Oh, they’re poles apart! Agnes is the serious one, the loner, the introvert, while Jon, her husband, is the outgoing, friendly extrovert. She’s kuripot, thinking a hundred times before making a purchase, even for something as small as a toothbrush. Jon is the impulsive spender. She thinks and plans; Jon acts right away. She’s the disciplinarian mom, and Jon the playful dad. She hates crowds; he delights in them. She’s the first to exit from a party while Jon is usually one of the last to leave. Jon can work with everything going haywire around him, while she needs all the concentration she can muster.

“If marriage was founded on compatibility, we would never have made it beyond the first months,” Agnes says. But, hey, they have been at it for more than a decade, and their union is still going strong. Rock-solid, you might say.

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How can two individuals with vastly contrasting personalities stick it out for the long haul, 11 years to be exact, and still love each other deeply?

Carol asks a similar question, taking into account her manifest incompatibility with Boy, her husband of 14 years. “My husband’s the gourmet. He iron clothes better than I do. He sews better too. Curtains, pants, shorts, you name it, he can make it. He keeps house better than I can. ‘Yung mabango pa para sa ‘kin, hindi na para sa kanya. He’s the organizer; I’m the scatterbrain. Maglilinis siya magkakalat ako. Magpaplansta ako, uulitin nya.

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Stories of marital success are wonderful to hear, especially in today’s times when more and more couples head for Splitsville rather than a lifetime of togetherness. But what makes for a long, fulfilling union? Four happy pairs share their experiences and their secrets for keeping the home fires burning. May their lessons and discoveries serve you well.

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Accept Your Spouse—Warts and All
Through the years, Carol and Boy Caaway have done just that—learned to accept their individual differences. “You have to be more flexible. To accept things as they are. To stop trying to wish things were different. That your husband was different. That your marriage was different. That you were different,” Carol says.

Of course, it also pays to value yourself. This Carol considers a key to a long-lasting marriage: “That despite your own failings, your flaws, you are somebody special. God put you here for a purpose. And that purpose is always good.”

A full-time mom, Carol at first had to deal with feelings that ran the gamut from boredom to insecurity—until she realized how privileged she was to be a stay-at-home wife and mother. “It’s God-given and should therefore be treasured. ‘Pag ganyan ang outlook mo and full-time wife and mommy ka, you will be happy. A happy wife makes a happy home,” she philosophizes.

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Agnes and Jon Malinis also know the value of realistic expectations. “In many situations in our life as a couple, we have tried to let our individual strengths and weaknesses work for us instead of allowing them to be a cause of tension or conflict,” explains Agnes. She gives an example: “In attending to the household chores, I have given up on letting Jon to the laundry or ironing because he never did those chores in his growing-up years. It would only frustrate me if I expected him to come up with perfectly ironed clothes.

“But because he is truly handy guy when it comes to fixing up the house and taking care of the kids, then I expect him to help in those areas. In the same manner, Jon knows I have not much experience in cooking, so he doesn’t expect much from me there. That’s why he eats out a lot,” she says in jest. “Seriously, we think many conflicts in a marriage stem from the couple’s in a marriage stem from the couple’s unrealistic expectations of each other.”

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Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Marital problems are kinks that can be more easily ironed out if only couples would take the time to regularly talk to each other. Chi and real estate executive Danny Mercado, married for 19 years, are firm believers of this. Aside from talking about marriage and family issues as part of daily life, they have also made it a habit to go out on a date—sans the kids, of course—every Monday so they can just bond.

For Agnes and Jon, communication is a major must-do, no matter if it’s painful. “We have agreed to always speak our minds to each other, never mind if what the other one says hurts,” says Agnes “During ‘hurting’ talks, we let the supposedly aggrieved party speak his or her case without interruption. Otherwise, we end up just throwing words at each other without listening to the hurt hidden in the words.”

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Put Family First
This is a principle that happily married couples live by, knowing full well that no amount of communication will make married life succeed if the family is not the couple’s first concern.

When Pacifico and Cely Pablo, both in their 70s, decided to tie the knot 44 years ago, their first concern was to live independent of their parents.

“We were willing to go through difficulty,” says Pacifico, or Pasing. This first step made it easier for them to make tough decisions in the course of building a family. Pasing recalls a time when, almost simultaneously, he lost his job and their house help. Their children were still very young, so husband and wife decided one of them should stay home while the other eked out a living. Pasing was the natural choice.

Three months hence, he was ready to go back to work, but only because they had also found a maid. Cely, a retired private school teacher, also stayed home for a time during the formative years of their six children’s lives.

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It never bothered the couple that the arrangement deprived them of a bigger combined income. Family was always their main priority—a decision they’ve never regretted, they say, as all their five surviving children have grown up to be the responsible and well-established individuals that Pasing and Cely envisioned them to be.

For the Mercados, that family comes first is a non-negotiable—even if it means saying no to their in-laws. Danny and Chi say that it took them years to learn to refuse the requests of extended family, but they knew they had to do it. This included occasionally declining invitations to spend Sundays over in favor of a more intimate family day, or having in-laws stop doing things that undermine the Mercados’ role as parents.

The family, too, is always on top of Agnes and Jon’s list of priorities. “Even before marriage, we made it clear to each other that we would value a solid family and home over everything else, for example, over a more exciting lifestyle or a more impressive career. We agreed that we would try to be with each other and to be with our kids as much as possible. That we would work around difficult work situations (such as overseas employment, further schooling, financial decisions) with our family as the first consideration.”

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Their priorities are clearly identified, albeit is no particular order: build a good home, put the kids in good schools, be there for the children, and contribute significantly to the church. “Keeping these essentials in mind, we found it quite easy to make decisions,” they say. “For example, it was not difficult for us to decide in favor of purchasing our home over buying a car. Or taking out educational plans for the kids instead of traveling.”

Honor Your Vows
Remembering one’s marital vows always, no matter how long you have been married, is a primary ingredient in any fruitful union. Ask Danny and Chi, who to this day remind themselves of the vows they made to each other almost 20 years ago. “They’re not merely words,” stresses Chi. “We must keep them.”

Keep them they did, even when their marriage was on the brink of collapse because of seemingly irresolvable differences. Danny was the jealous type and extremely possessive, and Chi found it difficult to deal with his volatile temper. Holding on to their promises to each other helped them through the difficult times. Today, husband and wife are the picture of a happy couple, with none of the traces of their once turbulent marriage.

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Cely affirms the need for any couple to work hard at keeping their commitment to one another. Without doubt, that commitment has helped a lot not only in making their marriage work, but also in keeping it strong through the past 44 years.

Pray Together
Through the many years of their married life, Cely and Pasing have stuck to a dawn routine: After waking up at 4:30 a.m. every day, they drink coffee together, listen to an early morning Christian program, and then they read the Bible and pray together. “It has brought us closer to each other,” says Cely.

Agnes and Jon do the same, often with their two kids—holding regular family devotions as a measure of their commitment. “God is the fulcrum that evens out our naturally different, and many times differing, personalities,” says Agnes. Danny and Chi echo this sentiment. They, too, pray together as a couple and with their teen kids.

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Boy adds his bit: Recalling the days when nothing seemed to go right with their marriage, he says, “ I don’t know how we could have survived 14 years without God.”

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