Janet Ogundepo speaks with couples who have been married for over 40 years on the secret to their long unions
About three months into the wedding of Olowo and Florence Ojifinni, the N20 note was newly introduced as the highest denomination for cash transactions in Nigeria.
But their love story actually began 10 years after the introduction of the Nigerian currency banknotes by the Central Bank of Nigeria on July 1, 1959.
The velvety voice of the lady answering calls at the old Treasury Cash Office in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State, in 1969 was the beginning of the story for Olowo, who was a former Accounts Clerk in the Ledger/Clearing Department with the National Bank.
As a clerk, he always looked forward to hearing the sweet voice every day while performing his duty and after being saturated, he decided to put a face to the voice.
Off he began his search to find his unseen love object.
As luck would have it, one day, his cousin, who lived in the same compound with Florence, asked him if he knew her because she had asked after him.
“That was the girl my cousin was taunting me about and who later turned out to be the girl behind the captivating voice in the Treasury Cash,” Olowo gushed.
Gradually, the path to meeting this lady, whose voice had captured his heart, was being paved.
The meeting eventually happened one Saturday evening.
With a shy smile to his wife, who sat beside him, Olowo recalled the red-letter day.
“It was at a farewell party organised for me as the secretary of a socio-cultural group, Egbe Ijare Omo Elewe Obi, Ado-Ekiti, on September 19, 1970. I was preparing to start a degree course at the University of Ibadan.
“She coincidentally came from Akure, where she had been transferred. She was on a visit to my cousin, whose husband was the chairman of the group and in whose house we had the party. So, this is the girl!” he stated.
After seeing his “velvety voice” lady for the first time, Olowo was further blown away by her simple and homely lifestyle.
Meanwhile, Olowo’s life as a socialite endeared him to Florence.
His wife said though he was a graduate of Agricultural Biochemistry and Nutrition, he could also deftly discuss issues around law, medicine, and politics, among other issues.
After six years of intimacy, Olowo wedded his heartthrob on November 27, 1976.
But the first nine years of the marriage were tough.
“The first eight to nine years of our marriage was as if I was in a lions’ den,” Florence reminisced.
Olowo explained that his social, political and community lifestyle, as well as his open relationship with other women, started a storm that rocked his marriage in the early days.
He narrated, “Of all things, she hated other women (coming close) and I caressed other women! She still had a wonderful way of chasing other women away with amiability. She endured with high hope that things would not be so forever. This was a great way of settling disputes. Any misbehaviour never affected the number of fish in my meal or the time.”
Despite her husband’s attitude, Florence’s catchphrase was, “I will not quit no matter the urge but endure and see my children through life.”
She added that her resolve to “have only one husband” and work for the success of her children held her through the storms.
But, she continued, “After we met God, an easy way of settling differences came. We learnt and imbibed forgiveness, submission, love, spirituality and not thinking that the man can be won by outward appearances.”
Olowo told Sunday Punch that arguments or offences were not “swept under the carpet” but resolved and never allowed to recur.
Today, the 46-year-old marriage is still standing strong.
On the recent increase in divorce among young couples, the family pinned it on the refusal of couples to follow the pattern “set by the author of matrimony, God.”
Florence said, “Look before you leap. I have been in my husband’s life for 53 years and the only medicine that healed my home is faith and belief in Jesus Christ. Read, study and meditate on God’s word. Pray. Open your eyes and see beyond today. Instead of judging failed marriages, learn and work to avoid the pitfalls.”
World Marriage Day
Marriage, as an institution, has been on for thousands of years.
Every year, the second Sunday in February, designated as World Marriage Day, is dedicated to celebrating the sanctity and institution of marriage.
The celebration of this day officially began in 1983 in the United States of America to honour spouses for their faithfulness and sacrifices.
This celebration was popularised by the Catholic Church to highlight the beauty of being a lawfully wedded couple and a call to individuals to live out their married lives in joy, faith and commitment.
A holiday tracker website, National Today, listed that on this day, couples could renew their vows, take a trip together and relive memories of their marital journey.
In America, the cost of an average wedding, according to National Today, is $20,000. In contrast, $20,000 is the average amount spent for a divorce.
