Editor’s Note: Peggy Drexler is a research psychologist and the author of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family” and “Raising Boys Without Men.” She is at work on a book about how women are conditioned to compete with one another and what to do about it. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers. View more opinion on CNN.
This just in from the aspirational marriage report… there’s a couple in California who has been happily married for 67 years. In what has become viral news, the pair told reporters that the key to their union is that they pray together, sing around town in their acapella group of two, the “Singing Chaplains,” and—the real piece de resistance—wear matching outfits.
Yes, for their entire married lives, Rosemary Klontz has been picking out Francis Klontz’s clothes every morning to match her own. As Francis told a local news station, “She just lays it out for me, and I don’t have to worry about a thing.”
Why do we love these stories so? Whenever one emerges, in which a jolly pair of lovebirds in their twilight years shares the secrets of their lasting marriage, the exemplary couple’s story tends to function in two ways:
On the one hand, it offers some genuinely good morsels about how lifetime commitments work, and indeed in the Klontz’s story we see elements of compromise, compatibility, and consistency.
On the other, stories like this can offer up a good excuse for anyone who has been less successful in long-term marriage. If you’re not inclined to dress up like your spouse’s twin and harmonize in public settings—and most of us likely aren’t—a story like this can be reassurance that, well, lifetime marriage truly is a miracle, and if this is what “‘til death do us part” takes, no wonder so many of us can’t quite hack it.
Of course, there are a few things to remember here. First of all, just because a couple is beaming and trilling at nearly 70 years of marriage doesn’t mean it was always that way. One study published last year found that for couples who stayed the course, their measures of happiness tended to dip pretty intensely between 10 and 20 years of marriage. Happiness later improved significantly after 20 years of marriage.
We know that the Klontzes like to dress alike, but no telling what they went through in the many decades of their marriage.
That said, there are a few aspects of their relationship that speak well for them, statistically (and it’s not just sartorial compatibility). For one, couples who share a religion and worship together tend to be more satisfied. In a Pew Research Center report, two-thirds of respondents credited their successful marriages to shared religious beliefs.
Likewise, researchers have long known that couples with shared hobbies tend to be happier, which means that the Klontzes’ choral crooning probably serves a valuable purpose in their relationship. Their engagement with their community is yet another marker for successful longtime love.
Lastly, while the Klontzes’ enjoyment of matching outfits may seem like a silly quirk that few among us would want to replicate, it does show that they’re invested in each other’s happiness and the traditions of their togetherness. In the end, after all, contentment is a decision; a choice most of us choose to make, or don’t. And while the Klontzes (literally) wear their…eccentricity out there for everyone to see, most happy couples have funny foibles that they share every day to remind them that they’re in it together.
The lesson? Tend to the weird, special traditions in your relationship, whatever they are. They could very well be the ones you’re telling a reporter about on your own 70th wedding anniversary.