Episode 11: Sheryl Kurland: 75 Couples Who Found "Happily Ever After"!
Sheryl Kurland: 75 Couples Who Found "Happily Ever After"!
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Chip: Welcome to Sex, Love, & Intimacy. I’m your host, Chip August, and today on the show we’re gonna be talking about matrimony, about marriage. Not just about any marriage. We’re going to talk about marriages that had lasted 50 years or more. Our guest, Sheryl Kurland, is the author of a wonderful coffee table book called ‘Everlasting Matrimony: Pearls of Wisdom From Couples Married 50 Years or More’. Sheryl is an author. She’s a writer. She’s a speaker, and I’m just really fascinated to learn what she has learned talking to couples who have been together so long.
Sheryl: You know, a lot of people used to ask me when Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt split, ‘Why did they split? What is your opinion?‘ And all. My thought back was, ‘Probably the reason they split was the problem that existed in the relationship from the very beginning that they never solved.’ So what if they have millions of dollars and lots of homes and lots of possessions. That can’t make a relationship work.
Attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think positively, positive things are gonna happen. If you think negatively, negative things are gonna happen. Usually, that’s the way it works. So, if you have a positive attitude about your relationship, then its likely the relationship is going to be healthy and successful and lasting and strong and it would continue getting strong over the years.
This is the Rock Tradition. They said that they have travelled over the years to many places, many destinations, and every place they’ve gone, they bring home a rock and they write on it where it came from and the date that they got it. And they would put it in their backyard and over the years they have built a rock garden. So, it’s really a garden of their memories.
There was a gentleman who-- he was a guest in his twenties and he was supposed to go to a dance and he had a date. Well, the date got appendicitis. So, he was hurrying, calling around all his friends, ‘Does anybody know a girl that’s not fixed up yet or not going to the dance yet?’ So somebody said, ‘Well, I know Helen. I know this nice woman Helen.’ So they got fixed up at the last moment and, p.s., they ended up marrying each other.
This couple, they met, because they went to visit their siblings in college on the same weekend and these siblings were in the same dorm across the hall from each other. And the guy and the girl, they somehow passed each on the hall, sparks flew, and three days later they were engaged.
Chip: Welcome to the show, Sheryl.
Sheryl: Thank you, Chip and a pleasure to join you today.
Chip: Now I understand that you actually went and interviewed 75 couples who have been married at least 50 years or more. Is that correct?
Sheryl: Yes that is correct. There is 150 role models in the book and there’s over 4,000 years of successful marriage documented in the book.
Chip: That’s a lot of marriage time.
Sheryl: The longest marriage couple in the book is now 76 years married. So, they’re all married at least 50 years and then when you add on all the others that comes out to over 4,000 years of marriage. These are the real-life experts. So it’s real-life advice.
Chip: How did you get this idea? Were did you come up with it?
Sheryl: The idea stems from frustration of always hearing about celebrity divorces and I call it ‘celebrity roulette.’ And they drop their spouses like they’re pouring out a bad cup of coffee. And I’m a writer by profession and I thought about we just never hear about success stories and I know they’re out there and when I researched to see if any book had ever been written by a couple married 50 years or more, if anybody had interviewed them, I found that there was a big void. There are tons of Dr. Phil books but none by the real-life experts. And so that set me on this journey to write this book.
Chip: I don’t know if you know this but you’re actually right at the forefront of a future trend. There’s a whole movement in psychology and therapy right now towards what they call ‘positive psychology’ which is exactly that instead of looking what’s wrong, let’s look at what happy, healthy people do and learn how to emulate that. Great. This is terrific stuff. Why do you think celebrities fail at marriage?
Sheryl: I think celebrities fail at marriage for the same reason that ‘ordinary couples’ fail, that their problems are no different. They are just, because of their status, their fame, that we hear about them more. But I think that their problems are probably identical to everyone else’s. It’s just [that] theirs get publicized.
Chip: It’s very hard to live in a fish bowl.
