CORAL GABLES, Fla. (Reuters) – During their seven decades of marriage Sarah and Julius Wishnia have gone through a lot together: near-paralysis, the death of a grandson and the tribulations of raising a family while running a small business as a team.
The key to making it through the hard times, they say, was mutual respect and being able to communicate no matter what was happening.
“When you have each other you can talk to and listen to each other and take advice from each other,” Sarah, 88, said in an interview at their home in The Palace, an upscale retirement community in Coral Gables, Florida. “We comfort each other and our love just continues to grow.”
The Wishnias are one of a handful of long-time couples living at the retirement home who spoke with Reuters ahead of Valentine’s Day about the secret of staying happy together for so long.
Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at the Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute, said three areas of the brain allow for relationships to flourish over the long term.
Among them were activity in brain regions linked with empathy, what Fisher called positive illusions that allow people to overlook the negative, and of course sexual and romantic fulfillment.
“The drive to love is eternal,” she said. “This brain system lies way below the cortex, next to another area that orchestrates thirst and hunger, systems that keep you alive, and love is one of them.”
The Wishnias met through relatives in the summer of 1950 and wed that fall. They went on to open a drugstore in Julius’ hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, raised three children and now have four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
They cared for Julius’ father, who was paralyzed after a robbery. Sarah cared for her husband after a flu shot in the 1970s left him partially paralyzed, and they comforted each other through the loss of a 26-year-old grandchild.
For decades they skipped Valentine’s Day celebrations to run their drugstore, which was always busiest around holidays.
“We were in the retail business, it was our time to sell chocolates and candy and boxes and gifts,” Julius, 91, said. “When everybody else played, that’s when we worked.”
But over the years they made up for their sacrifices by taking trips abroad, and today every day is reason to celebrate.
“Any day we can spend time together is special,” Julius said. “We’ll be thanking God we’re still here and hoping for the day after.”
Another couple interviewed at the Miami-area retirement home, Jackie and Lee Adelson, 87 and 91, met online after their longtime spouses passed away. They are coming up on an eight-year anniversary in March, suggesting that love knows no age.
The attachment is clear in a new couple like the Adelsons, who said they held hands on their first date and drew the ire of a server who couldn’t get a dinner order from them because they couldn’t stop kissing.
“I didn’t expect to get into a relationship again,” Jackie said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew when I met him he was absolutely the love of my life.”
Yet the pair also come into their relationship and later marriage with decades of experiences with spouses who previously passed, anecdotally confirming Fisher’s research.
“Treat your loved one like it was your first date every day of your life,” she said. “Always have respect and care, and don’t let the little things bother you.”
It’s a philosophy that still works for the Wishnias, who long ago decided to renew their vows every seven years and are coming up on that 10th anniversary. Keeping things interesting in the bedroom works, too.
“We did that just this morning,” Julius laughed, drawing a slight blush from his wife.
Reporting By Zachery Fagenson in Miami