POULSBO — In the months leading up to Seema Akkar-Rivers’ wedding, she sought marital advice from the experts.
The 28-year-old medication technician for Brookdale Montclair Poulsbo sought out the senior living community’s long-married couples to learn their secrets to sustaining a relationship for decades. Akkar-Rivers said the insights they shared have already proven valuable in the months following her August 2017 wedding.
Akkar-Rivers met her husband Mackenzie, also 28, two and a half years ago at a Renaissance fair in San Diego, California. She attended dressed in a sari to reflect India, the country of her heritage; he wore clothing reflecting his Irish roots.
“I was engaged when I started working here and I quickly bonded with the residents,” Akkar-Rivers said. “I felt a special connection with the couples because I was going to be getting married. I made a point of sitting down with them to get their input about how I could make my marriage successful.”
Among those Akkar-Rivers asked for advice were Art and Maggie Bretsen, 95 and 93 respectively. The couple will celebrate their 70th anniversary in March. They were introduced during World War II by Maggie’s brother, who served on the same Navy ship as Art and suggested to his sister that she become Art’s pen pal. The pair wrote for five years before finally meeting when Art, a Washington native, paid a surprise visit to Maggie at her Minnesota home. They married two years later.
The Bretsens say communicating so much before they met proved to be an excellent foundation for their relationship.
“When you write a letter, you tend to write everything,” Maggie said. “With such distance between us, we never expected to meet each other and so we wrote about all sorts of things. When we saw each other, it was like we already knew each other, although we didn’t exactly. But it set a habit with us of talking with each other and being able to work things out, which is very important in marriage.”
Akkar-Rivers said: “The Bretsens and the other couples I’ve spoken with here have taught me that communication is essential for making a marriage last. You have to be open and honest with each other and understand how to compromise at times.”
The insights have been especially helpful to her because “ours is the first intercultural marriage in my family. Communicating well and accommodating each other while staying true to yourself are essential, and understanding this has already helped me dramatically.”
Seeing the delight the Bretsens and other couples take in each other has been inspirational to her. “You can tell they’ve had really happy lives because of their marriages,” Akkar-Rivers said. “Relationships take effort, but they are worth it. One of the best things I’ve been told is how important it is to enjoy every moment with your spouse, even the tough ones, because that’s what it’s all about.”