Sheryl: Yes. And I think if you were to talk to some of them , you know a lot of people used to asked me when Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt split, ‘ Why did they split? What is your opinion? ‘ And all. My thought back was, ‘Probably the reason they split was the problems that existed in the relationship from the very beginning that they never solved.’ So what if they have millions of dollars and lots of homes and lots of possessions. That can’t make a relationship work.
Chip: When you were interviewing these people, was there anything that all the couples agreed on? Was there any sort of universal truth that you got from—
Sheryl: Yes, definitely. There is definitely a common denominator and I’ll tell you first what it’s not. Then, I’ll tell you what it is.
Chip: That’ll be great.
Sheryl: The NOT, What it’s not, is the commitment. People always say, ‘Well, you have to be committed, committed this, committed… committed… it’s overused. And committed really implies that you took the vows and then you just gonna stick it out no matter how miserable you are. It’s just the fact that you made this commitment. But I call the D word in our generation today-- the ‘D’ word is Divorce. If things aren’t working out, you just get divorced. In their generation, and this is the common denominator, the ‘D’ word is determination, that no matter what curve balls life throw your way—high, low and everything in between – that you were a lifelong partnership and there is going to be a solution. You’re going to find a way to make things work out and find harmony and contentment. So the common denominator is purely determination.
Chip: I did read the book actually. One of the things that I’m struck by when you read each of these interviews of the men and women, it is the thing you hear again and again if not so much is, it isn’t so much ‘ You know I love this person and we just have to figure out how to get through the good and the bad. We figure out how to get through each day. And that’s what got us the reward of being together so long.’
Sheryl: Right, and these couples – also people sometimes say to me, ‘Okay, but times were so different’ and implying that is was easier and that roles were more defined. But if you look at these couples having been married 50 years or longer, they’ve all live through the depression. They’ve lived through World War II [and ] the Korean War. They didn’t have the medical technology. They didn’t have the communications technology. They didn’t have marriage counseling; it was thought to be taboo. And so if you put all of these together, you would say ‘How could they possibly succeed?’ And if you put it in the year 2007, you would say, ‘These people were crazy to get married under all these circumstances and for sure they would fail.’ So, times were different then and it was a mind set. It was an attitude and it was the way that they were motivated.
Chip: Now it seems to me there were some prescriptive stuff that you get out of this; some advice that you can give to people who aren’t yet into their 50 years of their matrimony. I know you talked a little about the WAM principle, the W-A-M principle.
Sheryl: The WAM principle. It’s W-A-M. WAM stands for the Will, the Attitude, and the Motivation. The Will is: ‘Do you have the desire to make the relationship a lifelong, lasting, and fulfilling relationship? Is that what you want in your heart of heart?’ And the Attitude is – Attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think positively, positive-things are gonna happen. If you think negatively, negative things are gonna happen. Usually, that’s the way it works. So, if you have a positive attitude about your relationship, then its likely the relationship is going to be healthy and successful and lasting and strong and it would continue getting strong over the years. And then M is the Motivation: ‘Do you have the mental and the physical capacity—what it takes—to really keep the relationship ticking and get through the hard times and celebrate the good times?’ So it’s the Will, the Attitude, and the Motivation.
Chip: It sounds like wonderful advice. Tell me of these couples, did any of them strike you as like in your opinion sort of like they should have failed and they succeeded anyway?
Sheryl: Probably, all of the couples at some point in their marriage thought failure was in the moment but they never thought their relationship would fail. And truly what happened when I interviewed this couple, when I was searching for the couples actually I found many other couples married 50 years or longer but they are not in the book because they don’t want to be interviewed. They were miserable. So the ones that are in the book, they set their own criteria basically. I didn’t have to weed anybody out. They were overjoyed that someone would want their opinion about anything because our society tends to [xxx] older people aside. They have so much wisdom . So they welcome the opportunity to seek their voices and share what they had and there was no sign of failure. And it’s actually in meeting many of the couples. They still had that twinkle in the eye and they always touch each other and it’s just in the way they laugh and stare, just the simple pleasures of being together. So failure was not even an option for them.
