This article is the 27th in a series profiling couples who have been married for at least 35 years. As sociologist Mark Regnerus writes, “Young adults want to know that it’s possible for two fellow believers to stay happy together for a lifetime, and they need to hear how the generations preceding them did it.” It is also important to see that marriages are not always happy all the time, but commitment is crucial.
SUWANEE, Ga.—Sam and Mary Ester Council’s marriage was statistically DOA. They were both 17, freshmen in college, when Mary became pregnant. Abortion was illegal at the time but readily available. They chose to keep the child and get married, and their 42-year marriage has not just survived, but flourished.
Young. Still in school. Living in a trailer in the back yard of parents who initially opposed their relationship. Both Sam and Mary say their parents were controlling. Growing up, Sam developed a “renegade spirit,” which helped him understand that for their relationship to survive, they had to move away. Seven years into their marriage, they did.
Although physically distant from their parents, they continued to feel their influence. Mary grew up with an emotionally distant father and developed insecurities. She transferred her feelings for her father onto Sam and hovered over him. Not surprisingly, he reacted in anger.
It took a lot of patience on Sam’s part, and years of counseling on Mary’s, but the Councils now have a trusting relationship. Sam participates in team Adventure Racing events that can take him away from Mary for up to 10 days. Mary participates to the extent that she can in Sam’s outdoor activities, but is secure in their relationship when he is away.
They have also had to work through different approaches to problem solving. When they moved away from their hometown, Sam’s attitude was, “We’re moving, we’ll work out the details.” Mary, however, obsessed over details: “Where are we going to live? How much will it cost? Who is going to take care of the kids while we move?” Both had to understand and appreciate the other’s approach.
Humor plays a large part in their success, and they are careful not to take themselves too seriously. For years, and without realizing it, when Mary was piqued at Sam while riding in the car, she would snap her head to the right and stare out the window. One day Sam called her on it. It became a joke between them, and now, when she disagrees with Sam about something, serious or not, she flips her head dramatically, chin up, as if to say, “I’m not talking to you.”
Even when they haven’t particularly “liked” each other, Sam and Mary have maintained a steadfast concern for each other, and what was best for each other.