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How to spend 50 years together: A lesson on making romantic relationships work

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WATCH ABOVE: What makes a happy romantic relationship? Kendra Slugoski has advice from a researcher who says it starts with thinking "we" instead of "me." – Dec 14, 2021

Carol and Ed Maggiacomo huddled together in front of their computer screen in Gull Lake, Alta., eager to share with Global News what makes their relationship tick.

The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary earlier this year.

“The 29th of May, 1971,” recalled Carol.

Ed and Carol Maggiacomo were married on May 29, 1971. Supplied

The two were married in Germany, first by the local mayor in one of the towns, then celebrated days later with a church wedding.

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Their early marriage years started with Ed’s career in the military, followed by a contract to coach professional hockey in Denmark.

A journalist by trade, Carol put her career aspirations on hold to live overseas with her husband, but later found work with a publishing company.

After their time in Denmark, the Maggiacomos moved to Iceland where they set down roots for several more years.

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Carol and Ed Maggiacomo in Denmark. The couple lived near Copenhagen for seven years. Supplied
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The Maggiacomo's spent three years living in Reykjavik, Iceland. Supplied

“The military start to our marriage gave us a sense of the flexibility in our marriage,” said Carol.

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“He’s always the better side of me and also just watching him over the years on the number of children he’s impacted,” are just a couple of the qualities Carol said makes Ed easy to love.

Read more: Falling out of love can happen, but some still make marriage work

Over their years in Europe, young men would often stay with them while playing hockey, treating their son, Christopher, like a little brother.

Ed also didn’t hesitate to say why he’s still in love with his wife.

“I respect and love Carol greatly for all the things that she does,” said Ed.

“I’ve always said to people that my wife, ‘You can put my wife in a big box full or rattlesnakes and go away and they’d come back and have socks on them!'”

Ed said Carol “has a great way about her.” She’s a cancer survivor and her upbeat outlook on life always brings people together.

After spending time apart when Ed first settled in Denmark, Carol later joined him and instantly made friends with everyone in the neighbourhood.

“‘Hello Carol from Canada!'” Ed laughed, is what they’d often hear walking the streets in a small town near Copenhagen.

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“She knows everybody and she’s such a smart person, she speaks a few languages,” Ed said.

What has kept their relationship so strong is spending time together — and apart.

“The cool thing about Ed and I,” said Carol, “is that we have such separate interests too, that although we do a lot together, we have these separate interests so we grow on our own.”

But the couple stressed, making a marriage last takes work.

“You just don’t get together and, ‘Oh, it’s going to be peaches and cream and so forth,'” said Ed, “you have to work at it.

“If you’re not willing to work at it as a couple then you’re going to be in trouble down the road.”

Read more: What’s the secret to a long, happy marriage? Ask this Alberta couple, married 79 years

Dr. Adam Galovan, a family scientist in the department of Human Ecology at the University of Alberta, said the key to a happy long-term romantic relationship is thinking “we” instead of “me.”

“A lot of research suggests having what we call a ‘shared meaning’ in our relationship really leads to greater happiness,” said Galovan.

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“Being very ‘I’ focused kind of detracts from the idea that we’re building something together — that we are a shared unit. We have an identity as a couple and not just an identity as ourselves.”

Galovan is one of the authors of a study published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy that looked at relationship satisfaction and moving beyond an individualistic focus.

“When we focus on ‘we’ it helps us pay more attention to our partner and their needs, they respond like that in return, so it’s beneficial for everyone,” said Galovan.

Over time, added Galovan, many people started shifting their approach to romance and relationships to a more “consumer approach to relationships and what’s in it for me?”

Galovan added social media has helped accelerate that mentality to constantly think, “Am I happy right now? They might be thinking about things like, ‘Is my sex life good? Am I getting along well with my partner right now?’ They’re not thinking as much about their long-term goals.”

The study showed Galovan that couples who are connected are generally more satisfied. He said languishing relationships pointed to less positive communication.

Read more: What’s the secret to a long, happy marriage? Ask this Alberta couple, married 79 years

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Working as a team may be easier said than done, but Galovan said small simple gestures will go a long way in a relationship.

He suggested carving out time each day for a five minute check-in with your partner.

“Or it could be a small greeting ritual — a kiss goodbye or kiss hello. Those sort of things over time,” said Galovan. “It’s those little moments of connection.”

In the era of social media and handheld devices, Galovan said it’s important to acknowledge your partner when they walk in a room. Look up from you phone and smile at them.

“Those small things really show you’re putting the ‘we’ into more of a focus in the relationship.”

The Maggiacomos have settled now settled in Canada for their retirement.

Living with their son and his family for half of the year, a lot of their time is focused on their grandkids. The couple said allowing their son and his wife to have time together is a gift — and their relationship is one they are proud to watch unfold.

Carol and Ed with their son, Christopher, daughter-in-law, Tammy and grandkids, Journey and Beckham. Supplied

They pass down their life and love lessons and said their advice to any new couple is to be respectful of each other’s time.

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Carol said what she loves most about Ed has changed over the years, but she still appreciates his flexibility and willingness to try something new and listen.

“I like the word important hun,” she said to Ed, “because you always make me feel what I’m talking about is important.”

Carol laughed and said she tells people these past 10 years might be their poorest in retirement.

“But it’s the best.”

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