Chip: This show is called Love, Intimacy, and Sexuality, of sexual intimacy. One of the things that happens around the sex stuff is that I noticed couples view that sex was just gonna go away. It just goes away. With that, what do these people said, that after 50 years, sex was kind of backburner…
Sheryl: That’s an interesting question because I actually did not even ask the question, anything about sex, because I thought it was too personal especially for their generation. I didn’t think they would talk about it openly. But in the general questions about what makes a marriage successful, many of them talk about sex as being a wonderful dimension of their relationship; that it was another way to elevate the aspect of having this lifelong partnership. And another active part of sex though that I thought was really interesting and funny at the same time was many of them said that sex was a great way to make up after you had an argument. That they had the best ‘umps and hey’ [sp] after they had an argument made up and that was kind of their way of reconnecting and say, ‘We still love each other.’ And as far as aging and sex , I mean these people are in their seventies , eighties, and nineties and of course their bodies are not what they used to be. But for them sex is cuddling, holding hands, winking at each other, and if they can actually do the sex act themselves then they still enjoy that. But it has different definitions as age occurs but in their eyes it’s still a very physical relationship in whatever that they can do.
Chip: I actually think they have a lot to teach us because I think that different definition actually isn’t just about age. I wish everybody would learn that sex is everything from holding hands, looking people into each other’s eyes, to sharing hotdogs, to quiet moments together. We aren’t just our genitals. There’s so much more about sexuality.
Chip: We’re gonna take a short break. Give a chance to give a little support to our sponsors. My name is Chip August. You’re listening to Sex, Love, and Intimacy and we’ll be right back.
Chip: We’re back. I am Chip August. You’re listening to Sex, Love, and Intimacy. We’re talking to Sheryl Kurland who has written this wonderful coffee table book called ‘Everlasting Matrimony: Pearls of Wisdoms From Couples Married 50 Years or More’.
I was fascinated by stories about folded potato chips, about rocks, and about Christmas ornaments. Do you want to talk a little about how those got to do with strong relationships?
Sheryl: All of those items pertain to tradition, having traditions in your marriage. And in talking to couples in the books and also outside of the book, many of them have said that traditions have been a very important part of keeping them connected, a foundation for the relationship. And these are particular traditions that you just mentioned.
The folded Potato Chip. One couple said that, the wife said that she likes, she has this thing about, folded potato chips. When you open the bag and they are sometimes folded in half that she just likes picking them out. And so her husband knowing this, he goes through the bag of potato chips and hand them to her. And she said that every one of those folded potato chips that he picks out for her is a love note. So that’s their tradition.
Another tradition is this couple who, this is the Rock Tradition, they said that they have traveled over the years to many places, many destinations. And every place they’ve gone, they bring home a rock and they write on it where it came from and the date that they got it. And they would put it in their backyard and over the years they have built a rock garden. So, it’s really a garden of their memories. And so that is their tradition. And in fact their children, who are now grown and have their own children, have continued the tradition of picking up rocks and identifying them. So this rock garden has grown and grown over the years.
And then the other tradition, the Christmas ornament, another couple said, this is similar to the rock, where that every year they buy another ornament that has special meaning to them: either some place they’ve gone or somebody important has given that to them. [It’s] some kind of memory to them. And so every year when they open their Christmas ornaments and decorate the tree, that’s their tradition to go through these ornaments and replay all these wonderful moments that they’ve had.
And the point about traditions is that couples today don’t have traditions. We all have family traditions; things that we do as a family on the holidays, where you’re gonna go on vacation, that couples don’t do things just one-on-one together. And these couples in everlasting matrimony said that traditions were really important part of their marriage and that closeness made it special to them. It made their relationship different from anyone else’s.