Every year in the US, about 17 tons of gold are made into wedding rings.
Married couples, data showed, highlight trust as the most crucial element for a happy marriage over sex, compatibility, friendship and forgiveness.
Data also revealed that an average couple spends four minutes together in a day due to the busy schedules of work, family and life.
Long marriage possible
Zelmyra and Herbert Fisher were the Guinness World Record holder for the longest marriage ever.
They were married for 86 years and 290 days. The duo married in 1924 when Herbert was 18 and Zelmyra was 16 years old. Their marriage ended at the demise of Herbert on February 27, 2011, at 105 years.
Zelmyra died two years after on February 20, 2013, at 105 years.
Before their deaths, a Twitter account, Longest Married, published an interview about the secret to their long marriage.
Recounting their stories, a family-focused blog, Daily Citizen, posted that the Fishers highlighted respect, support and communication with each other as the best piece of advice they got, adding that divorce was never a thought or an option.
“Be faithful, honest and true; love each other with all your heart,” the Fishers added.
Zelmyra was quoted as saying that she found being “a hard worker and a good provider” as most important in a spouse.
She added, “The 1920s were hard, but Herbert wanted and provided the best for us. I married a good man!”
They added, “Remember marriage is not a contest; never keep a score. God has put the two of you together on the same team to win. We also pray with and for each other every day.”
Before their demise, the couple were said to have left a legacy of five children, 10 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
Karam and Kartari Chand were also a Guinness World Record holder for the longest marriage.
They were married for 90 years.
They got married in 1925 and died in 2016 and 2019, respectively.
Long marriages are possible and such couples are honoured and celebrated every year.
Undoubtedly, couples with long marriages have several attributes mindsets and secrets for their feat.
A study conducted in 1979 on 55 couples married for more than 55 years revealed “mutual devotion and special regard for each other” as the couples’ secret to their long marriages.
Findings from other studies revealed that couples with long marriages got married with the notion of “marital permanence” without an option for divorce.
However, data showed a dwindling trend in marriages in major countries of the world.
On the hand, data also showed an increase in marriages now than some decades ago. The peculiarity of these data varies from country to country.
‘Understanding each other’s needs kept us this long’
What started as love at first sight has blossomed into a 58-year marriage between the Alayere of Ikoyi Ijumu, Ijumu, Kogi State, Chief Samson Amupitan, 84; and his wife, Mrs Janet Amupitan, 74.
The Amupitans began their marital journey in 1965.
“Then, you can’t approach a lady for marriage by yourself,” the octogenarian told our correspondent.
The marital process, he explained, was a task undertaken by the parents of both families before the lovebirds would be joined as husband and wife.
Samson stated that his wife’s beauty pulled the love strings in his heart and he told his mother, who then embarked on the process of sealing the deal with his wife’s family.
On her part, the 74-year-old woman stated that her marriage to Samson was facilitated by her father, who told her she would “be happy if I marry him and without argument, I concurred.”
But the 58-year marriage was not without arguments and disagreements.
“We may disagree but somehow it will be resolved; we never go to bed with a grudge,” the Amupitans stated.
The septuagenarian attributed the success of her marriage to grace, divine wisdom and the ability to settle disagreements without involving a third party.
Being best friends with his wife, Samson said, helped them never to invite a third party to settle issues between them.
Janet recalled the series of prayers and investigations that went on before marriages were sealed in their time.
The lack of these attributes, she stated, was the cause of the increasing rate of divorce among young couples.
On the secret of their long marriage, the octogenarian said understanding each other’s needs and ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ helped them.
“Keeping malice between husband and wife is not a good thing. Communication is one of the paramount instruments to strengthen marriage and when that is lost, it becomes difficult to control the ship of that marriage. That (grudge or malice) should be avoided by all costs in every marriage and home,” he added.
The couple advised “youths to come close to God, hand everything over to Him and He will perfect your ways.”
They also stressed the importance of endurance and prayers.
“Patience is another tool that some marriages of today lack. Sometimes, we may disagree on an issue but when one party does not patiently listen to the opinion of the other, there will be problems and if care is not taken, such can lead to separation,” Janet said.
