Wednesday, February 5, 2014

‘Happily ever after’

Couples, reverend talk about how to make a marriage last

Express Staff Writer

Valley residents Len and Carol Harlig have enjoyed 40 happy years of marriage. Photo by Willy Cook

"There is no formula for a happy marriage,” said The Rev. Ken Brannon, of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Sun Valley. “Some couples that you think are going to be terrific have a difficult time and some couples that you are concerned about turn out to be very happy together.”
    Brannon said several approaches to marriage, and to life, do help to guarantee success. These qualities include cultivating gratitude, generosity, mutual respect and community involvement.
    “When people approach relationships as gifts, they are more likely to treasure what they have been given,” Brannon said.
    After 25 years in the restaurant and hotel business in Los Angeles, valley resident Len Harlig found the love of his life in 1973. He bought her roses, composed and read poetry to her (sometimes translating from French) and eventually swept her off her feet to Idaho, where they have lived ever since.
    With four grown children and seven grandchildren, Carol and Len Harlig, ages 70 and 80 respectively, still have an infectious chemistry between one another. So what does it take to stay together, and stay happy, 40 years later?
    “Well, he is incredibly romantic,” Carol said. “We had what was called a coup de foudre, or a bolt of lightning, love affair. It happened all at once.”
    The Harligs would add a sense of humor to the list of necessary attributes.
    “I am still finding out new things about Len all the time,” said Carol, who bears a striking resemblance to actress Michelle Pfeiffer. “The surprises never end. We were together for 30 years before I realized he didn’t like spinach.”
    Len said “Yes, dear” is the proper response to most of his wife’s requests.
    “Having a personal relationship with a local jeweler also helps,” he said with a grin. “But really you must have someone great to begin with. We have shared values and shared desires, and a willingness to find the middle ground.”
    “I love the way he sees the world,” Carol said.    n
    The Harligs have made community service a cornerstone of their lives since arriving in Blaine County. Len was elected three times to the Blaine County Commission, and also served on the county P&Z and Friedman Memorial Airport Authority board. Today, he is working on a new county comprehensive plan.
    “I would never have been elected three times without Carol,” Len said. “She was always with me. I would tell people that I had to be good enough for the office, because I was good enough for her.”
    Carol has served on both the St. Moritz hospital board and the St. Luke’s hospital board. She has taken local Girl Scouts to Europe and continues to raise money for the Guardian Angel women’s scholarship fund.
    “While marriage is between two people, lasting marriages often have strong community support,” Brannon said. “One of the biggest dangers for relationships is isolation.”

    Newlyweds Lexie Praggastis and John Reuter, ages 27 and 29 respectively, found out how valuable community can be when they prepared to go to Galena Lodge last August to get married.
    The couple met while skiing and both love outdoor sports and living in a town that supports them with their careers and recreational pursuits. Family members gathered the week of the weeding to go rafting and hiking and enjoy the mountains. But the day of their wedding, the Beaver Creek Fire erupted west of the Wood River Valley and sent a towering plume of smoke into the sky.
    “We weren’t really that worried about it,” Lexie said. “But on Wednesday night when we had a dinner with our two families, it was literally raining ash.”
     The next day, Ketchum was socked in with smoke and it rained ash during their rehearsal dinner. The couple was put on pre-evacuation notice Thursday night (they live in the East Fork valley) and on Friday morning Lexie headed up to her parents’ house in Sun Valley to get ready.
     The morning of the wedding, they were evacuated, and the buses that were supposed to shuttle people up to Galena said they wouldn’t go because they didn’t want to get stuck up there in case they were needed to evacuate areas in Hailey.
    A last-minute decision to relocate the wedding to Lexie’s parents’ backyard in Sun Valley saved the day. In four hours, everything was moved.
    “Our wedding coordinator, Amanda Seaward, worked some serious magic and our wedding party initiated one of the biggest call chains you could imagine. Several local guests “evacuated” to my parents’ house, in that they brought their dog or kids to the wedding, because no one knew what was going to happen.”
Several of the out-of-town guests planned on camping in the backyard.
“I had resigned myself to the fact that we would just order in pizza and sit on the lawn and have the wedding, but Don Shepler and Erin Zell at Galena Lodge rallied and brought all the food down to us,” Lexie said.
     A friend took all of the flowers from Galena to Sun Valley, and many of guests showed up early to help move tables and chairs. Tablecloths were put down. The ceremony went off without a hitch.
    “It wasn’t what we had planned for, but it was truly memorable and easily the best day of both of our lives,” Lexie.
    Married couples old and young take each day one at a time, but have set out on a journey that is old as romance itself. In a world where people come and go, success ultimately comes from wanting to be together.
    “We have a lot of fun together and we genuinely like to have adventures together,” Lexie said. “Whether that is traveling, fixing up a house, or just playing outside, we challenge each other to be better while offering love and support.
    “John has said from the beginning that we are on the same team and we have to act like team players. While, realistically, things haven’t changed since we got married, there is a comfort knowing that someone has your back and you have theirs—being on a team is pretty awesome.”
    Brannon, who is also a husband and father, said that “living together in marriage requires that we hold open a vision and hope for what we might become.  Faith also allows that there is a higher power—a source of love—that is blessing us and supporting us and rooting for us in good times and bad.”
    Brannon counsels that prayer can bring greater intimacy between spouses, and warns against using drugs and alcohol to avoid emotional issues.
     “I am also a proponent of regular ‘check-ups,’ even if there is no major problem,” Brannon said. “Find someone you trust—a counselor, a minister, or even a wise friend—and share how things are going. Sometimes we have blind spots that a third party can help us see. Also, it’s really nice to have someone bear witness to our love and affirm the strength and beauty that they see.”

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