Chip: These are lovely stories. .. the whole potato chip, the rock story, you can just really feel the sweetness of the relationship between …
Sheryl: What is funny with this ‘Folded Potato Chips’ when I told other people that is lots of people who do have traditions , couples who do, another one said that she likes round French fries like when you go to a restaurant there’s kind of the burned ones. This is the same thing. And then another couple said that one year they went to a Master’s Golf tournament and they loved the egg salad sandwiches there. Well, they’ve never been back to the tournament but every year on the weekend of the Master’s they go out for a picnic and they have egg salad sandwiches. So, that’s their annual tradition that they do together.
Chip: It’s so sweet. Now, there was a lot of talk in here about Faith. Where does Faith in marriage…?
Sheryl: That was really interesting, the way that the couples in everlasting matrimony approach Faith. First of all, many of them met in a Faith environment which I think gives a lot of hope to people still looking for Mr. Right or Ms. Right. Where are they? Where are they? And so many of them met either on a church function or a synagogue function or something that have a Faith orientation to it. So that’s a great way to meet somebody who’s really special. And as far as the relationship itself, a number of the couples said that Faith was their kind of a community to them. That it was a grounding . that it was a place of friendship. And also that it was very valuable that especially in times of difficulty, challenges that sometimes there are just no answers to problems, there’s just not a ready solution and you do have to rely on a higher power to help you get through it. You don’t quit. You just got to have Faith, whatever faith that may be. This is praying or however you may approach it. But this Faith is really a strong foundation to many of them. And even throughout their 50 years of marriage, many of them have been active in their religious faith either belonging to a church or synagogue or just in their own way having religion as part of their life, was another dimension of that bond in their relationship.
Chip: You talked about many of them met at their synagogues or at their churches. All the little blurbs about how they met, it was just so fascinating to me all the different ways that people met. Do any of them stand particularly in your mind as particularly amusing or that touch you particularly?
Sheryl: Yes, there are some that I just think are very funny, one that I think is funny. There is a gentleman who-- he was a guest in his twenties and he was supposed to go to a dance and he had a date. Well, the date got appendicitis. So he was hurrying, calling around all his friends, ‘Does anybody know a girt that’s not fixed up yet or not going to the dance yet?’ So somebody said, ‘Well, I know Helen. I know this nice woman Helen.’ So, they got fixed up at the last moment and, p.s., ended marrying each other. So that was one of them.
Another one was a couple. the gentleman had had his wisdom teeth pulled. He was in the hospital. In those days, they hospitalize you and one of his friends, a girl, when to go visit him and the sister just tagged along. Well, p.s., the sister and the patient ended up getting married. And so that was another one.
Let me think for just another minute. There are so many. Oh, here’s another one. This couple, they met because they both went to visit their siblings in college on the same weekend and these siblings were on the same dorm across the hall from each other. And the guy and the girl somehow passed each other on the hall, sparks flew, and 3 days later they were engaged.
Sheryl: Yes. So the stories can happen anytime and anywhere. People just have to keep their eyes and ears open. There’s a lot of opportunity. Another one, I love this one. This is a couple who, the mother says to the daughter, ‘We’re low on toilet paper. Can I run you up to the grocery store and will you run and get it and I’ll wait out in the car you?’ She said, ‘Sure, sure.’ So she goes into the grocery store, her mom takes her, she gets out of the car, goes into the grocery store and she goes to get the toilet paper. While she’s walking to the cash register to pay for it and there was this gorgeous man behind the cash register and she thought to herself there’s no way I am taking toilet paper up to this man and paying him for it. [Chip laughs] She puts the toilet paper down. She goes out of the store with nothing, goes back to the car, and her mom says, ‘What happened?’ She tells her mom , ‘I was too embarrassed.’
So the mom parks the car, she goes in, she buys that and a few other things as moms tend to do, and the manager, the nice manager, he said, ‘Can I carry your grocery down to the car for you?’ Well, lo and behold. He ended up meeting the daughter and the manager and the daughter got married.
Chip: [laughs] I often think that the evidence that the universe isn’t just a random thing are these stories. It’s clear that people were just meant to meet.
