The ups and downs of ‘I do’

Published 8:49 am Friday, June 8, 2012

Randy and Karen Rudrogen have been married for 16 1⁄2 years, but have been divorced and remarried. Now, they’re committed to making it work. -- Eric Johnson/

Area couples give advice on how to make your marriage stick

Republished from Southern Minnesota’s Venus 2012 edition

The Rev. Joel Vano of Zion Lutheran Church in Albert Lea hears the same thing every time he sits down with a newly-engaged couple for the first time.

“Every time, the first thing I ask is, ‘Why are you getting married?’ They say it’s for love,” he smiled.

Email newsletter signup

And while this is, of course, a pretty good reason to tie the knot, husbands, wives, clergy and experts all agree it takes much more than love to make a marriage successful.

“Marriage is work. You have to work at it. You have to want it to work, and you have to make it work,” said Karen Rudrogen of Albert Lea.

Rudrogen, 43, speaks from experience. She’s been married to her husband, Randy, for 16 1/2 years. They first married in 1992, then divorced and remarried. Seeing them together, you’d never know they went through hell and back to learn some valuable lessons.

Just five years into their first marriage, her stepson, Tony, was diagnosed with cancer at age 9. One year of treatment followed by a year in remission took a turn for the worse when Tony relapsed and lost his battle in 2000, at the tender age of 12 years old.

“We made it six years after that, but we grieved in opposite directions,” Rudrogen said. “We just couldn’t do it together.”

Although they divorced in 2006, they still got along and talked regularly as they raised their younger son, Nathan. One night in 2009, nearly three years to the day later, Randy left her a message that he wanted her to come by and talk.

“It really came out of left field,” said Rudrogen. “We were both interested. We shared so many of the same beliefs, philosophies and family values. And we just grew apart — it was nobody’s fault. It’s like Randy said, cancer came and destroyed everything.”

Two months later, they were living together and by the end of the year, she was happy to be Mrs. Randy Rudrogen again.

“We’re more appreciative of each other now,” she said. “When you forget to be appreciative, you start nitpicking, and it all brews and festers.”

Darlene Kvam of Northwood, Iowa, agrees you’ve got to “laugh off” the small stuff. She and her husband, Lee, will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary in August. Remembering her days as a newlywed in 1967 also brings memories of what have may been their biggest obstacle.

Immediately following their wedding, Lee, who was serving in the Navy, was deployed to Pearl Harbor Base in Hawaii. Darlene joined him there in December.

“It was tough going back then,” she said. “There wasn’t a lot of money. Income then was minimal from the service.”

In fact, the first year of marriage may be the most difficult hurdle for any couple.

“Even if you lived together, there’s a difference in that commitment now,” said Vano. “When you say ‘I do,’ it’s a legal and psychological commitment. Stuff can’t be swept under the rug. You have to deal with it — you can’t just walk out.”

Vano strongly believes that being able to practice forgiveness is the most important key to having a successful marriage. It’s something he’s learned not only from his own 23 years of marriage, but also from the 75s, a group of married couples who have been married 75 years or more.

“What made them last 75 years? They always stressed forgiveness,” he said.

Marriage by Zoe

Vano can’t marry any couple in his church without them completing six months of pre-marital sessions. While he stresses the importance of forgiveness, open communication and conflict resolution on his brides-and-grooms-to-be, how he works with each couple is very different and based largely on an evaluation each couple takes as they begin their journey of a happy marriage: the Zoe Marriage Preparation.

“It’s a pre-marital inventory couples take online, with more than 300 questions they answer independently about themselves,” he said.

Couples answer questions about their lives, beliefs, backgrounds, goals, methods and techniques. The system bases the scores on their levels of agreement and how they compare to hard data of couples that research has shown will succeed in marriage. The test ranks responses from high to low in 13 categories, generates an average score along with a detailed report, and Vano is ready to begin guiding the couple. The purpose is to enhance the positive, eliminate the negative and help them have a long and happy marriage.

Vano then meets with the couple monthly, discussing areas of concern and even assigning homework to help couples improve in weak areas. Because each person is different, so is each set of results from Zoe.

“It’s not a foolproof tool, but a very good

guide,” Vano said.

Although there’s really no one area that stands out as a top “red flag” among the masses, Vano said couples who haven’t been together long probably have the most work to do in preparing for life together after the wedding.

“The longer they’ve known each other, the more stable their relationship is,” he said.

The changes in the concept of family, finances and raising children has brought a whole new issue to the subject of marriage over the years. In fact, the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology stated that 41 percent of first-time marriages, 60 percent of second marriages and 73 percent of third marriages will all end in divorce.

“Marriage has really been devalued,” said Vano. “Divorce is easy, and you don’t have to be married to have kids.”

Rudrogen agreed.

“Kids are now used to seeing split families,” she said. “You’ve gotta realize, there are going to be rough patches in there that really hurt. There are going to be ups and downs.”

Beating the marriage blahs

Open communication and spending time together have been an important part of marital success — and fun — for the Kvams. They enjoy separate careers during the day and sharing their tales of intrigue and woe when they sit down for dinner each night.

Getting away for a vacation each year has always been something the Kvams have treasured. When their two sons were growing up, they visited family-fun destinations, including the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites in Walnut Grove, the Black Hills in South Dakota and the Wisconsin Dells. For the past eight years, they’ve vacationed with Steve and Jane Trainer of Mason City, Iowa, who they share perhaps their most special memory with.

“We were married on the same night — just five miles apart from each other,” said Kvam. “They were at Deer Creek Church and we were at Bethlehem Lutheran in Myrtle. I got her candles and she got my flowers.”

The Kvams have created an annual anniversary tradition that both couples look forward to each year: having dinner with the Trainers at the Old Mill in Austin.