Two local couples talk about long-lasting relationships
The key to a long and healthy marriage? Have separate televisions. It worked for Jim and Betty Hensley. I interviewed the Hensleys (married for 47 years), as well as Joanne and Bill Dodge (married for 61 years), on a quest to pick their brains on all things relating to love and relationship longevity.
As a SilverSneakers (think old people fitness) instructor three times a week, I am constantly amazed at the wisdom, practicality and wit of all of my class members. Our society, so obsessed with youth and beauty, loses sight of the gems found all around us in the form of folks who really have seen it all.
Modern culture is not exactly a beacon of relationship expertise, but the amount of refreshing insight to be garnered from two ordinary couples like the Hensleys and Dodges is incredible. So in honor of Valentine’s Day, here are their love stories.
Jim, 70, and Betty, 69, Hensley of Nicholasville have seen it all after 47 years of marriage, two children and five grandchildren.
“With us it’s been a wonderful road, there’s been ups and downs,” Betty reflected. “But mostly it’s good. It takes patience and it takes a lot of forgiveness and a lot of love to get through all of those ups and downs. Things are not always perfect, but more often things are good.”
She continued, “We learned from the beginning that it was our marriage. It wasn’t my marriage or his marriage. So everything was ours from the beginning.”
The couple met in high school and married barely into their 20s. They laugh at the suggestion of getting married young, noting that back then “that is just what you did,” Betty said, adding that she thinks 21 years old in the 1960s was much more mature than 21 now.
Their three-year courtship wasn’t long enough, Jim joked, “because she wasn’t used to my dirty socks on the floor.”
When they married they both worked and Jim was in the Air Force. Eventually he went back to school at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville and became a pastor. He now pastors Liberty Road Community Church in Lexington. Betty completed her undergraduate degree at Georgetown College and graduated the same year that their youngest daughter graduated from high school.
They described their marriage as free from problems too insurmountable because they were always on the same page. In his marriage counseling now, Jim noted the shocking amount of couples who get married but don’t truly merge.
“They have separate bank accounts, separate responsibilities, separate friends,” he said. “We don’t have that problem, because I’m terrible with money and Betty pays all of the bills.”
He joked that to avoid problems, he just did what he was told and that whenever they got mad at each other they just headed to their own corners to cool down rather than screaming it out.
Betty advised that young couples need to quit being self-centered. “It’s not about you anymore,” she said, smiling at Jim.
Jim added that preparing for a marriage these days seems to be more about preparing for the wedding.
“One of the first things I say when people come to marriage counseling is that we need to be preparing for a marriage not a wedding,” he said. “That kind of stuns them a little bit because they have elaborate wedding plans, but they haven’t made out a budget, they haven’t decided where they’re going to live. Plan your marriage rather than your wedding.”
For Jim and Betty a sense of humor is fundamental to their relationship. Jim recalled years of shenanigans with his friends, and added “after I got married I had to repent of a lot of the things I had been doing” and had to straighten up for Betty.
“I’m glad we didn’t have guns in the house,” he joked as she threw him a sharp smirk.
Throughout their marriage the couple also made efforts to give back. At Christmas time, in leu of gifts to each other they make donations to needy people in the community, and throughout the year always make a conscious effort to help others.
Betty’s secrets to marital success also include having a common faith.
“That helped us get through some difficult times,” she noted, adding that it also helps to be “thoughtful, helpful and considerate.”
Jim added that as a man old-fashioned chivalry went a long way in their relationship. He extends it to Betty and anyone else he encounters.
“One time a young lady said, ‘You don’t have to do that,’ when I opened the door for her. I said, ‘Yes but my mother would spank me if I didn’t,’” he laughed.
The Hensleys have a kind of love that ripens with time.
“I love her so much more today and appreciate her so much more that it’s just hard to put into words,” Jim smiled. “And one thing I do like about her is she goes to bed before I do and the bed’s warm.”
Joanne and Bill Dodge