Some poets describe love as a garden, a relationship as something two people create, build and tend together. It’s an entity that requires work, attention, care; tender planting, pruning and weeding. Some days, it’s hot and dry and humid, and the work is arduous. Other days, the rain brings relief and growth. Still other days, it’s 75 degrees and sunny outside, and it’s easy to enjoy being there. You want to be.
While the wedding day is about the one “Yes, I do” moment when two lives are joined together, the long haul of marriage is about continually choosing that yes each day. Here, three local couples share their wisdom on how they say yes to each other, daily keeping their commitment to the other and to what they’re building together strong and growing.
Loretta and Dwight Prater can’t point to a specific moment when they met. Rather, they were always a part of each others’ lives as they grew up together and attended the same elementary, junior high and high school. They were in many of the same organizations together, went to the same church and had the same circle of friends. Upon graduating from high school, Dwight joined the military, and Loretta went away to college in Atlanta. Years later, after they both moved back to their hometown of Chattanooga, Tenn., they saw each other randomly at the grocery store one day. They caught up and started dating. They’ve been together ever since.
“I used to teach a university class in high school on family relationships and dating and all this stuff, and one of the things that the research said is that some of the most resilient marriages are people who started as friends,” Loretta says. “That’s what the research is still saying — it’s still holding pretty true, that you start as friends. So I think that’s pretty good, and that has held all these years. We started already with a set of mutual friends.”
Their relationship has always been one of mutual support; when Loretta went back to school to earn her PhD in family studies, including a year when she had to move to Knoxville, Tenn., for her residency, Dwight stayed home to raise their two children. When Dwight was working with the Boy Scouts and doing fundraisers to take them on trips across the country, Loretta showed up at their church each Friday evening after working all week to clean the fish for the fish fries. It’s this respect for each other and their respective passions they say has helped them keep their commitment to each other strong.
“You’ve really got to respect each other. And trust each other,” Loretta says. “Even sometimes, he may have the vision and I don’t have it, but I have to say, ‘Okay, let’s do it, I trust you, let’s see where it goes,’ that kind of thing.”
In addition to mutual support and respect, Loretta says the commitment to living out their marriage vows no matter what kinds of suffering life brings their way is what makes a marriage successful. In their own lives, Loretta and Dwight say their faith is what has helped them weather the death of their oldest son Leslie, who was killed by police officers in Chattanooga in 2004.
“The way I look at it now, we’re actually in two marriages. The one before Leslie was killed and the one after he was killed,” Loretta says. “Sometimes, I feel badly maybe for [Dwight] because he doesn’t have the same wife he had before. Because those kind of things change you. But that’s what those marriage vows were talking about, with what might happen in the future, and you’re going to be there through thick and thin, and that kind of thing. … You have to be true to those vows. You have to really understand that it’s not going to always be the way you think it’s going to be. Trouble might come. But there was this song that we used to sing when I was little, that trouble doesn’t last always. You get through it.”
Loretta says having true friends to rely on during difficult times when both people in the relationship are broken is another important factor to making it through.
There are other external factors such as physical changes that people who are getting married should be prepared for, too. Dwight says because people get older, gain weight and have hair that turns grey, it’s important to look at the internal characteristics of the person you’re considering marrying rather than focusing solely on the external ones.
“The thing with marriage, to me, a person should be serious and investigate what they want out of it. Because a lot of people go into it, they think they have [their eyes] open, but they’re closed,” Dwight says. “Some guys especially go into marriage with this idea they’re going to do what they want to do. You can’t do that. It’s not going to work.”
On a practical note, the Praters say it’s important for each person to have their own area in the house; in their home, she has a sunroom, and he has a man cave. Being a united team while still respecting each other’s autonomy is also important, they say. Discussing important topics such as if you want to have children and how you want to spend your money to ensure you both have the same goals in life is also important, Loretta says, as these are things that are basic to an individual’s understanding of the way life should be and can’t be negotiated away. She says it’s also important to consider how the person treats their mother or father, as that is a potential indicator of how they will treat you, too.
“If you got doubts about the person, you better look at that,” Dwight says.
When choosing the person you’re going to marry, Loretta says it really comes down to one fundamental question.
“There’s this basic thing: Do you want to live the rest of your life with this person?” she says. “And none of us actually know the answer to that, you just think okay, I think that’s what I want, you go into it thinking that, but you know, we’re still at 50/50 in this country with divorces, so even people might say certain words — and I’m not saying they don’t believe it at the time — but when you look around and see how few of those [marriages] are working, then it’s something like maybe they were too romaniticsed or something, I don’t know, because things are going to change. And those vows that we took like sickness and in health, wealth and poverty, and whatever goes on in your life that we may not even see — we don’t have a crystal ball — but whatever it is, you’re going to weather it. That’s what you’re promising.”
“There’s going to be a whole lot of ups and downs. Good times and the bad times,” he says. “That will test you, how much you care about one another. Because a lot of people will take flight when bad things come. As long as it’s going smoothly, they will be around. But when something bad comes around, instead of trying to resolve and solve it, they’re gone. … You’ve got to confide in one another. … Seriously, marriage, it’s give and take. It’s give and take.”