Care home couples talk: Attraction, romance and longevity of love

What did you find attractive about your partner? If you ask 92-year-old Maurice Laws and his wife Dorothy, their responses are mixed.

Jim and Jean Retter (on left) have been together for almost 70 years



Maurice gamely says: “Everything!” But 93-year-old Dorothy is a little more coy with her words: “I can’t explain it goodness!”

He is quick to say Dorothy is not backward in coming forward, explaining: “We were about 24 when we first met. Well, we were in the tennis club. I was sitting on the table of the tennis club foyer and she said: ‘Oh, he’s interesting!’”


Cider with Dorothy

Mr and Mrs Laws both live at Rugby’s Anya Court Care Home. Describing their first date, Dorothy says: “We used to go in the local pub. We would drink cider.” “Yes” says Maurice, thinking back fondly.

Dorothy and Maurice Laws Credit: Maurice Laws

When it comes to a marriage proposal, she says: “I don’t think he ever did. It just happened.” Perhaps indicative of an age when marriage was the expected result of a courtship, she adds: “We took it for granted.”

Her husband confesses: “It wasn’t so straight forward. I ought to explain that I got a scholarship to a university in America.

“I’m going for two years to America and at that point we decided we would get married when I came back.” Maurice studied engineering and plasticity at Brown University. When Maurice returned two years later, they were married in 1952.

“We’ve been all over the world”, he says. To the question of how they managed to keep the romance going after living with each other for 50 years, Maurice turns to his wife to ask: “How do you manage to put up with me, Dorothy?” She replies matter-of-factly: “Because he puts up with me.”

His Valentine’s card made ‘years of waiting worthwhile’

While rekindling the romance in a relationship can be tricky as the years roll by, one woman says her husband’s care home helped put the spark back in their relationship.

The woman’s husband lives at Roseacres Residential Care Home. She decided to write a care home review on to express her appreciation to the home, upon receiving her first ever Valentine’s Card from her husband – after 55 years of marriage.

Her review, sent the day after Valentine’ Day last year, goes like this: ‘I would like to express my gratitude for the care and attention he has received since his arrival. The staff have been nothing but courteous and kind to both him and my family. The standards in the home are excellent.

‘I would like to add that in 55 years of marriage, I have just received a Valentine’s card for the first time, made by him in one of the activity classes. It has made all the years of waiting for one worthwhile.’

’Being kept on the ball and chain’

Meanwhile, one 91-year-old man reveals the secret to his happy marriage lasting 70 years and has no qualms about his on-going role in their relationship. Richard Hills says the secret is to be “kept on the ball and chain” and simply “let the wife be the boss”.

Richard and Joan Hills Credit: Richard Hills

Seventy years ago, Richard married Joan on Christmas Day. Wife Joan says: “Richard has never been one to quarrel or lose his temper and is calm in every situation. It is simply not in his nature to bite back.”

The couple were almost inseparable since meeting as teenagers but began living apart last April after Joan, 89, moved into Andover’s Harrier Grange Care Home, because Richard could no longer care for her at their home.

Richard visits Joan nearly every day at the care home. The couple have two sons, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He says: “We wanted to give our children the best lives possible, which has helped to keep our relationship strong.” While many elderly couples like Richard and Joan live apart because one is in a care home, many homes celebrate these enduring relationships.

This Valentine’s Day, love will be in the air, literally, with residents from Tadley’s Barchester Cherry Blossom Manor, commemorating love by releasing balloons into the sky to remember loved ones who have died.



Love at first sight

John, 89, and his wife Mary Forbat have been together for more than 64 years and live at Sunrise of Weybridge care home. Mary, who celebrates her 89th birthday on 6 February, confesses she fell in love at first sight when they met at 16-years-old. Mary was attracted to John because of “his kind ways” and John loved Mary’s “fresh-faced look” and “her warmth”.

Jim and Jean Retter have been together for almost 70 years and married for 65 of them. Both live at Sunrise of Winchester. First meeting in their early twenties, Mr Retter says it was Jean’s attitude that first cast a spell over him all those years ago. Jim says he was attracted to “her attitude” adding “she is so lively and interesting”.

“Any decision she makes is always the right decision”. Sadly Jean, who has Alzheimer’s, no longer recalls many of their memories together but still remembers who Jim is.

John and Mary Forbat. Credit: John Forbat

He says: “Jean depends much more” on him now. He says the most difficult aspect of Jean’s dementia is knowing what they used to do together but now can’t. After sharing “lots of mutual interests”, he now struggles to bridge “the mental distance between them”.

Another couple, together for 69 years, say the best thing about living together at Sunrise of Winchester care home is their ability to “help each other”. Thomas and Judith Konrad love exercising together in the home’s group classes and enjoy playing Scrabble together.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are among the couples celebrating the longevity of their love with a 70th wedding anniversary but care home couples have given telling answers about what makes a long partnership. While Richard Hills felt being kept on the ball and chain and family life was key, Mr and Mrs Laws said the ability to “put up with” each other was crucial.





What is love?

Dorothy Laws says the secret to her successful relationship with Maurice is “Patience and understanding” – vital characteristics she believes one should look for in a partner.

To the question What is love? Dorothy says: “Impossible to describe. You feel good. That’s it!” Maurice adds: “It makes you feel happy. Love, it’s a funny word. I would use an innate word like rapport. “You could just look at somebody and you can tell what they’re thinking. That’s love.”

With many people today on dating apps like Tinder and busy on mobiles swiping photos of faces to the left or right, Maurice recalls his own courting style. “We wrote to each other, particularly when I was away in America for two years. We wrote every week. That was the equivalent to our telephone. We used to re-read our letters. We still have them.”

So what advice would Maurice give people looking for love today? He says: “I suppose it just happens. You don’t analyse everything you’re doing. It’s a funny question. Every day matters. That’s what it amounts to. It’s almost instinctive. ‘Go with the flow’, if you want to use a modern expression.”