Because marriage is an ever-evolving experience, we constantly shift, change, love harder, love less and, in some cases, start over. In It’s No Secret, a new feature, The Times highlights couples who share thoughts about commitment and what they have learned about themselves and each other along the way.
Who Cokie Boggs Roberts, 73, and Steven V. Roberts, 74.
Occupations She is an Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist and author; he is a journalist, author and professor.
Their Marriage 51 years, 2 months and counting.Through the Years
The couple married Sept. 10, 1966 in the garden of Mrs. Roberts’ family home in Bethesda, Md., where the couple still live today. “We had a Jewish Catholic marriage and had to overcome some hurdles,” Mrs. Roberts said. “So we married in my backyard instead in a house of worship.” She said that 1,500 people attended (and her mother cooked the entire meal for all the guests). They have two married children in their mid- to late 40s and six grandchildren.
In the summer of 1962, Ohio State University hosted the National Student Association, where 500-plus students were part of a weeklong political conference. Cokie Boggs and Steven Roberts were among them; she was at Wellesley, he at Harvard. “I saw him from across the campus and thought, ‘That looks like Mark Roberts,’ who I knew had a twin brother,” said Mrs. Roberts, a New Orleans-born writer, who is a political commentator for ABC News and National Public Radio. “I went over to say hi. It turned out he knew my sister, Barbara. We started talking and we clicked.” Mrs. Roberts spoke at the conference, on what she couldn’t recall, ‘But that impressed him because it was highly unusual for women to speak,” she said. After the summit, they went back to their respective schools. They had a few dates, then Mr. Roberts stopped calling, “In the manner of obnoxious boys,” she said. That spring, both went to Washington to attend another conference, this one organized by her sister. Mr. Roberts ended up staying at her family’s home. Then they began dating. Four years went by, no ring was offered. Mrs. Roberts, then 22 and tired of waiting, gave him an ultimatum. “I said if we didn’t get married I was moving to California. So he proposed. He didn’t want to lose me,” she said. Fifty-one years later, they’ve never lost sight of each other.What I’ve Learned
Mrs. Roberts Enormous changes happened during our marriage. I didn’t think I’d have a highly successful career, and that requires adaptation. It was expected that the man would do all of the outside work, but the world turned topsy-turvy with the women’s movement and then the economy changed. Steve had to do a lot of accommodating and adapting. I had to learn that was not easy for him to do. I just expected it, that he would change, and that was not kind. Change is hard. I keep threatening to needlepoint a pillow in a Victorian style that says “Change sucks.”
The key in marriage is to try to change together. Couples don’t have to change at the same time, it’s more a question of getting there if you want to have that connection and commitment. There are different paces, and you have to realize that, and accommodate each other.
Then there’s resiliency. I always had two jobs and was raising a family. You’re so frantic and stressed, all you can do is get through the day. Once Steve said to me, “I feel as though I’m on your list of something to check off.” Ouch.
I wasn’t always able to appreciate him; and he, me. We’ve learned to do that more now that we’re old. We also had the advantage of having the same job. We would both be at the Capitol covering stories, then drive home together and get rid of that whole conversation in the car that married people have, so when we got home we were available to our children. We understand what we have is really important. We were crazy nuts about each other. We still are.
Mr. Roberts Marrying the right person is the single most important decision you’ll ever make in your life. Everything else is secondary. From the very beginning, I knew what an extraordinary person Cokie was. I was bowled over by her enormous intellect and that has been part of our lives throughout our relationship.
In a healthy relationship, at the core of longevity is a mutual respect and a sense of equality. Biting your tongue is often the right reaction to a moment of passing anger. Candor is overrated. I don’t mean deception or secrets. I mean real mutual respect, which leads to being gentle, loving, cautious and careful at times. It leads to being silent and having self-restraint, which really helps get you through difficult moments. There’s understanding that if you say everything that comes to your mind, at every moment, in the name of being honest, is often self-indulgent and hurtful. Mutual respect is a combination of many ingredients. It starts with basic romantic attraction.
It’s admiration that grows over time. In a really good marriage you learn from each other. You see each other’s strengths and virtues and when it really works, you adopt them as your own. I’ve learned to embrace the traditionalist that I am. I learned I had a greater capacity for defining myself in terms of serving others as opposed to my own ego and accomplishments. That was from marriage because everyday it involves defining yourselves as part of a partnership.
One of the great joys of a long marriage is what you’ve meant to each other, and held each other up, and been at each other’s side.