While there are many secrets to a long-lasting marriage, Ella Leavitt of Topsham, who has been married for 50 years, says commitment is the key to sustaining any relationship.
“Marriage is a commitment. You don’t just go into it, then tomorrow you don’t like it then get a divorce,” said Leavitt, 73. “You have to be strong – and you have to keep the faith.”
Leavitt met her husband Frank in 1964 in her 20s, when they were in training for the Marines in the 10th Engineer Co. in Portland. They were married the following year.
The Leavitts celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on April 17.
Though every marriage is unique, most women could describe their relationship as a romantic fairy tale, particularly in the beginning stages. But over time, relationships can lose their spark, emotionally and sexually. Even strong marriages take work at some point, Leavitt says.
What she loves most about her 83-year-old husband is that he is kind, understanding and thoughtful. At the same time, Leavitt is considerate of her husband’s devotion to the Marine Corps.
“I guess he knew, (me) being a Marine, that I could handle it,” Leavitt said.
They are members of the local American Legion, and enjoy taking trips to Kennebunkport, where Leavitt lived for a year when her husband, a 40-year veteran, served in Vietnam. While she always missed her husband, Leavitt learned over time that it’s important and healthy for a married couple to pursue separate interests.
“He does his thing and I do mine,” said Leavitt, a representative for the Women’s Memorial in Washington, D.C., which honors all military women, past, present and future. “I like to be quiet (at home knitting and sewing) and he likes to be out. He belongs to the VFW and has antique cars. I don’t believe in breathing down each other’s necks. A little bit of breathing room is good.”
Her daughter, Ellie Anderson, 47, of Topsham, commends her parents’ loyalty to one another.
“I admire their ability to stick together,” said Anderson, who has been married to her husband, Vic, for 20 years. “They make a great team.”
Her personal advice for making a marriage last is building a strong friendship. She and her husband, 46, enjoy playing games together, such as cards, going to concerts, and taking small road trips.
“Be each other’s best friend,” Anderson said. “We do things to support each other, and compromise.”
For Kaitlyn Champagne, 26, of Minot, a recent divorcee and former military wife, “the chemistry came easy” between her and her ex, “but being on the same page about (certain) things took work.”
According to Erin Oldham, a divorce and relationship consultant and founder of Local Flames in Portland, the key to making any relationship or marriage last is “having patience.”
“You can create ease (in a relationship) by doing a bit of homework. Some of that comes in getting to know your partner better and getting to know yourself better,” said Oldham. “If you have a full, loving, joyful life, it contributes to your partnership.”
Oldham, a twice-divorced psychologist, started Local Flames to provide a resource for people who were looking to make meaningful connections and to develop healthy relationships.
She advises women to make “sure you understand how your partner (wants to feel) loved. It can be different from how you feel loved. It really comes down to communication,” she said.
Though it goes both ways, she also encourages women to seek out what their mates value in life, and to be curious about their innermost needs and desires.
“Are gifts important to them? Is your time important to them? Is what you say important to them?” Oldham said. “Take time to sit down (with them) and talk about what you like.”
Women need to learn to directly communicate their needs and desires to their partner. Another important aspect of a long-term relationship is learning to be vulnerable, added Oldham.
Being vulnerable is “exposing yourself and finding ways to be your true self around your partner,” she said.
Oldham said it’s also important to show compassion and empathy in order to maintain a healthy relationship. She also encourages women to try something different or new with their partner and to “show the love.”
“Don’t wait for somebody to meet your needs or love you first,” Oldham said.
Champagne and her ex-husband, a former Marine, dated on and off during high school before getting married.
After graduating, they lost touch for a couple of years, but reconnected when he was home on leave, she said.
They dated for more than two years before deciding to tie-the-knot. But due to military obligations and other reasons, they never officially lived together throughout their marriage, which put a strain on their relationship.
“I was finishing (college) in Maine and he was stationed in North Carolina,” said Champagne. “He was getting stationed in Okinawa, Japan, so I didn’t really expect anything to come of it, but secretly, (I) didn’t want to say goodbye and go our separate ways again. Long story short, we kept in touch and decided to try a long distance relationship.”
They would spend months apart and learned to rely on brief phone calls and Skype dates to stay connected. While she shared interests with her husband, and says there was always “a natural and easy chemistry” between them, the relationship eventually got rocky.
She later realized she got married for the wrong reasons, but tried hard to continue the relationship while considering divorce.
For a while, she kept telling herself that “things would fall into place.” Instead of reflecting on his bad traits, she instead tried focusing on what she admired about her husband.
This past March, however, her divorce was finalized. The decision to get divorced sprang out of “incompatibility and not feeling respected or appreciated,” said Champagne, whose marriage lasted two years. The couple ended up being legally separated for a year and a half.
She admits that their decision to get married was a bit “spontaneous,” mainly because of the distance.
“He also became completely unreliable,” she added. “There was a lot of immaturity, and he kept proving over and over that he wasn’t ready to be a husband. It was as if he had me and didn’t have to try at all anymore.”
“I’ve learned to let relationships happen organically and not rush things,” she said. In addition, Champagne thinks every woman should set high standards and avoid wasting time with a man who doesn’t appreciate what he has. She encourages women to find someone who brings out the best in them, and who will love them unconditionally.
Another divorcee, Crystal Wiley, 28, of Naples, got married seven years ago to a man in the military she had been dating since she was 16.
Going into the relationship, Wiley knew that it would be a huge commitment. After all, she had only known him for two weeks before they started officially dating, and he left for basic training shortly after.
According to Wiley, they “fell in love through love letters” and “did the stereotypical military marriage. When we got orders (in 2007) for him to go to Iraq, we decided to marry,” she said.
After he returned from Iraq, they got an apartment together.
“It seemed OK at first and then I guess he had a hard time adapting back to society, basic post-deployment (issues) that veterans go through,” said Wiley.
They divorced in 2010 after they began to drift apart.
“I felt very alone. I was ashamed that I let him treat me so poorly,” said Wiley, a registered nurse.
She said their divorce was simple since they had no assets or children.
Being a military wife, Wiley said, is difficult, and women shouldn’t become too dependent on their husbands. Since her partner’s career in the military took precedence, Wiley said she eventually lost her sense of self.
“I was a mess. The hardest part was how much it affected me emotionally,” said Wiley, who dropped 30 pounds as a result.
Wiley decided to pursue running and do charity work as a way to cope and move on from the situation.
“I realized that the world wasn’t going to stop,” said Wiley who is now in a new, healthier relationship. After all, said Wiley, “Everything happens for a reason. What will be, will be.”
Champagne said she learned while marriage can be “a beautiful thing, it can also be easily abused.”
She believes two people in love shouldn’t need a court document to prove their love and commitment to one another – at least not too soon.
“Take your time and really know whom you’re marrying,” she said. “Build trust and know you can rely on them to be there for you, not just through the fun and happy times, but through the vulnerable, ugly, and hard times, as well.”
Ella and Frank Leavitt, shown here at their wedding in 1965, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this past April. Ella Leavitt’s key advice for a long-lasting marriage is commitment. Courtesy photo