Love is in the Air
Winter 2021 Issue Photography contributed
Couples Share Their Best Secrets on Strong Marriages
In light of the romance of February, we asked several Montana couples what makes a successful marriage. What do they do to ensure their marriage is working and fulfilling, and is a partnership worth fighting for? There is wisdom in their words.
Leonard Dahl remembers the first time he laid eyes on his future wife, Marguerite. It was in between classes while he was attending the University of Montana in Missoula.
“I was walking across campus,” he said, “and walking toward me was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.”
Though he knew neither her name nor where she was from, Leonard claims he couldn’t get her out of his mind. Two years later, as fate would have it, they met.
“I knew it was her the moment I saw her,” Leonard said dreamily. “I couldn’t believe it!”
As he told the story, he glanced tenderly toward his wife. She gave him a little smile and shook her head slightly, as if she’d heard the story a hundred times and still gets a kick out of it.
“She was the girl I always dreamed about,” Leonard continued.
After graduating from UM, Leonard, who was from Sidney, took a job in Great Falls. Marguerite grew up on a ranch at Simms, just east of Great Falls and landed work just after graduating from high school. It was with GMAC, the very company where Leonard was working.
“I couldn’t believe it when I first saw her,” Leonard said. Still, it would be months before he had the courage to ask her out, but when he finally did, and she accepted, their destiny was sealed.
On their second date to a dance at Fort Shaw, Leonard brought up the subject of their age difference. He said he was too old for her and that their 10-year difference was a concern to him.
When Marguerite responded by saying that her mother was 15 years younger than her father, Leonard knew he had a chance.
Celebrating 70 years of marriage this year, the couple have endured a lifetime of changes, including a world war, huge ups and downs in the economy and drastic social change. Nevertheless, they said, they were able to deal with even the hardest things that might have come between them and moved on as a couple, devoted and dedicated to one another.
Even at 98, and in remarkably good health, Leonard still loves to date his wife and takes her out to lunch at least once per week. They enjoy each other's company and spend as much time with their families as possible.
“Of course, there’s been trying times,” Marguerite said. “But we learned early how to talk to each other. Leonard has never criticized me about anything. He’s always been thoughtful and kind to his entire family.”
Leonard added, “We haven’t disagreed on too many things over the years.”
“It helps that he has a good sense of humor,” Marguerite said. “He’s always made me laugh.”
Another couple with half the years the Dahl’s have, but just as devoted at their marriage had a few things to add.
Laurie Swartz remembers when she was first attracted to her future husband, Rich.
“He was a friend of my brother’s,” she said with a smile, “but so much older than me.”
Laurie was a second-grader at Broadview School and Rich was a sixth-grader. She claims she noticed him first. It would be over a decade before he finally took notice, and by then he and Laurie’s brother were college roommates. After he did take notice, he began dating the pretty blond neighbor girl. Today the couple share 35 years of marriage.
When they finally married it was “between harvest and hunting,” as Laurie said.
With so many years of experience under their belts, the couple were open to share why their marriage has lasted and flourished.
“I never let a day go by that I don’t tell Laurie I love her,” Rich said, smiling as he turned to Laurie.
She agreed, saying, “Even if I don’t feel like it, I say it too. And if I am mad, I do something constructive with that anger … like clean the house.”
“Always say, ‘Yes, Dear,’” Rich said. After the two laughed, they further explained that it is meant to be said respectfully, not sarcastically. The tone of how you say it will say a lot about the sincerity.
Laurie further explained, “Saying, ‘Yes, Dear,’ to each other means that you’re listening to them. That you respect what they are saying and are hearing it. Even if you don’t agree. But both of you need to know that the other one cares and is listening.”
Running a ranch outside of Broadview, the couple are together most of the time.
“We make sure to have time to do things outside of being together,” Rich said. “You need to have your own interests too.”
Laurie and Rich were quick to say that not all days, not even all years, are bliss. Tough stuff happens. It’s how you handle those difficulties that will either strengthen or weaken your marriage.
“Giving up is not an option,” Laurie said. “Even if it might seem easier. And don’t forget to do the simple things together like watch the sun come up. We have spent our entire marriage cultivating our faith, and without it, we wouldn’t have what we do.”
Another couple celebrating 70 years, David and Pat Hale, a ranching couple from Ennis, said it’s really pretty simple.
“Number one, love, honor, respect and trust one another,” David said. “Pat is very generous. Coming from a ranch family, she always had to start everyone’s day with a big breakfast. That’s 25,500 meals she’s made!”
David and Pat, both in their 90s, were celebrated by friends and family this past summer. Their son Jeff said that they were Depression babies, and it shaped their lives. They learned to appreciate what was important and to value whatever they had.
Another experienced couple shared this: “Don’t hold anything inside,” Marta McAllister said. “It’s the holding in that starts to fester and cause issues. And don’t forget why you fell in love in the first place.” Marta and her husband, Jeff, who live in Billings, started dating in college and will soon be celebrating 40 years together.
“Always be considerate of the other person,” Jeff said ,and then jokingly added, “If all else fails, ask Alexa what to do!”
A common denominator with most of the couples was the notion of maintaining a sense of humor. Another was to be friends as well as marriage partners.
Here’s what some other people had to say about making marriage work, and how long they’ve been married.
“We truly enjoy doing all kinds of things together and that makes our friendship the key to our marriage,” — Patti Dunbar, 40 years.
“Try to only say things that build up and not tear down! Without God in our lives, we wouldn’t have gotten this far,” — Kim Hoefle, 35 years.
“Never give up. Good times and bad, you can always make it! Your spouse should always be your best friend,” — Shannon Crable, 26 years.
“Marriage is like a garden. If you tend to it, you will receive a fruitful bounty. If you don’t tend to it, weeds will creep in and destroy,” — Rochelle Brownlee, 29 years.
“Respect their opinions, respect their feelings, respect their friendships with their families. You might not always agree, but you should always respect,” — Shari DeSaveur, 39 years.
“You should have a pillow fight every morning when you make the bed,” — Becky Steele, six months.
“Unspoken expectations will be unmet expectations,” — Hannah Sheely, 10 years.
“Always remember to speak positively about your husband. Sometimes it’s hard not to want to vent to your friends about your spouse, but in the long run it has reminded me that anything negative I say will fester and create more problems,” — Lindsey Hyland, two years.
“Don’t make long-term decisions on short-terms events,” — Jim Sollars, 40 years.
“Learn how to say, ‘Yes, Dear,’” — Mike Penfold, 60 years.
“Communicate. Don’t let it build up and explode. Never fight over money,” — David Holycross Sr., 41 years.