Making Marriage Last in the Age of Divorce
The heart-shaped boxes of Whitman Samplers cluttering the aisles at drugstores around town this month remind us that we are ever optimistic about love, despite a divorce rate that exceeds 40 percent for first marriages.
Last year, Americans spent an estimated $14 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts, according to the National Retail Federation. The NRF estimates that figure will be exceeded this year, which would be the first year-to-year rise in spending in three years.
While, as Jews, we may not “celebrate” Valentine’s Day, that won’t stop many of us from buying our sweethearts flowers, chocolates and other love-related bric-abrac.
So, is there true love, the kind that endures through thick and thin, sickness and health, and for better or worse? Red Thread decided to investigate. We profiled four couples, each in different stages of marriage, who agreed to shared with us how they manage to stay attuned to the other in the face of pressures that tear so many couples apart.
The big secret: Turns out there is none. Yet, each couple shares something in common: They really like their spouses and, for the most part, their spouse’s family. Maybe more important, they are committed to staying together.
COUPLE: HARRIET AND KEN RICH
Residence: Farmington Hills
Years married: 51
Children: Michael, 50; Jill, 49; and Amy, 47; four grandchildren
Back story: Met at a Temple Beth El dance. He was given her phone number by a co-worker at the pharmacy where he worked, on Dexter Avenue in Detroit. The paper with her number was folded into a small square and tucked neatly in his pocket. He hadn’t mustered up the nerve to call her before he set off for that evening. As it turned out, he didn’t need to; she gave him her phone number that night — and they got engaged five months later. The couple married in 1959.
“She was the first girl I ever met that I felt so free in conversation; all I had to do was listen. I enjoyed her company from the very first time I met her,” says Ken, 80.
When she knew she loved him: While they were driving to the Fisher Theatre on one of their first dates, Ken pulled his car over to the side of the road to help two young women change a flat tire. Another time, he pulled over to help an older woman cross the street.
Personalities: She talks; he listens. “I read a book once about happy marriages that said the best marriages are between the oldest and the youngest (children). He’s the youngest, and I’m the oldest. When you’re the oldest, you’re used to bossing people around. If I had married somebody with my personality, it never would have lasted,” says Harriet, 77.
Favorite place: The Riches pack up sandwiches and their Rummikub game and head to the Franklin green.
Bumps in the road: Ken was a pharmacist who worked long hours, which meant Harriet was alone with three young children. “But, I loved having kids. I loved being a mother,” Harriet says. Ken can’t recall any strife in the marriage, but he shudders when he thinks about her long hospital stay in 1998. She was seriously ill, and he couldn’t do anything for her but visit every day.
Strategies for making the marriage work: “Don’t fight over trivial things; it’s not worth it,” Ken says. Says Harriet: “If anybody wants a marriage as happy as mine, they should marry Ken.”
COUPLE: LINDSEY AND MARTY MADDIN
Residence: Huntington Woods
Years married: 3½
Children: Brody, 16 months
Back story: Lindsey’s mother, Jo Rosen, was visiting her daughter in Chicago in 2003. While there, Rosen went to have a pair of pants altered and overheard a woman in the shop talking about having three single sons.
She asked if any of them lived in Chicago and gave the woman Lindsey’s phone number. A month or so later, Lindsey was out with friends and, by happenstance, met a guy named “Marty,” who had just moved to Chicago after graduating from law school.
A few weeks later, Marty called “Lindsey,” whose phone number his mother had given him; she asked if she could call him back — and dialed a friend to see if “Marty Maddin” was the guy they met at the Grotto a few weeks prior.
Marty, in the meantime, thought Lindsey was blowing him off. She finally called him back, and the two pieced it together; another great “how we met” story was born.
Marty later found a photograph from his summer as a teen service staffer at Camp Tamarack. Standing next to him in the picture — a 13-year-old Lindsey Rosen. “We call it freaky; our parents call it beshert,” says Marty, 34. They wed in July 2007.
Personalities: “We’re both social and talkative,” says Marty. “We’re both very respectful on many levels. We recognize that we’re a team. A lot of stuff needs to get done so we do whatever it takes.”
Lindsey, 30, calls Marty a very good listener, a person of great integrity, while he calls her incredibly supportive, caring and tuned in to other people’s needs. Stressors: When Marty quit practicing law to become a business coach, Lindsey says, it was tough explaining the move to family and friends, but she knew he’d be successful. In his first job as a coach, Marty spent part of each month in Grand Rapids.
Lindsey, a senior solutions consultant at ePrize, didn’t like the frequent separations and half-joked about getting another husband on the east side of the state.
