The Art of a Good Marriage

Five Columbia couples share their tips for wedded bliss

By Melissa Andrews

Photos Courtesy of Respective Couples

Marriage is the perfect opportunity for two people to create their own love story. The day you first met, your nervous first date, the beautiful engagement and the unforgettable wedding might seem like the most important things in the world at the time. But all of those days, while memorable, are merely the prelude to the marriage. And whether you have been together for one year or 50, the overall meaning of marriage is the same now as it always has been: to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health …

Certainly, every couple has a story, with each romance and courtship unique. But for five Columbia couples whose unions range from brand new to approaching the half century mark, what makes a marriage work is the same: commitment, communication and compromise. And it doesn’t hurt to throw in a lot of laughter.

Ask Sarah and Frank Brown, who recently celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary, what the secret to their success is, and Frank say that large measure can be attributed to serendipity. “It takes a lot of luck to have a successful marriage, because when you marry someone, you really don’t know that person all that well,” he says. “When you date, you show your best side and you do everything you can to be interesting. But when you have been living together for 48 years, it’s pretty hard to hide parts of yourself.”

Sarah and Frank were married in a time when divorce was a rarity. And the story of their courtship is unique, as is the length of their marriage. The two met in college, and Frank was working part time at a funeral home where he would often drive the hearse. Since he was trying to save money, Frank would often kill two birds with one stone; while traveling to pick up someone who had passed away, he would invite Sarah to go along and they would have a nice dinner in a new town, take care of important duties and return home. Sarah was often the recipient of beautiful flowers that had fallen out of funeral sprays. (Frank is sure to stress that his boss was okay with this!) “It was certainly an interesting courtship!” says Sarah.

But ultimately, the two fell in love because of their complementary personalities. Frank, a lover of music, and Sarah, a literary type, would often accompany each other to concerts or readings, allowing themselves to be exposed to new things and learn more about their partner in the process.

But just as important as compatibility is the power of laughter. “It is great to live with someone with a positive attitude, someone who can make you laugh,” adds Sarah.

Cindy Edens, who has been married to her husband, Michael, for more than nine years, feels the same way. “Humor plays a huge role in our relationship,” says Cindy. “We laugh all the time. I find that so important to the success of a marriage. Laughter can get you through the difficult times, and it makes the good times even better.”

Michael and Cindy Edens have been married for more than nine years.

Cindy and Michael have been friends since elementary school. Little did Cindy know that Michael had had a crush on her since seventh grade, so the fact that the two ended up together is kismet.

To keep a marriage successful, many agree that accepting each other’s faults is critical. Michael says, “You have to understand one another’s shortcomings and know how to handle them. Picking your battles is very important. Sometimes it’s best to walk away from a conversation and simmer down before saying something you will regret. And never question the disciplinary actions of your spouse in front of your children. Take a note and talk about it when you’re alone.”

Sage advice for Ashley and Brian Fitzgerald, who have been married for five years and have a two-year-old son. “Having children certainly changes everything. We have to be better communicators and talk out our differences. We figure it out, see which side will work better or meet in the middle with a compromise,” says Ashley. Thanks to this attitude, it’s not surprising that Brian agrees with his wife. “We try not to sweat the small stuff or discredit the other’s opinion. We usually find common ground or end up agreeing to disagree.”

Like Cindy and Michael, one thing Ashley and Brian did agree on was being more than friends. It’s often a scary concept to go from being friends to a couple, but when Ashley and Brian realized how much they missed each other after Christmas break in college, they decided to give a relationship a try. “I missed him so much and realized I didn’t want him to just be my good buddy anymore,” laughs Ashley. Brian echoes that. “We were both a little nervous taking it to the next level, but it was great to know that at least the conversation on our first date would be easy and relaxing.” And obviously that date was a resounding success.

 Ashley and Brian Fitzgerald have been married for five years and have a two-year-old son.

For Reba and David Campbell, nearly 22 years of marriage began with a date to watch the USC/Florida State game while they were living in Washington, D.C. David recalls, “Florida State won, so we had a second date.” Today, the couple’s marital success is based on patience, communication and retaining individuality. Reba says, “We are our own people and maintain our own identities within our marriage. I always thought people married someone just like themselves and then realized that is never the case – thankfully. How boring would that be?”

For the newlyweds in the group, Hilary and Craig Stover, the memories of their wedding day are still fresh in their minds – the indelible images of the wedding cake, the guests, the toasts, the first dance. But even after only a year and a half, Hilary has the wisdom of a woman who has been married much longer. “Finding balance is critical,” she says. “When you get married, you’re not just marrying your spouse. You’re marrying their family as well. So balancing my needs, his needs and the needs of our families is so important. And as a part of that, you must have compromise.”

One thing Hilary and Craig don’t need to compromise on is Gamecock football. Many a couple has been brought together by love for their alma mater. And sharing interests can only enhance a relationship. In fact, second to their wedding day, Craig’s happiest memories with Hilary involve watching SEC football together. And like Brian, Craig is sure not to let the small things get to him. “You have to make sure the other one gets the opportunity to say everything they need to – to get it all out,” says Craig. “That, and making sure my coffee cup is not in the sink when Hilary gets home.” The little things, while not to be sweated, do mean a great deal.

And so does a focus on common goals. It’s important for couples to agree on the direction of the family’s future and support the other’s ambition – whether it is working hard to retire early, saving up to open an art studio or staying home with the children. That holds true for Cindy and Michael Edens. Michael says, “I so appreciate Cindy’s unwavering support for me and her desire to achieve our long-term goals together. It’s nice to have someone who is completely on the same page as you.”

Supporting the other’s dreams, or merely their hobbies, provides a feeling of goodwill for both. Reba and David Campbell are both successful business people. But their continued focus on each other’s personal needs and desires has played a huge role in the success of their marriage. Some of Reba’s happiest moments involve watching David play acoustic jam sessions with his friends. Reba says, “David loves to play the guitar, and I enjoy watching him.” As for David, he remembers fondly the day Reba brought him their first puppy. “We were looking to move from D.C. to Columbia for a little less stress and a better lifestyle, and Reba knew that I wanted to do things here that I couldn’t do in D.C., like hunt and fish,” he says. “So our first Christmas after we moved, she surprised me with a new puppy.”

Reba and David Campbell have been married for nearly 22 years.

All of these couples share common bonds: focusing on the needs of their spouse, working together to communicate through the difficult times and sharing a true commitment to making a life together – forever. But even after 48 years, Frank Brown is hesitant to give advice to other couples. “Neither of us is prone to quickly give advice – it varies so much with different personalities. But I would say we are both accepting of each other’s differences and that is extremely important.”

And for a couple that just celebrated their 48th anniversary with a trip through Europe, it looks like it just might work out. All married couples should be so lucky.


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