Among them, these four Mahoning Valley couples have more than 200 years of marriage.
By TRACEY D'ASTOLFO
Forgive and forget.
The grass isn't always greener on the other side.
Marry for love, not money.
Sound like worn-out adages from long ago? Some may scoff, but for the Petro brothers and their wives, these sage bits of advice are the keys to more than 200 years of marriage among the four Mahoning Valley couples.
In this era of quick, easy divorces, Mike and Dorothy, John and Marlene, Joe and Norma and George and Helen have each celebrated at least 50 years of marriage. They credit this to living by a few simple rules.
"It takes two to make a marriage," Dorothy said, "You need to forget [hurts] and forgive each other."
"Be good to one another," adds Marlene.
"You need patience, understanding and forgiveness," said Norma.
They all nod in agreement.
There was no mention of flowers or candy, love letters or romantic getaways.
"My mother always told me, 'Don't marry for money, marry for love.' It's hard enough trying to get along with somebody you care for, than trying to get along with somebody you don't care for," said Norma.
Marlene notes that the mind-set of her generation is another difference. "People didn't get divorced like they do now," said Marlene.
"They stuck it out. If you had a fight or something, you didn't run home to mom. Like my father told me when I got married, 'If you make it a bed of roses, fine; if you make it a bed of thorns, you lie in it.'"
Despite talk of patience and perseverance, the couples could not easily recall times of stress or unhappiness in their marriage.
"I can't remember that far back. I have four wonderful children and seven wonderful grandchildren. I don't remember any heartaches. I have a wonderful husband," said Dorothy.
The Petro brothers learned perseverance and commitment from their mother. When they lost their father in 1937, the boys were ages 7 to 13. Family members advised their mother to put the boys in an orphanage, but she refused.
"My mom said, 'No way. I'll raise these kids up,'" said Mike. "And she did, with no food stamps, no welfare, no Social Security."
The men speak lovingly and proudly of their mother, who began working when their father died and didn't stop until she retired at age 65. They returned the favor by taking care of her until she died four years ago at age 92.
The couples commented on what they feel are possible reasons for the high divorce rates today.
"They can't learn to forgive and forget," said Dorothy.
"That's right," agrees her husband, Mike, "That's one of the biggest things, I feel."
Dorothy continued, "A lot of these younger ones, before they even get to the altar, they're calling their marriage off. They don't take it seriously."
Marlene added, "A little religion in their life would help. The kids today don't go to church like we were raised. I think if they went to church more, it would help."
The Petro brothers are Slovak-Catholics.
They all agreed couples today think lightly of marriage, and if they don't like what they "buy," they trade it in.
"Trade it in like a car," emphasized Marlene.
"I think sometimes the younger ones today think the grass is greener on the other side, but when they get there, they find out it isn't and then they're sorry for what they've done," said Norma.
They also feel changes in roles have contributed to marital problems.
"Women are more independent now. They don't depend on their husband's salary and they have their own careers," said Helen.
"When you have your own income coming in, you can be more independent," agreed Norma.
All the Petro wives worked, most of them through much of their marriages, but said back then it "wasn't the thing" to leave your husband and support yourself.
"We never thought of doing that," said Dorothy.
And besides, Marlene noted, women didn't make as much money as men back then. "Who had good jobs then, to go and try to be by yourself?"
Even after half a century of marriage, the couples still fondly recall the details of how they met.
While changing a flat tire for Norma, Joe's uncle mentioned he had a nephew about her age.
"I had a boyfriend at the time but when I saw his [Joe's] picture I said, 'I think I'm gonna marry him,'" said Norma.
Mike and Dorothy met at the old Beacon Restaurant in Campbell and married shortly afterward, while Mike was on leave from the Navy.
"He just came home and said, 'We're gonna get married,' and we went down to see the priest," said Dorothy.
Helen and George met at a polka dance in New Castle.
"The funny thing was, I told him I was Helen O'Connell and he told me he was George Kline. At that time, when you'd first meet, you didn't tell your name -- because you didn't know them," Helen said. Helen's maiden name is Gorski.
John met Marlene at the grocery store where she worked.
"I used to take my mother down to the A & amp;P all the time, and she was working down there and we started dating," said John.
Marlene said he had been dating another girl who worked there.
"She was a little mad at me," she said with a laugh.
The Petro couples have 11 children and 20 grandchildren among them. What advice do they have for their kids when they marry?
"We tell them the same thing that our parents told us before we got married -- 'Be good to each other.' That's all," said Marlene.