Married for 50 years and counting. What’s their secret?


Mr Haji Supahat Haji Mohamed and Madam Hajjah Siti Sa'oodah Haji Kassim say their love deepened after they had children. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Three couples who have been together for at least five decades share advice

Fifty years ago, attitudes towards marriage and dating were different.

Families were often heavily involved in one's choice of partner.

Sociologist Nilanjan Raghunath says: "Typically, marriages were not just between individuals, but also between families. You got married to fulfil a role as a dutiful daughter or son."

In some ways, these norms increased the chances of marital longevity.

"Whereas now, people don't always date with a view towards marriage - that was not the case then. I think the term 'courtship' would be more appropriate.

"Divorce was a taboo. It was like breaking the family apart," says Dr Raghunath, an assistant professor of sociology at Singapore University of Technology and Design.

The three couples featured here, who have been married for 50 years or longer, are renewing their marital commitment later this year at the Golden Jubilee Wedding Celebrations.

Organised by the Registry of Marriages and Registry of Muslim Marriages, this year's is the third edition of the event under the I Still Do campaign.

Launched by the Families for Life Council, I Still Do is an annual initiative that celebrates love and marriage.

Asked to share words of advice for marital longevity, the couples interviewed by The Sunday Times all speak of the need for tolerance and a willingness to take on challenges as a team.

They speak of their children as a joy in their union. Their faces light up whenever they talk about their children, who are now grown up.

While expressions of physical affection are rare for their generation, actions often speak louder than words.

Singapore Management University sociologist Paulin Straughan says: "The demonstration of love then was not as overt and certainly was not seen in public."

Love was shown in providing for the family, in domestic care and in fidelity, she says.

"After marriage, you fall in love more," says Madam Hajjah Siti Sa'oodah Haji Kassim , 77.

Mr Haji Supahat Haji Mohamed, 84, and Madam Hajjah Siti Sa'oodah Haji Kassim, 77, married in 1965. They have three children and nine grandchildren. The secret to their 55-year marriage is being mindful of seeing the best in each other.

1. Know your spouse's family

Madam Sa'oodah was once engaged for three years until her fiance then called things off.

She had already prepared her wedding outfit.

"I was broken-hearted. I told my mother I did not want to find someone else," she recalls.

When she was about 21, she was out near the old Esplanade Park when she caught Mr Supahat's eye.

He surreptitiously passed her a note with his name and telephone number before slipping away. But she did not want to meet him as she felt her mother would disapprove.

A while later, they met again at a dance she performed in - a mutual friend was part of her dancing group. She felt it was "meant to be".

"Before getting engaged, it is good to know who the man's family is, who the people surrounding him are. For my first engagement, his family was in Malaysia," she says.

2. Keep marital problems to yourself

The couple faced financial difficulties early in their marriage and had to borrow a few hundred dollars from their friends in the 1970s.

Mr Supahat worked as a fireman and Madam Sa'oodah worked at different times as a hotel chambermaid and bus conductor while raising their children.

They believe that marital challenges should be kept private. "Don't complain to anyone else. Work it out together," he says.

His wife says: "It's important to trust each other and to think before you speak."

3. Children are central

The couple say their love deepened when children came along and they appreciated each other as parent and spouse.

Madam Sa'oodah recalls how he used to cook nasi goreng and soup for her after she gave birth.

He cherished how well she took care of him and their offspring.

She says of marital longevity: "Remind yourself of the goodness of the other person, regardless of anything he may have done wrong."

Mr Kanna Veerappan and Madam A. Nyanamani Sankaram Arodalu appreciate what each contributes to the family. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Mr Kanna Veerappan, 79, and Madam A. Nyanamani Sankaram Arodalu, 78, married in 1965. They have three sons and six grandchildren. The secret to their 55-year match made union? Working as a team.

1. Have a spirit of compromise

When Madam Nyanamani was introduced to her future husband at the age of 24 by their relatives, she thought he looked like a "gangster".

"He was handsome and he had a gold tooth," she recalls.

"My aunt said she can cook," remembers Mr Kanna, a retiree whose past jobs include working at a laundry, hotel and car wash.

Madam Nyanamani was shy when they met, but after they wed months later, they got to know each other better.

"At first, we didn't know what to talk about, but over time, we enjoyed talking to each other, especially about the children," says the housewife.

Fights are inevitable in any long union, Mr Kanna says. "Give and take, then you will have a happy life."

2. Hardship strengthened them

The couple appreciate what each contributes to the family.

Mr Kanna says: "She takes care of everything, cooks, sews. I worked hard too."

When money was tight, Madam Nyanamani once took a night job at a factory.

"We wanted to buy things for the children, but we could not. It was sad. But we bonded through all the struggle," she says.

3. Steal a moment away together

Madam Nyanamani fondly remembers how they sometimes took a walk by themselves to reconnect with each other.

"It's good to have more heart-to-heart talks," she says.

Mr Seow Cheong Choon and Madam Lee Geok Hua share a common love of art. PHOTO: SONG TAO FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Mr Seow Cheong Choon, 83, and Madam Lee Geok Hua, 72, married in 1969. They have two children in their 40s and a 12-year-old grandson. Their secret to a long, happy marriage? Live and let live.

1. Don't have unrealistic expectations

A simple lifestyle goes hand in hand with realistic expectations for marriage, according to the couple.

As Mr Seow, a retired art teacher and artist, puts it: "We don't have overly high expectations. You are who you are and I am who I am."

When they started their courtship in 1966, Madam Lee was working as a clerk.

She knew Mr Seow through their primary school alumni association and asked him to translate some Chinese documents into English, which he did using a dictionary.

Although he asked her out for a wuxia (Chinese for martial arts) movie on their first date, they often went on long walks subsequently, viewing the billboards outside cinemas along the way. They were too poor to buy movie tickets most of the time.

Two years later after they registered their marriage, her employer sponsored four tables at a restaurant for their wedding dinner.

The couple still live simply, sometimes sharing a plate of fried rice for dinner.

2. Common interests help

Madam Lee has learnt to paint and do calligraphy from Mr Seow, who specialises in both art forms.

"Having a common interest helps strengthen the marriage," he says.

They still keep some of their paintings at home, including two still-life ones of beh teh saw - a Hokkien pastry - that were painted decades apart.

3. Be there for each other

Mr Seow recalls how his wife was once ill with jaundice for a month in the 1960s and how he took her to several doctors. Such incidents show their care for each other, say the couple.

Married life also has its inevitable frustrations.

When Mr Seow had bouts of bad temper in the past, Madam Lee sometimes found that silence was golden, prudently ignoring him till the storm passed.

Madam Lee, a retiree who has previously also worked as a seamstress, cleaner and fast-food restaurant employee, says: "I'm more easygoing. There's no need to bother about trivial things."


This article is produced in partnership with ST Life.

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