Tuesday 25 April 2017

Valentine Day's couple goals: 'The bad times can break you but you just have to stick it out together'

We all know the cliches of 'strong communication' and a 'good sense of humour'. Chrissie Russell hears some unusual relationship advice

Keeping love alive: Mai and Frank Quaid have been married for 57 years. Photo: Damien Eagers
Keeping love alive: Mai and Frank Quaid have been married for 57 years. Photo: Damien Eagers
Stuart Coleman and Mark Gaffney

Chrissie Russell

Many of us have felt the flutters of young love, the heady hormonal rush of first dates, intense embraces and promises of forever. But what of enduring love?

When the first flush of romance wears off, what's the secret to making a relationship last? We've all heard the cliches about good communication and having a healthy sense of humour, but for Valentine's Day, we asked three long-term couples - with nearly 100 years of coupledom between them - to share their more unusual philosophies on how to keep love alive and find that happily ever after.

Mai and Fran Quaid (76) from Wicklow

Their advice: Fight, write and go through the bad times

According to Fran, Mai "picked him up" while trying to shake off an unwanted suitor at a party when they were both 19.

"I said 'would you ever dance with me quick, because I need to get away from that fella'," laughs Mai. In their 57 years of marriage she says they've experienced lots of ups and downs but developed a novel way of dealing with arguments. Mai explains: "Fran had a very high pressure job and we'd sometimes have a row. We came up with the conclusion that we didn't want to be shouting and roaring at one and other - so we used to write instead.

"I'd leave a letter on his side of the bed and he'd answer or vice versa. All bad feelings were vented in writing, and sometimes when you do that, everything calms down. It's in the heat of the moment that you say things you can't retract, and that is very dangerous." But she reckons it's better out than in. "It's a load of BS when couples say they don't fight," she says. "You're two individuals, you must have differences."

At one point Fran was out of work for several years, he's also undergone a double bypass, two hip replacements and had two stents put in, "but other than that, he's fine", chuckles Mai. In recent years he's supported Mai in her work as President of Active Retirement Ireland. "He's learned to be a very good cook and drive me if I'm tired," she says. "It's called marriage. You do have bad times and they can either make you or break you. You just have to stick it out together."

Stuart Coleman (38) and Mark Gaffney (41) from Dublin

Their advice: Be happy with "just us"

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Stuart hadn't come out when he first met Mark on a blind date in the summer of 2002, something he now sees as a "blessing in disguise" for their relationship. "I wasn't able to tell any of my friends or family about Mark for the first four months of our relationship, so all of our dates would be in secret, going to places that we were unlikely to meet anyone," he explains. "Looking back it was good to have that time together, where every time we met, it was 'just us'. We really got to know each other and developed a strong bond." A year later, they both took career breaks and went travelling, spending 24 hours together most of that time. "I think coming home surviving that year together, we knew it was forever!" laughs Stuart.

While they never wanted to hide their relationship, they feel there were positives to having that undiluted time together early on without the intrusion of other people or feeling like they'd to go out in large social groups. And, although they love kids - "my niece Molly is the apple of our eyes," beams Stuart - they're not currently planning to have any themselves. "What comes to mind is Carrie and Big in Sex and the City," says Stuart. "'You and me - just us two' we know we're enough for each other, but conscious of working on that too." The couple will marry this June.

Lisa Lynch (36) and Stephen Molloy (38) from Belfast

Their advice: Keep moving, keep trying something new and focus on experiences, not 'stuff'

One of the first questions Lisa asked Stephen, when she met him at a wedding in 1996, was if he'd ever been to the USA. "At that point I'd never even been on a plane," laughs Lisa, "but my question started a long conversation, that continued on many dates, about which parts of the world we'd love to see, where we'd love to travel to and where we'd like to live."

At first they travelled separately - Lisa studied in Colorado then London, while Stephen moved to Norway and then California. But, after marrying in Belfast in 2006, they went on to live in California, England and now Sweden.

"Moving base definitely helps to keep things interesting and exciting," says Lisa. "There is something very refreshing about leaving everything behind - old things and old habits - and starting afresh.

"When we move we like to sell and give away a lot of our material belongings so it really is a whole new beginning. You've the opportunity to start from scratch." They also place importance on pursuing individual goals as well as embracing less glamorous aspects of travel like when their son, Rowan, got his head stuck in the railings of a cathedral in Vienna.

"We've had so many shared experiences as well as interesting experiences apart, that give us so much to talk about," says Lisa. "Since the world is far too big to explore in a lifetime we have a lifetime's worth of things to do together and talk about." Their two children are still at school, so for now Sweden is home, but Lisa isn't ruling out a future move.

"I think it is easy to get bogged down in the domestic side of life and what is expected of one who lives in suburbia. Having a variety of experiences helps us think outside the box and realise what is actually important."

Irish Independent

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