Trust, sharing, openness kept us this long’
Letters were the means of long-distance communication at the time Mr Francis Amagbewan, 70, got married to his wife, Mrs Florence Amagbewan, in 1984.
The previous year, Francis had gone to his hometown in Ekpoma, Edo State, to attend a ceremony when the lady who had been his wife for 39 years first caught his eyes.
“I approached her and in what is now called ‘toasting’, I ‘toasted’ her,” he reminisced and burst into laughter.
In what could be compared to long-distance dating today, the septuagenarian courted his lover via letters for about a year.
“I was in Lagos and by then, there were no phones, so we kept writing to each other until the D-day when we came together as one,” Francis said.
He added that he did not worry about the long-distance relationship because he trusted his wife.
The septuagenarian only met his betrothed during the holidays and whenever he took permission from his boss to see his parents.
“I used that opportunity to see her. We would talk, gist and then I would return to Lagos to continue working,” he added.
Taking this reporter down memory lane, he recalled that after he met Florence, he informed his parents and inquired from them about her family.
Convinced of the information he got and the support of his parents, Francis stated that he continued the relationship while his parents mediated with his wife’s family on his behalf before the marriage was sealed.
With eyes lit with joy amid intermittent laughs, Francis recalled a special day in their relationship.
“There are so many things I will not forget. But the one thing (dear to me) was the first day we held each other and had our first kiss,” he added.
Florence, 59, was “very happy and received a lot of congratulations” on that day.
Recalling how she met her husband, Florence said, “My husband came from Lagos for a visit when he saw me and approached me. I prayed that if he was my husband it would come to pass. Since there was no phone at the time, we communicated via letters and ended up being married.”
Since they stayed in the same town, Florence constantly saw Francis’ parents and communicated with them.
“Marriage is honourable. It is sweet and bitter. Whenever there is a quarrel between us, we settle it and do not discuss the matter with our relatives. There was never a time I thought of going back to my parents after a quarrel. Is it my parents that will marry me?” she queried.
Communication, the couple said, was the secret of their 39-year marriage.
Taking turns, they said, “We always interact, sit to talk and discuss. If I have anything she did that I am not pleased with, I will let her know and she will apologise, life goes on and vice versa. I advise the young ones to put God first because no one is perfect. Quarrels happen, but we find ways to put off the fire.”
Financial incapabilities on the part of the man, Francis stated, could cause a strain in the marriage.
He urged men in such situations to open up to their wives and for the women to endure the phase with their husbands.
He said, “There is no perfect man or woman; challenges will come in a marriage. Marriage is fully for the couple; the In-laws should keep away from the marriage to allow the couples to live their lives and not interfere so that the marriage will last.”
Francis also advised couples to trust, share and be open with each other, adding that keeping secrets could break a marriage.
“Patience is the ultimate. Couples need to be patient with each other regardless of the challenges that may occur,” the couple said.
54-year marriage built on forgiveness
A former teacher and businessman, Joseph Ogunsola, 81, wedded his betrothed in 1969 in a ceremony at the First Baptist Church, Ogbomosho, Oyo State.
Amid bursts of laughter, the octogenarian told our correspondent how he met and married his wife, Alice.
“I was staying in the north, Kanji Dam, where I served as a storekeeper to the Italians constructing the dam when my parents invited me to come home and marry.
“A friend of my father introduced her to me and we agreed on marrying each other. There wasn’t any ceremonial finding because of how we were introduced and I loved her,” Ogunsola said.
Alice, 74, stated that she accepted her husband’s proposal six months after.
He described the 54-year journey as interesting but not without its challenges.
“We came across some problems from friends and households, but the most important part of it was that we accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. This has given us the grace to scale through,” he added.
The septuagenarian noted that engaging in the same religious activities was part of the secret of their marriage.
Joseph, who once worked as a photographer in Ilorin after his stay in Kaduna, stated that after his marriage, he returned to Iwo, Osun State, to further his education in 1972 while his wife stayed in Ogbomosho.
After several years as a teacher with transfers to some towns in the South-West, he said he resigned and relocated to the north with his family and worked as a sales promotion supervisor with a multinational company.
