"Everlasting Matrimony: Pearls of Wisdom From Couples Married 50 Years or More," by Sheryl P. Kurland (American Literary Press, $39.95).
In the late 1940s, Ron Farrar's and Joan Pachtman's passion to help those in need charted the course for personal passion and lifelong matrimony. The West Hills residents met in college, when Ron was a member of a veteran's organization and Joan belonged to a service club.
The two groups shared office space, and their frequent sittings led to another common interest -- each other. Today, 53 wedding anniversaries later, their love is deeper and richer than ever before.
In the United States, according to the National Marriage Project, the odds of a marriage lasting, much less lasting over 50 years, are dim. Statistics released by the organization show:
• The U.S. divorce rate is close to 50 percent;
• Today's divorce rate is more than double that of 1960;
• The number of people getting married has declined 40 percent from 1970 to 2002;
• The more partners people live with, and the longer the time they live together, the more likely they will eventually divorce.
Even with shelves full of self-help marriage books available today, the statistics aren't improving. Celebrity divorces are splashed across news headlines: Celebrities terminate marriages as if they're spilling out a bad cup of coffee.
We rarely hear of success stories of real marriage experts, like that of the Farrars.
The Farrars are one of 75 couples I interviewed -- husbands and wives separately -- across the United States and Canada who've celebrated no less than their golden anniversaries. Two other couples from the Los Angeles area are also featured in my book, "Everlasting Matrimony": Russell and Ruth Blinick of Chatsworth, married 52 years, and Arthur and Anna Cohen of West Hills, married 54 years.
What makes a marriage loving and lasting until death do us part? The lessons in "Everlasting Matrimony" are innumerable. The Farrars, Blinicks and Cohens share theirs:
Accept nothing less than permanence.
"There are many wonderful ups and difficult downs in the course of a long marriage and certainly moments of wanting to flee," Russell Blinick said. "There slowly evolves, however, a realization that something strong and reassuring is being established."
Blinick echoed a stalwart philosophy expressed by others in the book that divorce was never an option.
Today's naysayers challenging this core commitment believe that this generation of couples stayed married, no matter how miserable the relationship became. On the contrary, no matter how difficult the circumstances, their attitude and determination to keep the marriage afloat never wavered.
Through compromise and communication, and patience and understanding, harmony eventually was restored. Ultimately, the marital bond became more meaningful, sacred and rewarding.
Sprinkle anger with humor.
"It took us many years to learn how to 'fight,' but now we are aware that we have periods of stress, can argue, get it out on the table and negotiate it, and then let go of it," Ruth Blinick said. "A sense of humor is always important."
Disagreements can only be solved with each spouse giving a little here and there, with one person sometimes abdicating more than the other. Laughter is often the best anecdote for problems.
So what if she mistakenly threw out the green bean casserole that he was going to eat for lunch? Is it a major offense that he erroneously read the friend's party invitation, and they showed up on the wrong date? Chastise or chuckle? The choice is yours.
Be willing to make changes. Children, money, health -- different factors, planned and unplanned, impact a marriage over the years.
"Ideally, both [partners] should be able to change; to initiate change and anticipate change, and sometimes switch roles," Anna Cohen said.
There's no pat formula for a solid, loving marriage. Additionally, the formula that works today will require alterations over and over and over again throughout the years.
Capitalize on each individual's strengths and weaknesses. Pooling talents, skills, likes and dislikes creates a dynamic duo.
"We found that we worked very well together as a team," Joan Farrar said. "When we teamed up, we found that we could do anything together."
Feeling good about the relationship requires first feeling good about yourself.
"A long-lasting marriage demands loving, liking and respecting. If I love, like and respect me healthily, I will love, like and respect thee healthily," Arthur Cohen said.
Being self-content as an individual is essential to the health of couplehood. Complacency of either partner produces stress and anxiety in the relationship.
When talking with each couple, it was easily evident that their hearts still go pitter-patter. Each spouse was quick to praise the other for the success of the marriage.
Ron Farrar's closing words well represented the depth of their love: "I love her [my wife] dearly -- far more than at the beginning of our marriage.... I find myself grateful to the point of tears that I ended up with the girl I did."
Sheryl P. Kurland resides in Longwood, Fla. For more information, visit www.everlastingmatrimony.com.