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Secrets to long-lasting relationships from couples who've been together 40 yrs or more

By PrimeNewsGhana
Secrets to long-lasting relationships
Secrets to long-lasting relationships
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John Fitzgerald was five years old when he met his future wife on the first day of school in March 1947. 

"My mother said that there were two new children arriving and to keep an eye out for them," John says. 

"I don't really remember much about meeting her brother Peter on the first day — it was Helen I concentrated on."

Not everyone can say they met the one at such a tender age.

According to the Australia Talks National Survey 2021, the most common way people get together is meeting through friends, with 29 per cent of respondents saying this is how they met their spouse or partner.

The next most common method is "through or as co-workers" (16 per cent), followed closely by online (15 per cent).

Only 6 per cent of Australian couples say they met at primary or secondary school like John and Helen. A similar proportion of couples say they met at university (6 per cent), through family (6 per cent) or at church (5 per cent). 

So what does it take to stick together forever? Four couples have shared their tips for a long and happy union.

John and Helen Fitzgerald, married 58 years 

John used to call Helen "Snooty Miss Steel" and Helen would refer to John as the "cocky sergeant's son".

They didn't get to attend school together for long — John's father passed away, his mother remarried, and John was sent off to boarding school. 

"When John came home for holidays, he was always at our house because he was a friend of my brother," Helen says. 

"I remember him chasing me with yabbies. He was a bit of a character, still is."

It was perfect timing that led to them getting together as a couple. John returned to Renmark after graduating from the police academy, and Helen was teaching at a school in a neighbouring town. 

"He invited me to go to the movies," Helen says.

"He got himself all dressed up, best coat and scarf — and I had never dated anyone tall, so that was a tick."

John was 19 years old when he proposed. 

"She was the only girl in town I wanted to go out with," John says.

"That's when I started thinking that I better make up my mind and do something — or else she might get snapped up by one of these short fellas!" 

Over the years, they've celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, and had three children who have given them grandchildren.

They've also suffered loss. In 2015, their oldest son died of cancer. 

"You just get numb," Helen says.

"For a good six months after it, nothing makes sense. I didn't care about moving into this apartment. I didn't care whether we ate anything. It was just too hard.

After they retired, John, a singer, and Helen, a pianist, were invited to perform in nursing homes across Adelaide. They did that for 12 years before COVID hit. 

"I didn't expect it to last this long because when we got married our life expectancy was three score and ten," Helen says. 

"If someone had said at the altar, 'I take John for 58 years', that's a lot! But here we are." 

Jagan and Rama Rao, married 39 years

Jagan and Rama Rao only met once before their wedding day. 

"To be honest, I did fall for her head over heels for her immediately," Jagan says.

"And she probably didn't dislike me — so that's a good starting point!" 

Rama's parents had put an ad for a groom in an Indian newspaper, and Jagan's mother responded. 

Jagan and his mum travelled about 1,000 kilometres, from Pune to Tirupati by train, to meet Rama and her family and discuss an arranged marriage. 

"The whole family is there in the decision-making process," Rama explains. 

The potential couple and in-laws spoke for hours, carefully using the time to ask strategic questions. 

"You only touch the topics which are of interest for your future," Rama says. 

Her mother told Jagan's family that Rama had just completed a PhD in Science, and was also an accomplished artist and performer. 

"We got an excellent answer from my mother- and brother-in-law: 'So far, we have a genetic makeup of all academics in our family, but we very much welcome a musical gene.'" 

Jagan was keen on some one-on-one time and asked Rama to go to the movies with him, which she refused. 

"I said, 'I don't go to movies with strangers', but he said 'I will!'," Rama says. 

"That is what made my decision. He is a person with whom I would sit in my 60s, have a decent conversation and laugh.

Jagan and Rama married just two months after they met in July 1982, and migrated to Australia the following year. They have two daughters.

One of the most difficult periods of their marriage was when Jagan moved to Chile for two years for work. His company would fly him back to Australia for one week every three months. 

Rama had some support from friends and family members, but otherwise she was raising two young children on her own. 

"I think what drove me was the passion to keep my music, to keep my job, to keep my family, to please my children," Rama says. 

They were also able to share their burdens with each other and show each other sympathy. 

"Wherever he is in the world, every day, he used to ring once," Rama says.

"When he was in Chile — even when he's in Melbourne, he rings every day — that's a habit even now.

"Both of us had a perfect understanding of what each one was going through." 

And they were able to endure hardships because they had a common goal. 

"When you're younger, just go through all these things; when you're older you can sit down and laugh about all of it." 

Terry and Althea Dimmick, married 64 years

Terry Dimmick was working as a chef at a hotel on the Isle of Wight in England when his boss wandered into his kitchen and introduced him to the new receptionist — and his future wife. 

Later that afternoon, Terry invited Althea to go for a walk around town. 