Following an intertribal war in Kano, the ex-teacher resigned and relocated with his family to Ogbomosho.
Speaking on how he coped with his family during his several job switches, Joseph stated that his wife understood and managed the family while he was away.
He said, “We have conflicts but we don’t report them to third parties; we always settle them. When there is a conflict, the problem is who will be the first to bell the cat and talk to the other partner? But God usually helps us to wipe off the grievances.”
He explained that at a point in the marriage when he earned little, his wife handled the family’s finances without it causing a problem.
“When I am alone, I sometimes weep about present young couples. They don’t do marriage; they meet each other somewhere, deceive one another and marry. That way, there is no sense of responsibility. That is why you can see many young women with about two to three babies; their husbands might have sent them from home while the woman caters for the children alone.
“I want to advise that youths should inform their parents before they get married. Let both parents be aware because there are things parents’ investigation will uncover. Also, consult your God because marriage is not something you just dabble into. Some impregnate girls and then the parents will ask them to get married,” he said.
Alice advised young couples to avoid malice.
‘She’s still my honey’
The resounding voice of a retired policeman, Elder Effiong Ante, 72, boomed as he spoke about his 45 years of marriage to his wife, whom he only wanted to be identified as Mrs Ante.
His wife, whom he kept referring to as ‘my honey’ was away at the time our correspondent spoke with him.
“My wife is my honey oo, forever,” Goodluck repeated.
“We will be 45 years in marriage in December and we are still marching together. She is my honey. We quarrel but we end it immediately,” he said.
He stated that his marriage to his wife was similar to how the Biblical Isaac met his wife, Rebecca.
In what seemed like an arranged marriage, Effiong explained that she was chosen by his parents.
He noted that endurance, keeping disagreements away from third parties and resolving issues immediately were the secrets to his long marriage.
On whether individuals experiencing domestic violence should remain in such marriages, Goodluck said the root of such was the negligence of traditional processes of getting married and the adoption of Western practices.
Couples must imbibe right principles – Marriage counsellor
Following and building a marriage on the right principles is the first requirement of a successful marriage, a marriage counsellor and lawyer, Samuel Umesi, said.
According to him, knowing God is also a key factor in having a long and successful marriage.
Umesi said, “Another principle is compatibility and it is like bringing a lot of things into one. You have to build trust between each other. One of the causes of problems in marriages in recent times is largely a result of lack of trust or not building enough trust between the partners. Building trust will help couples to understand and forgive each other. In the absence of trust, everything becomes a problem and a cause for suspicion and when that is in a marriage, it is not healthy and it will lead to the marriage crashing early.”
The counsellor said forgiveness is important to building long-lasting relationships and marriages.
He urged couples to imbibe the habit of forgiving their partners and having a “rich emotional bank account” which he referred to as a quality that would ensure spouses forgave each other quickly.
“When the emotional bank account is depleted, then it becomes a problem because then your partner becomes irritated and touchy over simple things which could have been forgiven.
“Also, there has to be understanding; this is the ability to make excuses, appreciate your partner for whatever they do and create room for compromise. A lot of understanding is needed between couples because they are two people coming from different backgrounds to live together. There will be a lot of shifting ground; understanding has to play out in different perspectives,” he said.
The marriage counsellor stressed that couples needed the ability to effectively communicate their ideas and feelings to each other.
He explained that the quality would foster understanding and consequently lead to a long and successful relationship.
“Communication is not just greeting and serving each other food. It is talking about issues and finding a common ground to sort them. In the absence of good communication, anger and tension build up and when they explode, it becomes difficult to sustain that relationship. It also helps to vent out your thoughts on issues gradually which will aid understanding and a strong marriage,” he added.
Umesi said making out time for each other was also necessary for couples.
Studies have indicated that work schedules and parenting demands, if not managed effectively, limit couples’ time together.
Regardless of the situation, Umesi stated that couples needed to create time for each other, stating that the time spent together would strengthen the bond and relationship.
“Couples that must have a long-lasting relationship must love each other. There has to be love and the manifestations of it in a marriage,” he said.