finish. Those dates helped us develop into the couple we eventually became. Leapfrogging over all of that would be strange — and sad.
But back to the Marshalls.
They went through a huge challenge before they married. It was called World War II and it was the gauntlet that many thousands of other young men of that generation had to get through before they could wed their sweethearts.
Keifer, who joined the Marines in 1944, fought in Iwo Jima and said the death and casualty count was so high, he had a different fox hole partner nearly every day. Sammie wrote him hundreds of letters during those long, frightening months. When he returned to her on Christmas Day 1945, he was one of only a few survivors in a company of 250 men.
The “Married at First Sight” show originally featured three couples who marry immediately, then spend the next five weeks or so deciding if they want to stay married.
In the premier, one of the couples chose to divorce while two have stayed married and claim to now be truly in love nearly a year later. It is not so unlike many arranged marriages throughout the world that have happy endings.
And it begs the question, can making the commitment to stay together actually strengthen a couple? What makes for a long, successful marriage? Is it shared values? Great chemistry? Similar goals and dreams? Or a convoluted mishmash of all of these?
It could be argued that marrying first and then getting to know your partner has advantages.
Making a serious promise in a church to love, honor and cherish someone in front of hundreds of friends and family might make one think twice about leaving when you realize your spouse is a slob or can’t cook. If only there was a formula to follow — think of all the heartache couples could avoid. But think of all the joy we would miss, too.
In the end, what makes one marriage last and another end is nearly impossible to predict.
Hard times can break one couple up and strengthen another. In the reality show, for example, one young couple experienced the death of the husband’s mother.
Sammie and Keifer had to endure the death of their beloved son.
Despite the unimaginable grief they experienced, I got the feeling they grew closer because of it. As entertaining as the social experiment that “Married at First Sight” is to watch, the institution of marriage is far too messy and complicated to be boiled down into a formula. Because we humans are full of contradictions, quirks and feelings that cannot be predicted. The Marshalls were lucky to find each other and luckier still to still be together 67 years later.
But make no mistake — they put the hard work in, too. I asked Sammie if she has any advice for young couples just starting out and she said (rather coyly), “marry someone like Keifer.” Happy anniversary, you two.