101 years of wedded expertise

February 12, 2006|By KRISTIN WILSON

As Valentine's Day approaches, images of happy couples, love and romance can remind one of the promise of finding that special someone and living a happily-ever-after life.

Little boys and little girls are raised on fairy tales that Prince Charming finds his Cinderella, Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, all they have to do is say, "I do," and walk down the aisle together.

The real story about love and marriage takes many a twist and turn on the road to happiness and marital bliss.


The Herald-Mail caught up with five Tri-State area couples in different phases of marriage to hear about what makes their relationships strong, at what points they struggle and how they've come to be joined as one. It's true that you really have to "work at it" to make a marriage work, they say. And it's true that children really do change everything.

Just ask Dave and Mary Jo Ashburn. The Hagerstown couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on Sept. 11, 2005, renewing their vows in front of their children and grandchildren at St. Mary's Catholic Church.

While the couple make a lifetime together sound relatively easy, they are the first to remind others that you never know what joys and what sorrows lie ahead.

In the early years of their marriage, the Ashburns faced the loss of a child and several miscarriages.

Their first child was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that left the baby's spinal cord exposed. The baby died within three months. The young couple then experienced two miscarriages.

"I could not believe that this happened to us," Mary Jo Ashburn remembers of her first child's death. "I was at the point where I said, 'Am I supposed to have a child?' Those were really the trying years."

But the Ashburns went on to have three more children and now enjoy spending time with their four grandchildren.

Looking back at their early experiences together, Mary Jo Ashburn says "those struggles helped cement our marriage."

If marriage is about anything, it's realizing that two people are "joined together as one," says Paul Holtzman, who celebrated 40 years of marriage to his wife, Gloria Holtzman, in 2005. That means you must learn to share everything together ? including your life, he says.

Here's a look at marriage through the eyes of couples ages 23 to 71:

Just starting out ...

Nathan Householder can't wait to marry his best friend, Donnell Helman. The Hagerstown couple are planning an October wedding and are discovering in the process how they feel about having children and exploring each other's religion.

But they're also learning through their engagement how to be there for each other, how to listen and how to work through tough situations.

"We're working together to make things better," Householder says. "She's making an effort, and I'm making the effort."

The couple recently faced the harsh reality of unemployment. Householder, 24, lost his job, and the couple had to figure out what came next.

"It's been really hard for us," Helman, 23, says. "We moved here for that job. After a lot of tears, we sat down and said, 'Here's what we can do. Here's what we have to do to pay rent on time.'"

Coming up with a plan and refocusing their efforts together helped them get through it, Helman says. Helman and Householder also say they have a strong family support system as a guide to the marriage process.

"Both our parents have very strong marriages," Helman says.

That's something to which they aspire.

Two and a half years in ...

William and Marsha Rand of Martinsburg, W.Va., had it all figured out before they got married two and a half years ago. They both had jobs they enjoyed and plans to build their first home. But their first year of marriage turned out differently than they expected.

"We built a house, we got married and found out I was pregnant in our first year," Marsha Rand, 27, says. "I went from living with my two sisters and my parents to living with (William) and expecting a baby."

Adjusting to young, married life and having a newborn was a real test for the Rands. William Rand's job required that he work nights, and that meant he only had a chance to see his family on the weekends.

"I changed my job, and (Marsha) changed her job so we could have more time together," William Rand, 27, says. They took pay cuts to change their lifestyle and focused more on budgeting, but learning to be a family has been a joy for the couple.

"We try to do as much as possible together as a family when we're home," William Rand says. "We give a lot of time to our son and try to teach him as much as we can."

"We realized it's not 50-50 all the time," Marsha Rand says. "You have to give, sometimes, 90 percent."

While the Rands had hoped to wait to have children, their first few years of marriage taught them a life lesson, Marsha Rand says.

"You have to be able to face situations as they come to you," she says. "You can't always choose."

Married ... with children

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