"As we were walking through the park I stumbled and he grabbed hold of me so I didn't fall," Althea says.

"We thought we'd known each other for at least a thousand years." 

Back at the hotel, they went into the kitchen and Terry made Althea a cup of tea. 

"She sat down at the staff room table, I brought the cup of tea in, and I leaned over and kissed her," Terry says.

Neither of them remembers proposing, but they both knew from that day on that they would get married. 

"I had an old motorbike. She used to jump on the back, and we'd head off somewhere and have a snogging session," Terry says.

Not long after they met, Terry joined the army. His commanding officer refused to let Terry, a Roman Catholic, marry Althea, an Anglican. 

"Our fathers both wrote to him and said that as much as they thought we were rather silly they did agree," Terry explains. 

So they got permission to be married, had a wedding on the Isle of Wight, then moved to Salisbury Plain where Terry was posted. 

"Our first home was our caravan," Althea says. 

"There was a bed at one end, a kitchen in the middle, and a place where you could sit at the other end, and that was it," Terry adds.

"We bought this little shed for six pounds and put the loo in there."

Terry would cycle four miles from their caravan to work along a country road. 

"Every morning there'd be something dead on the road, whether it was a hare, a rabbit, a pheasant, a partridge," he says. 

"I'd pick it up, put it in my rucksack, take it to the officer's mess, clean it all up, roast it, put a few vegetables with it, stick it back in my rucksack, and take it home at night."

That was their main meal every night for a year. 

"We had to solve the problems ourselves," Terry says.

Peter and Ian Power-Lawrence, together for 43 years

Peter and Ian Power-Lawrence went to the same high school and had noticed each other, but neither made a move until they were working together years later. 

"I was not fully aware that I was gay," Peter explains.

"I remember we used to, for want of a better term, perve at each other and smile when we walked past each other." 

They both ended up working for a plumbing company, Peter in sales and Ian in accounting. 

They became friends, then Ian invited Peter on a weekend surfing trip. 

"Didn't do any surfing, plenty of talking," Peter says.

"Then one night in the back of his station wagon, it happened."

Peter and Ian have had to overcome rejection and homophobia from their families. 

"My father basically didn't want to know me, didn't want to know Ian," Peter says. 

On Peter's 20th birthday, his father told him not to bring Ian home for the party because "you've got young brothers and we don't know what's going to happen". 

"I basically told him to get stuffed, hung up the phone and didn't speak to him for about 30 years," Peter says.

"I didn't speak to my mother or siblings either." 

Peter and his dad eventually reconciled. A year after his mum passed away, Peter visited his family. While they were dining at a restaurant, his father apologised to him. 

"I broke down, I was in tears, so was he and others at the table," Peter recalls.

"I just said to him that it was really awful what you did, and it's left a big imprint, but it takes a big person to apologise to someone and admit their mistakes.

"I know that's what mum would've wanted him to do, and I think he knew that too."

Ian was married, briefly, to a woman, at the time his friendship with Peter was growing. 

"She was a very beautiful woman and I loved her to death," Ian says. 

"I didn't know I was gay back then and I was trying to conform, because up until 1974 it was classed as a mental illness." 

"His mum used to always say to him, 'You should've never left [your wife]'," Peter says. 

The couple have been together for over 40 years, and have a Deed of Relationship.

They wanted to get married when they were younger, but it wasn't allowed. They also wanted to have children, but it didn't work out. 

"We were born at the wrong time, I think. If we were 20-year-olds now, it would be simple, basically," Peter says.

The secret to a long-lasting relationship

Most Australians still believe in marriage, but 29 per cent of us think it's an outdated institution, according to the Australia Talks data. 

Even couples who have been married for more than 40 years don't necessarily agree on whether marriage is outdated or not, but they do have some good advice for people who do want to get married. 

"You should be in a marriage with individual freedom," Rama says. 

"I want [Jagan] to grow in his career, he wants me to grow as a person, as a musician, as a scientist, as a mother — we let each other grow.

"We are sitting here now in our 60s with no repentance, and no complaints."

"You can have two perfect people and still have an imperfect marriage," Jagan says.

"We are two imperfect people and we're making it work." 

Helen believes you should only get married if you've got the right person. 

"I would hate to be married to the wrong person," Helen says.

"And we've been very fortunate that we found each other."

"When trouble comes up, don't give up straight away," John adds.

"You've got to work on your marriage."

Peter and Ian were friends first — and this was a solid foundation for their relationship. 

"Be forgiving of each other and understanding of each other," Peter says. 

"We work really good as a team," Ian says.

"We've had many obstacles put in our way and we've overcome them as a team."

Terry and Althea's youngest daughter met and married her husband when they were both teenagers, just like her parents. 

"And the sex has got to be good," Terry adds.

"It keeps people together." 

The Australia Talks National Survey asked 60,000 Australians about their lives and what keeps them up at night. Use our interactive tool to see the results and how your answers compare.