Strategies for making the marriage work: Going out for dinner as a couple is essential.
“We believe you’re either growing together or growing apart so we’re invested in doing fun things together,” says Marty. “As the saying goes, ‘Happy parents, happy kids.’”
Favorite place: The Maddins like going to the Royal Oak Farmers Market, cooking together and hanging out with friends.
Advice for other married couples: “It sounds generic, but communication is very important,” Lindsey says. “You can’t change someone so it’s about learning to live with the things that bug you.”
Marty says couples need to keep investing in each other and to respect that the other is working just as hard as the other.
COUPLE: FAYE AND PAUL BLATT
Residence: Oak Park Years Married: 15½
Children: Spencer, 9; Alana, 5.
Back story: Met through BBYO when she was 14 and he was 17. She thought he was nice “for a long time” before an eight-year courtship began, with their first official outing on July 30, 1987. They got engaged 6 years later on July 30 and married 2 years after that on July 30. Paul never loses track of anniversaries.
Three years older than Faye, the two stayed in touch while he was off at college by talking on the phone when rates were cheap — after 11 p.m. Paul moved to the west side of the state for a job after graduation, and they did a lot of driving to see each other. They also exchanged a lot of letters, which Paul kept. He keeps a prom photo in his wallet.
Personalities: Faye, 38, is reserved while Paul, 41, is demonstrative. Bumps in the road: When Paul was laid off a few years ago, Faye had to go back to work full time as a preschool teacher. She had been home with the children.
“Our roles shifted. We shifted with it. We’ve done a good job. Life gives you a lot of stuff: We look at it and sit down and figure out what we’re going to do,” says Paul, who later became director of career and business services for JVS.
Favorite place: The Paint Creek Trail in Rochester. The Blatts lived in Rochester before they had children and got to love the bike path. Now they take their children with them.
Advice to other married couples: “Everybody has stuff that other people aren’t going to like,” Faye says.
“We deal with each other’s stuff. But I think the biggest thing is, we remember that we like each other,” Paul says.
“We’ve always been good friends, best friends. We were friends before we got married,” Faye says.
“You’ve got to be you,” says Paul. “I walk into the room at times and wonder why she’s with me. She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”
COUPLE: LISA SOBLE SIEGMANN AND TAL SIEGMANN
Residence: Oak Park
Years married: 12
Children: Adi, 10; Maya, 8; and Amit, 5
Back story: Lisa, a Cleveland native, was working in Columbus, Ohio, after completing graduate school. Tal was a veterinary school student at Ohio State. The community shaliach (an emissary from Israel) set up a dinner party so they could meet.
“I was wearing a green silk shirt, black jeans and this cool belt. I thought Tal was really cute, and he was really attentive,” recalls Lisa, associate director of JEFF and Informal Education at the Alliance for Jewish Education.
“I don’t remember what I was wearing,” says Tal, the director of youth programs at the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit.
“He was wearing sandals,” Lisa quips.
Lisa left for New Zealand a few weeks later to visit her sister for a month. When she returned, Tal went to Israel for a month, leaving her with his dog Luki, a Weimaraner. Lisa hated dogs but offered to dog-sit for a month. “I was floored,” Tal says. “It showed me who she is.”
Interesting fact: Tal was born in Cleveland, Lisa’s hometown, but he was raised in Haifa.
Personalities: Lisa, 45, is a bit more temperamental than Tal, 42, who tends to let the small things go. Early in their marriage, she recalled a time she got so angry she jumped into the car and headed for Telegraph Road, the only street she knew in Metro Detroit.
She drove up and down for hours. She now knows her way around but no longer needs to literally drive the tension away.
Bumps in the road: After discovering she tested positive for a mutation of the BRCA gene, which puts women at higher risk for breast and ovarian cancers, Lisa decided to have a preemptive double mastectomy and hysterectomy in 2009.
“He was worried about how it would change me emotionally,” Lisa says. “Things are back to normal,” Tal says.
“Crazy normal,” Lisa injects.
Favorite place: Home, alone with the kids, or home, with friends over.
Stressors: Finances and religion. Tal is a furniture designer and builder but had to acknowledge it’s difficult to make a living at it. As for religion, he’s not spiritual while Lisa is; she feels the chasm most acutely from Rosh Hashanah through Sukkot.
Advice for other married couples: “You’ve got to be ready for the punches. And love each other. Keep the big picture in mind, what you saw in that person, why you fell in love with them,” says Lisa. “We live in a society where everything’s good, everything’s now, everything’s 24/7. Marriage takes a lot of work.”