By CHRISTINE BARCIA
Reminders of love flourish during the month of February. Hearts, roses, chocolates and cards are all reminders surrounding the celebration of Valentine’s Day.
As the calendar approaches Feb. 14, love, especially romantic love, takes center stage, and couples exchange gifts as a symbol of their commitment to each other.
Some area couples who have been married for more than 50 years revealed their secrets for a lasting union.
“We’ve always been real good to each other,” said Oriel Cohen, who has been married to his wife, Loretta, for 59 years.
Jackson residents Oriel and Loretta met when they were students at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn.
“She (Loretta) saw me play percussion instruments and said ‘I have to meet this guy,'” Oriel said.
After dating and becoming engaged over the course of four years, the couple married on Jan. 12, 1957. “We did everything together, grew up together, matured together,” Oriel said.
That included two daughters, a son and four grandchildren.
Loretta “took care of the children and the home” and later earned a college degree when the children were in school and became an author, according to Oriel, who had a career as an executive retailer for a large department store in New York City.
“We talk for an hour and a half every morning over coffee, even if it’s a subject to improve our marriage,” Oriel said.
That’s good advice based on some key ingredients to a healthy and long-lasting relationship that Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D., a Basking Ridge couples’ therapist and author of Insecure in Love, offered.
“Couples do best when they check in with each other daily to know what each other is up to and to follow up on how things are going. This shows they have an active interest in each other’s life and that they care about each other,” Becker-Phelps said.
Self-described as “off the wall,” Oriel said Loretta is the serious one. He said “every day is an adventure” in his life with Loretta.
“The advice I want to give to anyone reading this is to never stop listening and never stop speaking,” Oriel said.
Communication in relationships requires time. The time to connect is another necessary part of a lasting relationship, Becker-Phelps said.
Al and Mary Mezzo of East Brunswick also know what it takes to stay together. They have been married since Aug. 14, 1949; that’s 66 years.
Al, 90, met Mary, 85, through her brother.
“He (her brother) had to drag his sister to the movies,” Al said. Eventually Al and Mary were paired up at her brother’s wedding, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The couple has two daughters, two sons, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Al said his wife stayed at home with the children, while he worked as a cabinet maker. “She (Mary) is a very devoted person. She cared a lot about the family and raised the kids well,” he said.
“Showing that they (married couples) care and love each other,” Becker-Phelps said, is another important ingredient to a lasting marriage.
“We were very happy together and still are. We were made for each other,” Al said.
Jim and Helen Grieco of Edison have also shared a long married life together since Sept. 22, 1956.
Jim, 90, and Helen, 85, met through their families.
“His (Jim’s) sister married my brother,” Helen said.
With a daughter, a son (now deceased) and two grandchildren, Jim and Helen balanced family and work responsibilities.
“I stayed home until the children were 12 to 14 years old, then worked at a dress shop and then in quality control. Jim worked in the cable industry,” Helen said.
Each enjoyed friends and clubs along the way, according to Helen.
“We never stopped each other from doing something,” Helen said.
That’s another key to a long marriage, according to Becker-Phelps.
“Developing an interdependent relationship in which each person pursues their own interests, but also relies on their partner for encouragement, support and comfort through difficulties is an important component to an enduring marriage, ” Becker-Phelps said.
“We had our ups and downs, but they were things you could iron out,” Helen said.
Barbara Rosenberg, a Summit psychologist whose practice includes couples’ therapy, said through the years, couples should allow each other to grow and learn by developing new interests, new careers, new skills and new friends.
“Try to mature both as unique individuals as well as two individuals together. Changes in personal needs and values are inevitable. Allow your marriage to accommodate reasonably to these changes, while at the same time cherishing the time-honored traditions,” Becker-Phelps said.
Other words of advice from Rosenberg, who just celebrated 50 years of marriage to her husband, include recognizing the fact that mistakes will be made along the way; developing the ability to work as a team when faced with problems; respecting and liking each other as individuals; and taking pride in the relationship.
Fred and Connie Barcia of Red Bank are proud of their 61-year marriage. The pair met in the neighborhood in which they grew up in New York City. Married on June 2, 1954, Fred, who was an attorney, and Connie, a homemaker, have five daughters, a son and 15 grandchildren.
“Airing out problems,” Connie said, has kept the couple together throughout the years.
“It’s best to discuss your problems instead of harboring resentment. Sometimes the discussion gets heated and solved; sometimes it doesn’t, then you live with it and try to get along with your differences,” Connie said.
Sharing “family values,” Fred said, continues to keep him connected to Connie.
According to Rosenberg, this is a necessary component of a lasting marriage as common “personal values and interests helps a couple remain connected over time.”
Ben and Marilyn Gerbino of Middletown have had that connection for 64 years.
Married on Oct. 20, 1951, the pair met at a dance in Jersey City and have been together ever since then.
With two sons, a daughter and three grandsons, Ben and Marilyn agreed that a sense of humor is necessary. “It helps when the down times come,” Marilyn said.
Sharing an interest in “music, church and football,” she said, has kept them close.
“I’m still crazy about him,” Marilyn said.