The key to 50 years of happy marriage

By Adam Winfield

Oshawa residents Peter and Thelma Martin married in 1971, when they were both 23, and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in March last year. They saw the half-century milestone as an opportunity to look back on what’s made their long marriage work and consider what others could learn from their success.

The couple first met at a party while living in the same apartment building and Peter later proposed after they shared a whirlwind six-week romance. There was a gap between them first meeting and dating, however. “Right after we met, I went to New York for a month with a girlfriend,” Thelma said. “When I came back Peter was waiting to meet me at the airport with a car. He was an airline ticket agent at the time, but I thought he was a pilot when I saw him in his full uniform!”

The pair began dating when Thelma returned, and about two weeks after they got engaged Peter’s work saw him transferred to Vancouver for three months. He didn’t come home until just before the wedding, and those long stretches apart would become a regular feature of the couple’s early marriage.

“We had to spend a lot of time alone,” Peter said, “and maybe that’s part of the reason we’re good together. We learned not to live in each other’s pockets. We have our own interests, so we can both be off doing something different and don’t have to do the same thing together all the time.”

“It gives you time to breathe and be your own person,” Thelma added. “We respect each other’s need for time alone and I think that’s a common theme in many successful and happy marriages. One of our favourite sayings is that you don’t have to be joined at the hip.”

Thelma believes Peter’s constant travel helped them both learn to be independent, while helping them appreciate the good times when they were together. “We worked hard to get what we wanted for the home and we had a real partnership. Supporting each other in those early years was really important.”

One common interest Peter and Thelma have always shared is volunteering, and the couple have become closely involved with the Oshawa Senior Community Centres (OSCC). Thelma sits on the association’s special events committee and Peter leads the cycle group, among other activities.

“Giving back to the community has been a big part of our life together,” Thelma said. “It’s helped us to stay social and mingle with other people, which is something we’ve always enjoyed doing.”

Early in their marriage the couple had two boys, now 49 and 47, and decided that Thelma would stay home to raise them while Peter travelled for work. When the time came to buy their first house, Peter was in Australia on a six-week business trip. Sensing the home was a once in a lifetime opportunity, Thelma carried the ball to the end and Peter made it home just in time to sign the paperwork.

“Peter’s travelling was hard on me and the kids,” Thelma said. “One of the hardest parts, though, was when he came home, because I was boss and the kids knew the rules when I was alone with them. When dad was there things could fall apart a bit because he wasn’t strict enough!”

The couple agreed it was important to raise their sons with the same values they had, like working together, volunteering and being self-sufficient. As the kids got older, each family member took the responsibility to cook a meal once a week and rotated duties such as doing the dishes and laundry. The boys carried those values into adult life, and went on to marry and give Thelma and Peter seven grandchildren.

Like any couple that has spent 50 years together, Peter and Thelma have gone through some challenging times. Peter was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2005 and credits Thelma’s support with helping him become cancer-free. Thelma, meanwhile, has suffered with fibromyalgia. “We try to look after ourselves the best we can and we have been pretty fortunate overall so far,” she said.

Two years ago, the couple bought a second home in Sarasota, Florida and became snowbirds. “We had a cottage near Peterborough for many years,” Peter said, “but the winters were starting to get to us. We sold the cottage and made the decision to buy a place down south. Both of us consider being active and healthy very important, so it’s perfect to be here spending a lot of time outside.”

Looking ahead to the future, Peter and Thelma want more than anything else to continue spending quality time with their family. They have strong bonds with their sons and daughters-in-law and cherish time with the grandchildren. They also long for one last big family vacation.

The couple plans to continue volunteering with the OSCC and taking part in the social activities the community offers. “They are the best senior centre in the province,” Thelma said. “For the membership price and the social and health and wellness programs on offer, it just cannot be beat.”

What makes the family and volunteering time most special for Thelma and Peter is being able to do it together. “We have our moments, of course, like every couple,” Thelma said. “But we never go to bed mad at each other. That’s a big thing for us. We can also laugh with each other and at each other, which is important because life can be pretty serious and you have to learn to look on the lighter side.

“If we’ve learned anything through COVID,” she added, “it’s that we need to look more at what we have and less at what we don’t have. In many ways we have been blessed and for that we are thankful.”