Happily ever after
Fashion trends and politicians swing in and out of favor, forests become parking lots, and even those things that are intended to last forever, like marriage and real estate appreciation, often don’t.
Census figures show that most of us will marry in our lifetimes; they also show the divorce rate is about half the marriage rate. So what’s the secret for a long, happy marriage in a society where change is the norm?
“The thing that I notice the most is they respect each other,” relationship counselor Katherine Osten says of happily married couples. “They’re able to laugh and talk and communicate what’s going on with them.”
Being able to talk in a civil manner about your mother-in-law’s meddling or your spouse’s spending habits just might preserve the relationship.
“I think if people would address things a little earlier instead of ignoring them, there could be more long-term relationships,” Osten says. “Something happens in their relationship, and instead of fixing it, they just kind of let it slide and let it build.”
For Dr. Mike Claussner, much of a relationship’s success boils down to the couple’s maturity.
“(Successful couples) are able to look at an issue between them, get closer to resolving it and feel more optimistic,” says Claussner, a clinical psychologist who has practiced in the valley for nearly 20 years. Common interests, devotion to each other and realizing your spouse isn’t perfect also stand out among the many factors that contribute to a successful union, Claussner says.
That’s what the experts have to say. But what about the other experts, the couples who have made their marriages work for 50, 60 or more years? Here, three such couples tell their stories and offer advice to others who want to follow in their happily wedded footsteps.
Married: 50 years
Bobbi Bade was a junior in high school in Elmhurst, Ill., when she wrote in her diary the words that would foretell her life.
“I think I have finally found the right one,” she wrote. John Bade, the boy she had dated briefly as a freshman, was back in the picture, this time for good.
“I just knew,” Bobbi says, 50 years after marrying “the one,” who to this day opens the door for her when they get in the car.
The years since Bobbi and John said “I do” at the ages of 20 and 21, respectively, haven’t always been easy.
“It’s hard work,” John says. “It’s not easy to make that commitment and stick to it.”
They faced challenges of raising a family ” having the first six of their seven children in seven years ” and making ends meet.
“We didn’t make the kind of money you make now,” John says. “There were times when things got difficult.”
A few of the problems facing couples these days, the Bades feel, are that some don’t take marriage as seriously and don’t work hard enough to make it through rough times.
“When we went into marriage, it was for life,” Bobbi says.
The couple attributes their success in part to the examples of their own parents and their faith in God.
“It seems as though whenever there were difficult times,” Bobbi says, “that always brought us closer together.”
Their keys to a happy marriage? Patience, the Bades say. Understanding. Trust. Showing affection. And “love, of course.”
“I think we have a lot of love for each other,” John says.
“Very much so,” Bobbi agrees.
Ages: 79 and 81
Married: 59 years
Pete Burnett didn’t have any doubts when he met his future wife at the movie theater in Minturn in 1947.
“I thought that was the woman for my life,” Pete says. “She was a very beautiful young woman.”
But 21-year-old Ella, who was seeing someone else at the time, wasn’t equally impressed.
“I thought he was terrible when I first met him,” she says. “He used to be kind of wild when he was younger.”
Pete eventually won Ella over, in part by giving her rides home from the Gilman mine hospital where she often worked the graveyard shift as a nurse. They married in 1948.
“After I went with him, after awhile I just decided that was the way I wanted to go,” Ella says.
Though the couple never had children, they compensated by taking in friends and family members. As a nurse, Ella helped deliver local children who would grow to call them “Mom and Pa” when those kids later worked with Pete, former street supervisor for the town of Vail.
Pete says the most difficult time of their marriage was when his father died just a few years after their wedding. For several years, they cared for his mother, living in a single bedroom of her house. Ella raises her eyebrows at the memory.
From the struggle of not having a home of their own, to Pete’s battle with an injury in the early ’50s, “You had to have faith that you would work through it,” Ella says. She believes patience and communication are most important in keeping a marriage strong.
Though they often worked different shifts, and sometimes would pass each other on the highway and wave as one left for work and the other returned, the Burnetts found time to enjoy their common interests, such as camping and snowmobiling.
“I think a lot of it has to do with things that you both enjoy doing and want to do together,” Pete says.
As a result, he can’t pick a favorite memory from their nearly six-decade-long relationship.
“Oh, I’ve got a million of them, and they’re all good,” he says. “We’ve just spent a lot of wonderful hours together.”
Ages: 86 and 84
Married: 66 years
Davey Burnett can’t quite explain how she knew her husband Bill (whose brother, Pete, is also featured in this article) was the right one for her when they married 66 years ago.
“You just feel it, I guess,” 84-year-old Davey says. “When you’re away from him, you have that terrible lost feeling.”
She pauses, then turns to Bill.
“Or I do, I don’t know about you,” Davey says.
“Sure,” Bill agrees. Both laugh.
These days, the Burnetts’ time apart is virtually nonexistent. The longest the high school sweethearts are separated on a regular basis is the hour or so that 86-year-old Bill, a member of the Minturn town council, spends at council meetings.
“We go everywhere together,” Davey says. “We’re always together, aren’t we, Bill?”
In the early years of their marriage, they were separated for a much longer time, when Bill left for the Philippines to fight in World War II.
The youngest of their two daughters was just six weeks old at the time he left. While Bill was gone, Davey lived with Bill’s parents, who “were just wonderful.”
Bill visited home for just one week during the three years he served, and the couple’s only communication were the weekly letters they wrote to each other. Only after he returned did Davey learn that he hadn’t received any of the letters she had written him.
“He had it rough,” she says.
When Bill returned, their daughters hid behind Davey and asked, “Who is that man?”
“I don’t know how she got by, but she did,” Bill says of Davey caring for the girls without him.
Their family has since grown to include six grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and nine great-great-grandchildren, and the Burnetts have taken to caring for each other.
Davey lost her sight, so now Bill reads to her and drives her to regular beauty shop appointments in Eagle. In turn, Davey does the cooking and washing, and, “We both take turns making the bed,” Bill says.
“You each gotta do your part, or it doesn’t work,” he says.
It’s simple advice, and when asked what they like most about each other, those answers are simple, too.
“He’s just Bill,” Davey says.
“She’s my life,” says Bill.
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