McHENRY – Arlene Carl smiled ear to ear, and traces of the young 19-year-old bride she once was were present in her giggle as she sat next to her husband, Bob Carl.
Bob is in rehabilitation at Alden Terrace in McHenry, and the couple sat next to each other on the couch for this interview. It was the closest they've been in months.
The way Arlene Carl tells their love story is simple.
"We met years and years ago before World War II," she said. "I was working at a store and he came in with a boyfriend, and they invited me to go bowling with them. I went and that was it."
But Bob Carl's version is a little more romantic.
"It was in 1939 in February," he recalled. "We kept meeting each other from time to time. When I saw her, I said to myself, 'That's the lady I want to marry.'"
Bob and Arlene met as teenagers in Depression-era Chicago. While Bob recalls Arlene's striking beauty and auburn hair, she said it was his manners that eventually won her over.
After meeting at a party, then eventually their first bowling date, Bob and Arlene continued to see each other on and off before Bob joined the National Guard.
Bob only planned on one year of service, but Dec. 7, 1941, changed his life and put their relationship in fast forward. The couple married Dec. 26, 1942, and the couple enjoyed a month and a half of marriage before Bob was sent overseas.
For 33 months, Bob traveled the globe during World War II, while back in Chicago, Arlene worked for the phone company. But the pair never were far from each other's thoughts.
"It was very sad," Arlene recalled. "But I worked hard and tried to set a little something aside so when he came home we could live normally. I was lonely and he was lonely, but we wrote every day."
The couple finally reunited in November 1945 and spent a long weekend reconnecting at the Belmont Hotel in Chicago.
"I was mighty happy to be home and see my wife," Bob said.
Sprinkle in three sons, 11 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, a little traveling, and a move to their McHenry home, and the Carls have lived a good life.
The key to their successful marriage?
"Every night at bedtime, we would resolve anything that we had out there," Bob said. "And we would kiss goodnight. [We] never went to bed mad."
"Maybe a little miffed," Arlene said, correcting Bob.
While the Carls have enjoyed nearly 70 years of blissful marriage, for other couples, a healthy marriage takes a little more work.
Dan Blair, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Crystal Lake, has worked with countless couples in his 11 years in practice.
"I think the leading cause of divorce is disconnectedness, a gradual over time erosion of the relationship," Blair said. "Usually there is conflict involved over money, or sex, or in-laws. But the disconnection of the couple is what places the relationship in jeopardy."
Blair suggested "putting the fun back in the marriage" and that struggling couples should focus on their friendship.
"Solving problems is easier when you restore that friendship," Blair said.
Blair also said a goal was to maintain a balance of appropriate closeness, but not too close so as to suffocate one's partner. Watch resentment, he suggested, and don't let anger take root.
Others looking for a romantic gesture can look to Bob's tender goodnight greeting for his wife.
"I call her every night before I go to sleep and say goodnight and send my love and kisses," Bob said.
When asked what he says to Arlene each night, Bob starts singing: "I love you, a bushel and a peck, and a hug around the neck."
And Arlene blushed.
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Strategies of the heart
Harvard clinical psychologist Dr. Betsy Sukowicz offers her take on what she calls "winning and losing strategies" for relationships. It is based on a popular therapy tool developed by Terrence Real.
Winning strategies ...
• Shift from complaint to request, meaning ask "would you do this for me?"
• Speak with love and savvy. Be assertive about what you want. Don't demand, but say what's on your mind. Remember your partner is someone you care about.
• If your partner is asking for something, respond with generosity.
• Empower each other.
• Cherish what you have.
Losing strategies ...
• Being right, or thinking your way is the right way and not negotiating issues.
• Controlling your partner.
• Unbridled self-expression or venting, telling everything that is on your mind without regard to how your words will affect your partner.
• Retaliation. When one person feels badly treated, he or she punishes the partner because the partner "deserves" it.
• Withdrawal, or detaching oneself from one's partner.