Irish celebs reveal the secrets to a long lasting marriage

Alice Carey and Geoffrey Knox feature in Advanced Love. Photo: Ari Seth Cohen

A new book explores the secret to a long lasting relationship – by asking couples that have spent decades together to share their love stories. Ciara McDonnell reports

A successful marriage involves talking. Lots of talking So says Marty Whelan, veteran broadcaster and husband of 33 years to Maria.

“The thing about us is that we are always chatting about something,” he laughs down the phone line. The couple got married in 1985, but met almost a decade before that in 1974 at the now defunct Grove disco. “We started talking then and we never stopped.

“Of course, as you go on in life, you get to know each other’s moods; when someone is down or in a spot of trouble – that’s all part of it, you know?”

Longstanding love is the subject of photographer Ari Seth Cohen’s latest book, Advanced Love. Profiling 40 couples to whom love is not bound by age or time, the book explores themes of love and companionship through first person accounts from the couples themselves, as they muse about lives spent together.

Ari Seth Cohen, author of Advanced Love. Picture: Randy Shropshire/Getty Images

Cohen’s inspiration comes from the love that he observed between his grandparents. “The image of my grandparents holding hands lovingly and laughing at one another’s jokes will forever be ingrained in my memory,” he explains.

All my grandparents stayed together until the end of their lives. They were madly in love. This kind of love seems to becoming more rare these days.

The 35-year old Cohen learned a lot about love while making the book. While making it, he found himself in his first long-term relationship, and he nurtured this newfound love with lessons he gleaned from the senior set.

“So much about staying vital is linked to having a sense of community, whether it be family, friends, a pet, or a partner,” he suggests.

“The men and women I met through this project served as the perfect guides to understanding what it takes to commit to a long lasting relationship. Advanced Love is filled with great insight, but most importantly it shows that it’s never too late to find love, that love is imperfect and reliant on constant communication, empathy, and a sense of humour.”

“Oh God, you have to have the craic,” agrees Marty. “We are very lucky, Maria and I, because we both have an active sense of the absurd and a similar sense of humour and we make each other laugh, often. That’s a great thing to be able to say and it’s very important, I think.”

Laughter, says psychoanalyst and former RTÉ newsreader Michael Murphy, is key to making a marriage work in the long term. Murphy has been with his husband Terry for 34 years, and they laugh every day.

Michael Murphy and Terry O’Sullivan on their wedding day. Photo: Stephen Collins

“We have little disagreements certainly, but we have a good sense of humour about ourselves when we are making a point, and that always helps.”

The couple met when Michael was working with RTÉ as a director/producer on a programme called Agenda. “Terry was working in The Rutland Centre at that time and we did a programme there on addiction.”

Over the years, Michael left broadcasting to train as a psychoanalyst, and the couple run a successful practice from Dublin.

“I also think that partly a relationship can succeed when the people are very different, and we are very different people,” says Terry.

“We each have a different response to life and we live as much in the day as we possibly can. I’ve had a long career of working with people who are either alcoholics or drug dependent and that is one of the things that I have learned from them.

You can be successful in your life if you keep it very much in the day and don’t let your neurosis and all the rest of it run away with you.

Alice Carey, an Irish American and author of memoir Manhattan To West Cork (Collins Press) is featured in Advanced Love with her husband Geoffrey Knox. Carey has always railed against conformity, and it was no different when considering marriage during the mid 1970s.

“Having to buy a thirty-five-dollar license seemed a barbaric throwback to times when a wife was considered her husband’s chattel. So Geoffrey and I lived blissfully “in sin” until 20 years later, when I succumbed to marriage.”

Alice and Geoffrey were obvious choices, says Cohen, when he was compiling his wish list for Advanced Love.

“I have known them for years, ever since my first book,” he explains. “They are just wonderfully supportive of one another’s passions, always encouraging one another to be more thoughtful, and creative. True soul mates who are also very honest about the struggles that come with long lasting love.”

Alice says that installing a few key relationship rules have kept her and Geoffrey on the straight and narrow since they got together all those years ago.

“Make love as often as you can in ways that give equal pleasure to both,” she orders.

Turn off the telly and sit on the couch together of an evening and talk. Always call each other by their first name - not sweet heart or darling - so you really connect with the person you’re talking to.

Finally, Alice says that the key to a long relationship is in making plans.

“Make long term-plans, both fanciful and practical, for five and ten years so you know where you’re headed together.”

Michael and Terry agree with Alice about the importance of making plans.

“We always like to have a few lighthouses along the way; things to look forward to,” says Michael. “For example, we are both very interested in music and there is a Bach festival in Germany in Weimar and we have that booked for Easter.”

Above all, they say, is to find a way to be kind to each other every single day.

“We are both very kind and we have a respect and admiration for each other. That’s very important. We have been very lucky because we really admire each other and the work that we do,” points out Michael.

Marty Whelan and his wife Maria Whelan at an opening night at The Bord Gais Energy Theatre. Photo: Brian McEvoy

For Marty Whelan, one of the great joys of his marriage to Maria has been the family that they have created together.

“My daughter Jessica is 28 and my son Thomas is 25 and they still live at home. They are our friends as well as our children. They live independently of us, and we all get on very well.

We are so aware of how lucky we are to get on the way we do. We have very few fallings out in our home, and we are so grateful for that.

As Marty and Maria celebrate their fourth decade together, Marty is in love with his bride as much today as on the day they married.

“She is very dark and she’s very Italian looking and I have a thing about all things Italian. Maria has lovely eyes and long brown hair and that’s what made me fall for her. As the fella says, the rest followed.”

As a result of meeting the couples in his book, Ari Seth Cohen has come to one conclusion about love that lasts, and that is that it must be grounded in one thing, in order to stay the course.

“Each couple that I met has different story and a different balance between them, but I think a deep respect for one another is definitely one commonality that I noticed between them.”

So what should we look for in a mate for life? What is the key to long-lasting love? The answer, says Alice Carey, is simple. Seek out a person who you enjoy spending time with and you will find true love.

“I have fewer years ahead of me than I have behind me. What I have is a man who I love, but like even more.”

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