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Valentine’s Day may be all about flowers, chocolate hearts, teddy bears and sweet words in pretty cards, but the love that can withstand sickness, money woes and domestic conflict is true love. Three couples who’ve been married for over 25 years talk about how they made their love, and marriages, last.
Trust the basis of couple’s happiness
Billy and Tintswalo Matjeke, who live in Soweto and together own an insurance brokerage there, have been married for 30 years, and today they are proud grandparents of two. They have two children, a daughter and son.
Neither of them had had any love interest before they met, and for Billy, it was “love at first sight”.
“Tintswalo was going off to a wedding. She looked beautiful. I followed her, walking behind and asking to talk to her,” Billy recalls.
A love affair followed, but it took a little longer for Tintswalo to realise that Billy was “the one”.
“The love connection grew over time for me,” she says.
Tintswalo saw Billy was a “caring, loving man”.
“He is also a humble person,” she says.
In Tintswalo, Billy saw a “beautiful, sympathetic, good lady”. He says: “She was a smiling, approachable, trustful lady.”
But tough times lay ahead, and in the early years of marriage money was tight. Tintswalo also fell seriously ill at one stage, but this made Billy realise “how important she is in my life”.
Children can break a marriage “if the parents don’t make decisions together”, says Tintswalo.
“But they can also make your marriage, when you see them do the right thing and follow your example, and your lifestyle. That is a wonderful reward,” she says.
The tools they learnt to use in facing rough seas were communication and courage, says Billy. “We communicate, we deal with problems and tackle the issues. We also acknowledge our differences, and forgive each other all the time.
“From time to time we compliment each other.”
As time passed and Billy and Tintswalo achieved in their jobs, the money issues diminished and living became easier.
“But our relationship is not based on money. We are devoted Christians, and one of the things we do to stay close is we pray together,” Tintswalo says. Unfaithfulness, says Billy, would break their marriage. “Trust is very important in our marriage. It would be over if there were no trust,” he says.
And unlike strictly traditional marriages, Billy has been happy to lend a hand in the kitchen or help take the kids to school. “Separate roles are not important for us. Anyone can do any duty as long as he or she is available to do that role,” he says.
‘Dialogue and perseverance are key’
Yuven and Vanitha Gounden, from Tshwane, have been married for 30 years and have four grown-up children. They met while still at school, but it was only when Yuven had finished university and started his career as a teacher in 1980 that they began a romantic affair.
He had two girlfriends in the interim, but he confides it was “love at first sight” back then in school.
“I noticed him when he came to my house to borrow a biology textbook,” recalls Vanitha, an advocate working for the Gauteng province, but she says it was not love at first sight. “I was fascinated by his facial features and loved fooling around with him. My love for him certainly grew over time.”
When they married years later, however, it proved a big adjustment. Vanitha says it was tough for her “as the mother of the household constantly trying to balance my challenging career in the legal profession with being a wife, lover, friend and mother of four children”.
“It was the love and commitment we have for each other and as a family that pulled us through,” she says.
Adds Yuven, a communications project manager: “I came from a conservative background, but we grew to accept our differences. We were able to build bridges and, through our four beautiful and talented children, we have built the proverbial nest and one very happy family. Nobody dares mess with us!”
He says he admired Vanitha for always doing the right thing, but still being easygoing. “Thanks to her, I am more relaxed. I am able to discard my shoes and walk barefoot and wear shorts, something I did not do before. She also cultivated a loving home atmosphere.”
The Goundens have also known difficult financial times, especially when their two oldest children were in primary school, says Vanitha. “But we supported each other and worked towards a common goal for the betterment of the family.”
Dialogue and perseverance were the tools they used to navigate troublesome times, Yuven says.
Their children, they both agree, were a wonderful glue in their marriage. “They can really make marriage rewarding, especially when they do us proud and we can boast many accolades. We have a daughter who is a computer engineer, a son who is a lawyer, a student daughter studying to become an educator, and a son who is in Grade 11,” says Yuven. Vanitha agrees: “Children have greatly enhanced our marriage. They have benefited from our love and commitment to each other, and we have provided them with a stable home wherein they have flourished in their careers.”
Yuven’s diagnosis with diabetes and his admission to hospital with appendicitis also brought them closer, says Vanitha.
In their marriage, although traditional husband and wife roles have worked well, there is a lot of give and take. “Without shared responsibilities, I would not have been able to study as a full-time student. I love Yuven deeply for the opportunity he afforded me to continue with my studies while he took care of the children after his hectic days at school,” says Vanitha.
She had an opportunity to reciprocate when Yuven changed jobs in 2000 and moved into a corporate environment. “My wife then assumed more home and family responsibility,” he says.
The deal-breakers in their marriage are infidelity and dishonesty. “This would destroy what we have,” says Yuven.
Their keys to lasting love? Commitment, love, respect, honesty, perseverance and, not least, faithfulness.
‘Love sustained by faith, laughter’
Cathy and Kelvin Dippnall, from Cape Town, have been married for 35 years and have two grown-up children. They headed down the aisle after a “short whirlwind romance”, says Cathy, who owns an events company.
Cathy was 23, and had had a couple of serious boyfriends before she met Kelvin. He was 24 and had also had a few girlfriends. But when they met, at exactly 3pm at a Rotary fun day called Odd Ball Olympics, the game was really on.
“It was love at first sight. Who can resist a man who comes up to you at the braai and says: ‘Will you look after my wors?’ “ she laughs.
“Yes, I knew from the moment we met that this was the woman I wanted to share the rest of my life with,” says Kelvin, a former corporate manager who now works with his wife.
“We were like soulmates, like we had known each other all our lives. That, and being head over heels in love and lust. We would have got married within weeks, but living together was out because his mother would have disembowelled me. So we waited six months before we married,” recalls Cathy.
Kelvin has learnt to be tolerant of Cathy’s little ways, like never drawing the curtains properly. “He also knows when I’ve been in his wallet,” she laughs.
What they’ve learnt to appreciate is their differences. “Kelvin is logical and methodical. I’m a scatterbrain,” she says.
“We’ve had financial and health problems. But what pulled us through is, first, we both came from homes where our parents had long married lives, so it was natural for us to draw closer as a family.
“Second, we came from Christian backgrounds, then lapsed, but trauma brought us back into the Christian life, where we have continued to draw strength. Third, we are survivors,” says Cathy.
The trauma was Kelvin’s quadruple heart bypass several years ago.
“I was devastated at the thought of losing him. When I felt like running away from life and marriage problems, I then considered: ‘How would I have felt if I was seriously ill and my husband gave up on me and left?’ We love and care about each other, so running off is not an option,” says Cathy.
Adds Kelvin: “During my time in ICU, I had an opportunity to reflect on just what an impact the heart attack had on Cathy and the family. We drew even closer together.”
As for children, Kelvin says it takes “great strength to bring up children without alienating one’s partner somewhere along the way. But children of a family are your future. Invest in them wisely and the marriage will grow stronger.”
The deal-breaker in the Dippnall marriage is infidelity. “I would also not tolerate violence and immorality,” says Cathy.
The qualities that have made it last? They say it’s tenderness, love, friendship and respect. “And laughter – that one especially,” adds Cathy. - The Star