Sheryl: I agree. I agree. There’s something about faith. I don’t believe that there’s just one person each person but I do believe there is something about faith in our lives. The twists and turns that each person’s life takes individually.
Chips: Right. We’re going to take a short break. Give a little chance for our sponsors to give us a little support and for us to give a little support to them. You’re listening to Sex, Love, and Intimacy. I’m Chip August and we’ll be right back.
Chip: We’re back. I am Chip August. You’re listening to Sex, Love, and Intimacy. We’re talking to Sheryl Kurland and we’re talking about marriages that have lasted 50 years or more and getting some tips here. Just wonderful stories in the book but I wonder, listening to all these people, talking to all these couples, is there sort of a pattern you get on how to solve arguments or how to pass the difficult part of a relationship?
Sheryl: There was so much discussions about relationships, even in the healthiest relationship, there’s argument. [xxx] people say, we never argue. It can’t possibly be. Even in healthy marriages, there’s gonna be disagreements. And a number of the couples shared some their formulas for solving arguments and all. I’ll give you a few of them.
One is the 80/20 rule. And this was said by one of the husbands. He said that you have to learn to be satisfied with 80 percent of what you want. You don’t always have to get a 100 percent. And the salt behind was that so often when we’re having disagreement one person feels more strongly than the other on the topic at hand. So in that particular subject, the person who feels more strongly gets 80 percent of what they want. In the course of everyday life, something else is gonna come up or the other person feels stronger on that particular topic. So this time, they get the 80 percent. And through the natural healthy marriage, this sense of flip-flops automatically by itself. So, this is the 80/20 rule.
The other one is called, Your-Department-My-Department rule and that I’ll explain. If you have a bad habit such as, say, you leave your dishes on the sink. You never put them on the dishwasher. Maybe my wife and I never hang up my towel after I shower. I just throw it on the floor. Over time, it gets really irritating because one person is always picking up the towel and the other person is always loading the dishwasher. Well, you can either get clearly aggravated about it and keep fighting about it. Or, the husband can just say, ‘You know, it’s just the towel. I’ll hang it up. It’s not that big a deal.’ The wife can say, ‘Look, I will just be loading a lot of dishes over the course of the years. And that’s Your-Department- My-Department. I do this, you do that. It’s settled. There’s no more disagreement and also what happens when somebody quits nagging you about it all the time, you would say, ‘You know what, I am gonna remember you hang up the towel or I’m gonna load the dishwasher.’ And when that happens, you have to remember to give positive reinforcements and say,’ Thank you!’ or ‘I really appreciate it!’, ‘ Noticed you did it’, and when the person gets a hug or a kisses for doing something , you gonna want more of that. So the positive reinforcement helps them remember to do that bad habit and change it. The more likely they’ll change it than the constant nagging or the constant bickering. So that’s Your-Department-My-Department.
Another one is a couple – I thought this is really interesting—This made me really think , one couple said that when they recently got married, they fought like cats and dogs and they just realized one day that they just weren’t going to survive like this. When they started picking apart their arguments, it seems that what they are arguing about one person had a strength where the other person had a weakness. Meaning one person was either more educated or more knowledgeable or more experienced or more talented, whatever that may be. And that was the strength. And the other person, it was a weakness for them. So when you pit those two together, you end up in a fight. When they realized there were times that if they could blend these strengths and weaknesses together, they can accomplish much more. And that simmers down the arguments in their relationships and, of course, 50-plus years later they’re still happily married.
These are three different ways that argument-resolution was talked about. And there’s many more. Those are just a few of the different ones that listeners can try for themselves.
Chip: I get why you call them Pearls.
Sheryl: The thing about the book is that all throughout everlasting matrimony. It’s not a book like you have to read the 10 steps and if you don’t read 1 to 10, you’re not gonna get there. This is a book where you just open into any age and there’s gonna be a little piece of something that makes you think ‘You know I haven’t thought about that. I am going to give that a try. ‘ And you really can kind of carve a path and make some simple changes on your relationships and see what a big difference they can make by changing little things here and there.
