Making love last, for better or worse

Staff Writer

 Dr. William and Nancy Ainslie, who met as second-graders and reconnected in their late teens, discuss their marriage of more than 70 years.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Dr. William and Nancy Ainslie, who met as second-graders and reconnected in their late teens, discuss their marriage of more than 70 years. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR The sentimentality of Valentine’s Day can portray love as an ethereal dream state, rife with passion.

But as true love plods along with each passing year, couples may find that romance can become more arduous than ardor-filled.

“You should each know the other well,” advises Dr. William Ainslie of Edison, who has been married to Nancy Ainslie for 70 years.

The two have had plenty of time to get to know each other over their long and storied life together, but even before their 1943 nuptials, they made sure they were compatible.

They met as second-graders at Rutgers Primary School in New Brunswick. Life took them in separate directions until a chance meeting during their late teens.

“I got on the wrong train going to Boston — and, whoops, there she was,” William recalled.

 Kathy and Howie Polenberg of Long Branch will celebrate their 33rd anniversary this April. Kathy and Howie Polenberg of Long Branch will celebrate their 33rd anniversary this April. Nancy said the happenstance provided the foundation for their lifelong love.

“We just sort of kept going on from there,” she said.

Both students in Massachusetts at the time, the pair dated for five or six years before sealing the deal. Between the demands of medical school and the U.S. Army for William, the Ainslies carved out time to tie the knot, but not before having to change the date because of military demands.

“It was a fast and shaky start,” William said, adding, “We’re still happy.”

Sticking with a relationship or marriage despite the shaky spots is one of the hallmarks of those that succeed, according to Cathy Noblick, a Shrewsbury-based individual, marital and family therapist. “One of the most common patterns I see is that people seem to have unrealistic expectations of relationships,” she said. “The reality is that relationships go through a number of stages. Relationships evolve into something less intense, but more secure.”

It’s the couples that enter relationships with a real sense of commitment that stand the test of time, she said.

“They go into it with the thought that they’re going to make it no matter what,” Noblick said, adding that such a sense of commitment was more prevalent in previous generations.

Though it may have been second nature for the Ainslies and others of their time, some more recently married pairs share in keeping their vows through thick and thin.

“ ‘Till death do us part’ is the last thing you say — and that’s serious,” Howard Polenberg of Long Branch said. “Today, people don’t stay together as long.”

Kathy Polenberg, his wife of 33 years in April, agreed.

“Nowadays, the newer generation … are so often hedging their bets,” she said, adding that it seems as if many young people are always on the hunt for something better than what they have. “It’s like a game-show mentality.”

It was a different show for Kathy and Howard. He, five years Kathy’s senior, was a student teacher in her graphic arts class at Parsippany Hills High School.

“He was like the ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ look, with the wide tie,” she said.

A couple of years later, despite an elaborate costume, Howard immediately recognized her at a mutual friend’s Halloween party around 1978. The two hit it off, and Kathy got rid of her dead-end relationship of the time and began dating Howard.

“I was her knight in shining armor,” he joked.

She recalled the lean times of having no car and working as a waitress to put herself through acting school.

“And here was Howie, and he was so handsome,” she said. “He was like a rock star — so exotic. He looked like John Fogerty or something. And I told him, ‘Well, we’re going to get married.’ ”

It wasn’t long after that the initial titillation turned to something more like tribulation.

Their first house, in Jersey City, needed top-to-bottom renovations. It proved to be a test, and a testament, to their love.

“If you can’t sleep in a living room with no heat, and pee in a bucket with a person, then you’re never going to make it,” Kathy said.

A few years later, they settled into an idyllic life in a home in Red Bank, where they started a family with two daughters — Jessica and Rebecca.

“It was just like something out of one of those ’50s TV shows,” Kathy said.

But the inevitable challenges of reality marred the perfect picture after a while. The economy took a dive, and the Polenbergs had to sell the house.

“It was heart-wrenching that the kids grew up there and our history was there,” Kathy said. “But we got through it, and we didn’t throw in the towel.”

The Ainslies also faced financial trials.

“Our first years of marriage were, shall I say, penny-pinching,” he said. “She was always great. She never overspent.”

Later in life, as an OB-GYN in Metuchen for many years, William found himself advising patients and their partners about their futures, stressing not only information on sexuality and family planning, but also on economics.

“The biggest problem in marriage is money management,” he said, adding that financial problems can bring conflict. “Don’t go into debt.”

The Ainslies, perhaps amazingly, have remained conflict-free.

“We’ve never had a real fight in our lives,” William said.

“Nope — never,” Nancy agreed.

He shared their secret.

“Negotiate instead of drawing a hard line and trying to defend it,” he advised.

According to Noblick, some butting of heads is perfectly OK, if handled right.

“I think it’s inevitable that you’re going to have conflicts or disagree,” she said. “As long as it’s done respectfully … it’s healthy.”

The idea, she said, is to respect and accept differences without trying to prevail as the winner in a battle.

The Polenbergs, both artists, seem to have mastered the art of the healthy argument.

“Obviously, the biggest crime you could commit against your partner is to betray your partner,” Kathy said. “You’re the trustee of their soul, almost. You don’t hit below the belt. You’re the trustee of that person’s well-being, of their mental energy. You don’t ball it up like a rock and throw it at them.”

Howard also shared his insight on fighting fair.

“Just realize that it’s a partnership, and with partnerships there’s compromise, and you need to know, you’re in it for the long haul,” he said.

A good level of healthy communication is key in good relationships, Noblick said.

“In my opinion, the most important part of communication is not the talking part, but the listening part,” she said. “That’s the greatest gift you can give somebody; that’s a true expression of love.”

Truly listening involves doing so without interruption, judgment, defensiveness or offering unsolicited advice, according to Noblick.

It’s also important to keep a relationship alive by showing appreciation for the other.

“The little things really go a long way,” she said.

About once a month, Howard brings Kathy a romantic greeting card just to express his love.

“He had to go out of his way to pick that up,” Kathy said. “It’s premeditated.”

Noblick said things like cards, notes and compliments can mean the world.

“We have an emotional bank account, and we make deposits and we make withdrawals,” she said. “In everyday life, we make a lot of withdrawals.”

Another part of replenishing the account is setting aside time for fun, Noblick said. This becomes more difficult as couples settle into a life together. Even making time to sit and enjoy a glass of wine together at home after the kids are in bed can fill the need, she said.

William said it’s important to find common interests.

“We go to a lot of concerts,” he said. “And up until now, we traveled.”

The evidence of their travels is displayed on the walls of their apartment. Paintings of Ethiopia, Puerto Rico, Cape Town and other locales color their life together as the vacations themselves did. Now, the couple enjoys reading, listening to music and spending time with their three children and six grandchildren.

Howard teaches photography at the Brick Center of Ocean County Vocational Technical School, where he was voted District Teacher of the Year. He is also an adjunct professor at Ocean County College. He holds photography as a passion, along with painting. Kathy’s zest and talent for painting and writing make the creative spirits also kindred ones.

“We were friends,” Kathy said of their early connection. “And you know that quickly.”

The Ainslies agreed that friendship is an important part of the bond that has held them together for seven decades.

“In this little apartment, if we weren’t close together, we’d be like two cats in a barrel,” William said.

Ten deadly habits of relationships

 Complaining
 Nagging
 Criticizing/Judging
 Blaming/Accusing
 Attacking
 Threatening
 Punishing
 Be condescending
 Stonewalling
 Contempt

Source: Cathy Noblick