Keys to a lasting marriage

by Marty Sabota

North Texas Catholic

March 5, 2019

Ray Cartier and Karen Cartier with their dog in a collecting room displaying maps and a variety of collectibles from those travels, at their home in Arlington, Nov. 14, 2018. The Cartiers have been married for 54 years and have done marriage prep for more than 100 couples. (NTC/Ben Torres)

When “beanpole” Ray Cartier first saw wife-to-be Karen in a room of 300 women at a freshman dormitory dance at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, the young man dressed in Air Force blue was inexplicably drawn to the brunette with glasses.

In the first few moments of meeting her, his immediate attraction deepened to “the honeybee with the dark hair.”

“I became very attracted to her because when we danced, she was the only girl there to ask me the favor of dancing with a shy friend of hers,” Cartier recalled. “Karen’s demonstrable caring about someone else set her apart from every other girl I’d ever met. I also found Karen to be very attractive, and she became even more attractive the more I eventually learned about her. Even now, with both of us in our 70s, I still do.” 

Although shy, the young college girl told him a few jokes.

“That started it,” said the 78-year-old retiree. “She had me hooked from the start.”

That led to 54 years of “happy marriage,” he said, highlighted by three children — Michael, Jon, and Collette — and three grandchildren — Hines, Austin, and Brittany.

In 1979, the Cartiers’ pastor at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Arlington asked the couple to become a Marriage Preparation Team. The request, Cartier said, led to their involvement in “this fabulous ministry” for the past 39 years, continuing to do so today at St. Joseph Parish in south Arlington.

Recently, Cartier decided to write a brief letter to provide parting instructions “to our future couples at the end of their six weeks of preparing for their own lifetimes together.”

His wife laughed at the thought of her husband saying anything briefly. 

“Get to the point,” Karen Cartier, 74, interjected more than once with a laugh when her husband strayed from the topic at hand or got too wordy during the interview with the North Texas Catholic.

What resulted from his “brief” letter was a 19-part guide of approximately 6,000 words entitled “How to Make a Marriage Last,” covering topics from affection to support.

It seems simple, but Cartier has found special ways of channeling the obvious.

When outlining the need for humor, he said, “My marriage lifetime goal has been to make Karen laugh at least once every day of our marriage. I don’t care whether she laughs with me or at me. But I want her to enjoy something that I do or say every day that she lives. Doing this has been a success!”

The journey began in 1960 when they met at the Denton dance. Only 38 men showed up, including Cartier and two friends who had driven the approximately 100 miles from his military assignment at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls after flipping a nickel to decide which direction to spend their days off.

Karen Cartier said his sense of humor caught her attention when they first spoke.  

Ray Cartier holds a 30-foot love letter written by his wife Karen Cartier on teletype paper, at their home in Arlington, Nov. 14, 2018. The Cartiers have been married for 54 years and have done marriage prep for more than 100 couples. (NTC/Ben Torres)

Cartier was soon transferred to Hawaii and over the next few years the couple’s devotion grew through correspondence — a clever and romantic “competition” that garnered the attention of all their friends.

It wasn’t just the messages, but the way they were presented.

“I had a girlfriend majoring in journalism who gave me a 37-foot roll of teletype paper,” Karen Cartier said. “I wrote his letter down one entire side.”

Letters came on a beach towel, inside the paper wrappers for straws, inside paper towel tubes, on movie posters — he was a theater manager at his overseas post — in invisible ink, on backs of postage stamps, on bubblegum wrappers, and even cut up into confetti that had to be pieced back together.

She wrote 44 pages in shorthand and later sent him a way to decode it.

“It was the talk of the campus,” Karen Cartier said of the young co-eds waiting anxiously for the mail to arrive.

They married on Nov. 26, 1964 — Thanksgiving Day — in the Chicago area where Cartier was raised.

“We had actually only seen each other 37 days over four years,” Cartier said. “It was a paper romance.” 

They made their permanent home in Tarrant County where she had grown up, eventually moving to a home in Arlington where they have lived the past 45 years — the last nine with their rescue dog, Ginger.

In 1976, the couple experienced a Worldwide Marriage Encounter and became more deeply involved in that program for eight years in various leadership roles, as well as in their Catholic faith because of that experience.

In their “Cartier News” Christmas newsletter that year, Cartier made a bold statement about their Marriage Encounter Weekend.

“The event, which will no doubt have the greatest bearing on our future lives together, occurred over the April 23 weekend,” he wrote. “We experienced a Marriage Encounter Weekend in which we found a totally new way to share our thoughts, feelings, and love with each other. Incidental to that we shared a spiritual growth that was an unexpected but most welcome addition to the beauty of that experience. Now we have once again become young lovers as our marriage and lives have taken on an entire new dimension.”

Wanting to share their success, the couple has spent nearly four decades as a volunteer Marriage Preparation Team.

“We are doing our best to assist couples who are about to make the commitment to love each other faithfully for the rest of their lives through the sacrament of marriage,” Cartier said. “The question we are asked most often is, ‘How do you make a marriage last that long?’”

The couple said there are a myriad of ways the question is asked, but the intent is always: “What have you done that we can do to have a long and successful marriage?”

Cartier wrote, “We wish that we could give that a simple answer but it is not simple. We don’t like to say that it takes a lot of work. Rather we point out that it takes a lot of effort, in many different ways, spread out over years. We advise them that there will be adjustments to their way of living, just as there is in starting their careers in life. The preparation of a good marriage is like the creation of a special meal that requires a multitude of ingredients tied in with the cook’s patience, caring, and love so that it can be shared with others who are close.”

Special tips, the instructional letter says, “include complimenting your spouse daily, whether it be fixing that ‘whatchamacallit’ that you asked him to do, or for something around the house that he did on his own, or for the surprise kiss or hug. And don’t forget commitment, the most basic of all ingredients of a happy marriage: commitment.”

And yes, don’t forget to have fun. The couple share hobbies. Cartier and Karen have a social stamp-collecting life that includes his serving as president of the Mid-Cities Stamp Club, which covers Arlington, Euless, and Granbury.

He is recognized worldwide as an expert in the field of philately, specifically in the area of postage stamps dealing with NASA, space, and related ventures. 

They have visited 69 countries together.

Both have authored books, his stemming from his stamp expertise and hers on fairy tales, folk tales, island mythology, and legends.

He has a penchant for bowling; she for sewing and embroidery.

“We are on opposite sides of the spectrum, but it works,” Karen Cartier said.

Although the Cartiers — who have ministered to about 175 couples — have made a listing of many of the ingredients that lead to a long and happy marriage, both note that no two marriages are exactly alike. There are other ingredients each couple may need to add to their marriage.

Cartier said each of the key ingredients is an essential. The quantity of each one of these, which has to be combined with the others, is unlimited.

“But couples can’t get away with using only a pinch or a teaspoonful of this or of that,” Cartier said. “The more that each gives each of these factors to their marriage cake of life, the better will be the outcome.” 

Read Cartier's Keys to Lasting Marriage.

When “beanpole” Ray Cartier first saw wife-to-be Karen in a room of 300 women at a freshman dormitory dance at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, the young man dressed in Air Force blue was inexplicably drawn to the brunette with glasses.

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