Old Couples Explain How They've Stayed Together So Long

"Don't let the sun go down on your anger."
11 February 2020, 12:30pm
Old couple, still in love
Image via Pixabay

This story is part of a wider editorial series. Coming Out and Falling In Love is about the queering of our relationships with others, and the self. This month, we look at Asian attitudes to sex and porn, dating in the digital era, experiences of LGBTQ communities, unconventional relationships and most importantly, self-love. Read similar stories here. This article originally appeared on VICE AU.

Imagine being married for 50 years, or longer. Imagine all the little misconceptions, miscommunications and mistakes that would have to be negotiated, negated or simply put aside. All the times you’d have to give in, or give up, or give when you had nothing left in the tank. And imagine doing this with the same person, year on year, until you eventually lose count and say, “We’ve been together 50-something years!?”

Relationships are hard. We all know that, and yet most of us want to get old with someone. Because getting old is less of a drag when done in tandem, even if that means 50 years of compromises.

With all that in mind, we wanted some advice: what's the secret to making a relationship last a lifetime? So we asked some very, very longterm couples to sit down with us for some tea and biscuits and share their tips.


Holding up one of Sue's brother's old records

Sue, 74 and Brian, 77, married for 54 years

VICE: How did the two of you first meet?
Sue: Brian grew up in Colac but moved to Ararat, and everyone knew when someone new came to town. We first met at a local milk bar, where I used to work, and I think it was his love of music that really brought us together. We spent a lot of time together with his tape recorder, writing down lyrics for my brother to sing.
Brian: Eventually we started dating, and Sue invited me to some of her family functions. It turns out her brother was in a rock band. I was very interested in music, so I loved attending their concerts and rehearsals.

What was the name of your brother’s band?
Sue: Peter Davis and the Rock-a-Bye Boys. Brian just gave their record a spin the other day, actually.
Brian: We had a really active social life. Back in those days, we used to go to dances at the local town halls on a Saturday night and we danced until midnight or whenever the place closed down. Several years and many dates later, I was transferred to Melbourne, and I finally proposed to Sue. Thankfully she said yes, and we set up a house there in 1965.
Sue: It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. Brian was a Catholic, and his mum wasn’t all too happy about him marrying a Protestant. We just had to overcome it, really.

Did your parents finally come around in the end?
Sue: My mum came around quite quickly, she was alright with it. Especially when we had kids later on, that’s all she cared about. Our priest at the wedding was also very helpful. I think he helped placate our parents on the day.

What do you think is the secret to a long, happy marriage?
Sue: Considering and appreciating the other person’s viewpoints and mutual interests. Try to understand what the other person is thinking and do your best to go along with them.
Brian: Especially in tough times, like in illness and such. You really have to go the extra mile and pitch in—sometimes even more than what you’d be used to.


Tim and May didn't want to be in a photo so here they are holding hands

Tim, 76, and May, 74, married for 49 years

Hey guys, let’s start with how you first met.
Tim: We first met in high school in Sarawak (Malaysia). There weren’t many schools around, so students from different towns had to congregate here to study. May was the only girl in the class.

When did you first start dating?
May: It was after we finished high school. I think we went to the movies...?
Tim: We did. Although I can’t even remember what we watched. We didn’t have time to go on many dates though. We immediately had a period of separation right after school. I went to New Zealand to study, and Kim went to the UK. At that time, there weren’t any mobile phones or text messaging, so we kept in touch by letters, or aerograms, as they called them.

How many years did you continue this long-distance relationship?
Tim: Five, I think?
May: Six years!

Long distance relationships don’t often work out. How did you manage to do it?
Tim: Back then, all my hope for the relationship laid in our correspondence through those letters. Obviously back then we didn’t have any form of instant communication. No Skype, no WhatsApp. On average, we were able to send letters to each other once a month, or six weeks sometimes, depending on the mercy of the mail service.
May: Patience, patience, patience. Looking back, it’s quite amazing how our entire relationship was built on letters. I don’t know how we did it, really.

Do you have any advice on having a long-lasting relationship?
May: Again, both sides need patience, tolerance, and respect.
Tim: And love and forgiveness. We all have different characters, so conflict is inevitable. We had to learn to give and take.
May: Work through your problems. Not everything is about yourself. Look at the good of your partner, rather than their weaknesses.


Joan and Angus hold up a picture of Angus' taxi truck

Joan, 91, and Angus, 91, married for 70 years

Congratulations on your 70-year anniversary! That’s pretty amazing.
Joan: It is, isn’t it? Thank you! It hasn’t all been plain sailing, as any marriage goes. But we’re still here.
Angus: We’ve been through a lot over the years together—70 years is really something, isn’t it?

How did it all start for you two?
Joan: My brother worked in a garage in South Yarra, and so did Angus. They met there and became fast friends, and that’s how I got to know him. I think we were both 19 at the time. It was about 1945 or 1946. He wasn’t a bad looking guy! I suppose I must have fancied him in some way or another. He came from a big family of six, they lived in Armadale and he’s always worked hard all his life. Gus used to wash cars on weekends just for extra pocket money.
Angus: I used to be a chauffeur, used to drive people down Toorak and so forth. One family asked me if I could drive them to the Melbourne Cup. I said “Of course,” and then I ended up driving them around for 29 years! Lovely people, they were. But going back on track—we got engaged in ‘48, then we got married in ‘50.

Do you have any tips or advice for younger couples today?
Joan: Just keep taking the pills from the chemist. [Laughs.]
Angus: Oh, please.
Joan: OK then, just be patient with each other. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Think before you speak. Many times, partners will always fight for the last say. But there’s really no last say. A good relationship has got to be fifty-fifty. Not ninety-ten, like a lot of them out there.


Koon and Kim were also reluctant to be a photo, so here are their hands

Koon, 80, and Kim, 74, married for 50 years

How did you both first get to know each other?
Koon: I first met Kim when we were both kids in school. When we grew a bit older, I tried to meet up with her, but she always somehow had plans, or maybe she was just avoiding me.
Kim: [Laughs] We were still just friends at that time, there was nothing serious yet.
Koon: By the time I finished my studies, I was in my early/mid-twenties. One day I just told myself to take it seriously and asked her for a date.

What was that first date like?
Koon: I took her out on my scooter for dinner.
Kim: But it rained so heavily! And the rain in Singapore is crazy.
Koon: We had to stop at a bus stop for shelter. When I sent her home, she was drenched from head to toe from the rain. And then she fell sick for one whole month!

What’s your number one tip for younger couples or newlyweds to stay together as long as you guys?
Kim: You must always, always, be forgiving. And always care for each other. Be prepared to forgive and forget.
Koon: I agree. I also think couples shouldn’t isolate themselves. Have some outside friends that you can mingle with and band together when hard times come around.

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