Chip: Now, are you yourself married?
Sheryl: I am married for seventeen and a half years . It’s my first and only marriage. My husband name is Steve and we have a 10-year-old daughter, Shelby. And I always say that writing this book saved me 5 years of marriage counseling because I just learned so much from 75 couples married 50 years or more. What’s not learn. And I found that even if I just tried things, I didn’t have to get [xxx] buy into the different things that I wanted to try . If I did them, they would just be reflected, seeing changes in the relationship, has enhanced it, make it better. It’s kind of fun to try it. Somewhat like doing exercises, mental exercises, and seeing what works and what doesn’t. So that’s 17 years and counting, and I hope I make it to 50.
Chip: Absolutely. I look forward to seeing your story on one of the later editions, yes? We’re coming to the end of our time together. A couple of things – what if people want to get this book? How can they get it?
Sheryl: Okay. The book is available at my website and it’s real simple. It’s everlastingmatrimony.com and there’s an order form. And because of the coffee table book, first of all, find all the books that are ordered. But if you want to get the book as a gift to yourself or if you want to get the book for yourself, or you want to give it to someone else, there’s a packet where you can write a note to me to write a personal message if it’s a personal occasion like an anniversary or engagement gift. I’ll be happy to write a personal note. So then it takes Discover, Mastercard, Visa. And that’s the way to get this to the book: everlastingmatrimony.com.
Chip: And to those of you listeners who just look at the text version of this podcast, you’ll find that we have a link there that you can go to everlastingmatrimony.com .
Sheryl: I want to say one more thing. Even if you don’t want to buy the book, if you go to my website, there is on almost every page, you can sign up for, it’s called ‘Time-Tested Relatonship tips. ” Every Monday, I send out my email to subscribers a quote from a couple married 50 years or more. It’s just a little piece of advice for the week. It’s free. I never share e-mail addresses with anyone and you can quit at any time. There’s no kind of subscription. So almost on every page, there’s a little slot where you can just fill in your e-mail address and you’ll get time-tested relationship [tips] every Monday morning.
Chip: What a great idea! Listen, I would like to have my listeners have a little exercise or something they can do for their own relationship, perhaps a little tune-up, and am wondering, do you have some advice, some coaching, some exercise that my listeners can do?
Sheryl. I do. This is sort of an undercurrent throughout the book: To envision your relationship or your marriage as a journey. I’ll explain what I mean by that. If you’re flying-- say I’m in Orlando and you’re in San Francisco. If I’m going to fly from Orlando to San Francisco, I’m going to pick up a date and a time when I want to fly there. And I’ll go on the internet or I’ll call the reservationist and I’ll say I want this flight and they’ll say, ’We’ll, it’s booked’ What do you do? You come up with plan B. and if Plan B isn’t available then you come up with plan C and you keep going until you find something that works and you may have to change the date that you may have to depart or return or the time of day. The point is somewhere down the rode is the plan that works. And that’s how people really need to envision their relationships and their marriages. It a continuing journey. There’s more than one way to reach your destination, and you just have to keep trying different plans that you don’t throw in the towel. You’ve have to have that determination to keep the journey going.
Chip: That’s a great metaphor; a terrific metaphor. Our time is just about up. I want to thank you for being my guest. You’ve been wonderfully informative. I read the book. I loved it. Just looking at it, the [xxx] pictures, reading how people met, listening to -- I can hear the couples’ voices in the book. I just think that if you’re a person who like love, you’re gonna love this book.
Sheryl: It’s a book filled with anecdotes, advice, tips; something that probably every [xxx] relationship will benefit from.
Chip: Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and advice with us.
Sheryl: alright. Thank you chip and thank you to all your listeners.
Chip: Absolutely. My name is Chip August. You’ve been listening to Sex, Love, and Intimacy. I would love to hear from you. If you have ideas for future shows, or you want to comment about the show you just listened to, you can reach me at email@example.com
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