Torah Musings: Marriage Advice from a Woman Married 67 Years


Marriage Advice from a Woman Married 67 Years

Sarah Pachter

I once walked into a Pilates class and saw a woman in her eighties waiting to begin. Oh boy, I thought, I signed up for the wrong class—this is going to be too easy.

Well, I was in for a shock! As the instructor pushed us to our limits, I needed a break. While pausing momentarily, I glanced towards Miss 80-something, and she was keeping up like it was no sweat. I kept thinking, If this lady is doing it, I have to keep going!

Physical aptitude wasn’t the only thing that impressed me about Leona Fallas, 84. As I continued taking classes and seeing her more often, I noticed that she always looked radiant. Her smile and chipper attitude bring positive energy into any room she enters. I secretly wondered where this energy, both physical and emotional, came from.

With one foot out the door after class one morning, I overheard her say that her 67th wedding anniversary was coming up. That bit of information stopped me in my tracks. I immediately turned around and asked Leona for an interview. I knew that with her positive energy, physical prowess, and successful marriage, she would share much that I, and my readers, could learn.

Positive Energy

Leona has an upbeat aura around her. She claims, “I just like people, that’s all! And it’s not that I’m such an optimistic person; it’s that I’m very fortunate.”

Leona has experienced major life challenges, including health issues, and yet throughout our conversation, she kept reiterating how blessed she is, particularly regarding her life’s trajectory with her husband.

A native of Brooklyn, she moved to Los Angeles at the age of six. She met her husband through her older brother, who had served in the army with him.

“I met him when I was 15 years old and he came to visit my brother. The summer I turned 18, we started dating. We were maintaining a long-distance romance through writing and calling, and then he wanted to come into town to propose. Our plan was to continue a long-distance relationship after the engagement.”

Her aunt said, “That’s ridiculous, let them get married and go back together [to Pittsburgh].” So, her mother organized a wedding in only ten days’ time!

Initially, they resided in Pittsburgh, but moved back to Los Angeles shortly after, living with Leona’s parents. Her husband worked at a retail store in Pasadena, and eventually they were able to rent a house. They began to open numerous stores of their own, and Leona would work at one while he worked at another. Finally, they saved enough money for a down payment on a house.

Leona and her husband, Joe, who are cornerstones of the Jewish community, described that there were times when business wasn’t so good. She said, “There were bus strikes, and business was horrible. However, my husband’s father had a good name in the community, and therefore, people were willing to sell him quality merchandise because of his family’s good reputation.”

This jump-started their ability to grow a business while simultaneously building a family. Together, they have four children, each with families of their own now. Leona ascribes their success in both business and marriage to mazal (good fortune), health, and a common bond of religion and values. The fact that she feels so blessed despite life’s challenges is a testament to her buoyancy.

Physical Prowess

Watching Leona’s strength and agility while working out, I asked her if she was always active. I was surprised when she told me she only began exercising later in life.

After a few operations at the age of 40, Leona decided she needed to focus on her health. She described, “The time was going to pass, and it would either be spent waiting for surgeries and in doctor’s offices or it would be spent working out. I decided to take the bull by the horns and begin an exercise regimen. I initiated with aerobics, and later incorporated strength training, yoga, and Pilates.”

Health is something that Leona does not take for granted, but perhaps caring for her health has enriched her life in more ways than she realizes. Laura Doyle, the bestselling author of Empowered Wife, claims self-care is one of the six tools necessary to create a successful and intimate marriage. When your cup is full, and you are healthy, you exude happiness. This affects your relationship.

This leads me to…

Successful Marriage

At my wedding shower, guests wrote marriage advice on a piece of paper, and I was asked to read each note out loud.

While this was happening, I had flashbacks to my sister-law’s shower, when she was to marry my brother. My unconventional teenage advice to her had been, “Don’t look at his feet.” I’m pretty sure she didn’t appreciate that, and I hoped that karma wouldn’t return that “favor” as I was about to open my advice notes. Luckily, I opened my first note and read the traditional advice, “Never go to sleep angry.”

Leona firmly believes that this advice is simply not true and claims the secret to a successful marriage is just the opposite. “I think it’s all right if you have to go to bed angry. You don’t have to make everything ‘lovey-dovey’ or smooth things over. If it’s important, it will be there tomorrow.”

She went on to explain, “If it’s important, it can wait, and if not, it will disappear. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. They love you, and you love them.”

Leona continued to expound on this idea. “Put on the brakes. Sometimes your spouse will do something you’re not happy about, but don’t jump. The first answer isn’t always the best answer.”

When I asked Leona to give a tangible example of this idea, she opened up about a vulnerable experience in her younger years. “Many years ago, I remember wanting to leave. I don’t remember what exactly transpired, but I was upset in the relationship.” Leona chuckled quietly as she reminisced over this and continued to describe the memory: “I decided I wanted to head down to Palm Springs, where we had a vacation condo, to get a break and think for myself. I even started driving down the highway. As I drove, I started thinking, ‘What’s the matter with you? Get yourself back on track, turn around…’ And so, I came home.

“Sometimes. if you bring something out into the open, it can backfire because it’s too early or too fast. Swallow your words and reap the rewards. You’re not always on the same page, not always feeling good together, but give each other the benefit of the doubt.

“My partner is a very strong person and often takes the lead. Sometimes this can be challenging, but it also has many benefits and serves him well in business.

“Marriage requires commitment. As with everything in marriage, there are good times and bad times. I’ve learned how to navigate him and go along for the ride. He is a strong individual and has done much good for the community.”

She recommends holding a gut reaction at bay and waiting to respond. The first answer isn’t always the best answer.

“We all get tired. We all have times when our mates won’t be doing or saying the right thing, at the right time. Relax. Marriage is an investment.”

When I asked Leona what she felt her husband did right in maintaining a successful marriage, she said it was undoubtedly his positivity.

“My husband had a road map. He knew his end goal and let nothing negative get in his way. I’m very proud of his accomplishments. He sustained a synagogue and started a school [Gindi Maimonides].”

It seems that for Leona, her marriage adds to her cheerfulness and health, and cyclically her health and positivity reinvigorate her marriage.

Leona’s ultimate message is that marriage and life can be hard. But when we count our blessings, take care of our physical health, and reinvigorate our commitment, we too can have a lasting marriage of happiness.