There’s no denying weddings are a lot of fun. No matter the size or scene, it’s a joyful occasion to celebrate two people joining their lives. But behind the flowing champagne, eight-piece band and towering cakes is a couple drenched in love and emotion as they begin a new chapter of their lives: marriage. We wanted to explore the differences and similarities of the weddings and marriages of four Southern brides — each married in different decades. We’d like to note that as we spoke to the fabulous women below, their husbands were present, often adding to answers and laughing in the background. Here are four different perspectives on how to make a marriage last for the long haul.

Wanda and Jim Justice
Married March 29, 1962, in Centre, AL

How did you and your husband meet and fall in love?

We met in college at Jacksonville State. I was from Georgia, and he was from Alabama. I saw this cute little guy working at the chow halls — that’s what they called the dining hall. He had a flat top haircut and had peroxided pieces of hair in the front and back. We just started talking. That was 1961; he was 19 and I was 18. We ended up getting married early the next year in 1962. We didn’t want to be apart after we met. I just think it was a God thing. We had a lot in common. Our values were aligned, and we looked forward to a future together. It felt different than other people we’d dated.

Marriage Lessons Jim and Wanda

A portrait of Jim and Wanda Justice taken sometime around 1970. Look at these two lovebirds!

Tell us a little bit about your wedding.

We had a small wedding in Centre, AL. We chose a place in the middle of our hometowns so both families could be part of it. That was more of the standard back in the ’60s — it was small family weddings. As the years have passed, weddings have gotten larger and more glamorous. You know, they’re spending so much money on them. It goes by so fast. You don’t realize that the things you think are going to be important aren’t what you remember.

What about that day sticks out to you?

It was just such a joyful day. The rings were very important. They weren’t the diamond I wear today. It started as just a band, and we added as the years went by. Every year when spring comes, we remember that joyful day.

What did your early married life look like?

Times were tough, but we knew we would get through it together. Our first son was born at the end of 1962. I got a job and helped Jim through school as he finished at Jacksonville State. Then we moved to Chattanooga, and our twins were born four years later. Then another son four years after that. So we had a total of four with four years between each — and twins in the middle.

How has your love with Jim grown and changed through the decades?

We think about the lean years now and how we learned together. We learned the babies, parenting, everything. As we are getting older, this is another season of our lives. The first one was when we met and joined our hearts and our lives. Then the next one was raising our children, and then watching our children build their own families. And now we are back to just the two of us! We look at each other and just feel so blessed we are both still here. I don’t think I would do a thing differently.

How wonderful is it to see your family grow from just the two of you?

It’s amazing how our family just keeps growing year to year. Several of the seven grandkids are out of college now and married. We call ourselves The Justice League. When we all get together, there are just so many of us and everyone has a great time. It’s a joy to watch their lives grow.

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What’s your best advice for a lasting marriage?

We learned by doing. That was the best way to do it. Marriage and babies don’t come with a manual. We just learned through time. Try to really understand each other. Try to make time for the other person. Try not to get so busy with your own life that you leave out your spouse.

Wanda and Jim Justice give their marriage lessons

Wanda recalls, “The longest we’ve ever been apart was when Jim was out in California after our son had a back injury. I was at the Mayo Clinic with our daughter. It was probably a couple of weeks.” Almost 60 years together and only a few weeks apart … AMAZING!

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Connie and Glenn “Dead Bear” Moore
Married August 31, 1975, in Richmond, VA

How’d you meet and fall in love?

It wasn’t love at first sight. I was at Hollins University, and a friend said, “I want to hook you up with a boy on a blind date. He’s upstairs.” I went upstairs and opened the door to look at the guy they all called ‘Dead Bear,’ and I said, “No, thanks.” We went on a weekend trip … just as friends. I was dating someone else. Then we went on another weekend trip, but we came back as a couple that time. Dead Bear and I dated for three months, and by Christmas, we were engaged. I was 22 and he was 28 when we got married.

Tell us a little about your wedding.

It was a big wedding because my mom and dad got ahold of it. I just went with it. They said I could have 350 people, but after all the invitations were used, I was still inviting everyone I ran into — and they all came. We had it at my home in Richmond, VA, and it was pretty over the top. We had an entirely new landscape of flowers planted. There were floating lights up in the trees and a glass dance floor over the pool. Not once did my mother ask me my opinion about what I wanted for my wedding. But we were so excited, nonetheless. To me, it was a great excuse to have a big party.

Connie and Glenn "Dead Bear" Moore on their wedding day

“I feel that some brides (and their moms!) these days think the wedding is more important than the ceremony. When my oldest, Hampton, got married, I made sure she knew the distinction. There is too much emphasis on that one day as opposed to the future,” Connie says.

What sticks out about your wedding day?

Honestly, I was so immature. My bridesmaids even got in a fight with someone at the wedding. I remember sitting in my parents’ room as everyone was scuttling about around me getting things ready, and I was just feeling so overwhelmed that I was leaving this nest. It all of a sudden hit me. But the wedding was a blast, and once it was over, we were both excited about the next chapter.

Tell us about the first few years of marriage?

The first few years of married life were a transition for me. Both of us were working, but it was kind of cool to have my own house and make my own nest with my husband. On our second anniversary, I was pregnant with my first of three. I remember being pregnant was hard. I couldn’t party anymore. I had to be a grown-up.

But Dead Bear has always been an older, wiser figure to me. He is so steadfast. Sometimes, I would think he was being cold, but it’s just who he is. He’s more pragmatic. I’m more emotional. Our kids have always gravitated toward him in times of duress, and I have always respected the way he stays so even-keeled. He doesn’t worry about things until they happen, while I worry, worry, worry about everything, real or not. We balance each other out.

What’s your best advice for a lasting marriage?

It’s unrealistic to think you won’t get mad or be disappointed by your partner. When you get ticked off, it’s easy to want to say something ugly or mean. But once you’ve said it, it’s out there and you can’t take it back. Be intentional with the words you say to each other and others. Respect the fact you married that person because you loved them. Nothing is going to be perfect all the time.

Connie and Glenn "Dead Bear" Moore give their marriage lessons

Connie and Dead Bear Moore are as cute now as they were in their 20s.

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Vonne and Matt Atkinson
Married May 26, 2007, in Sevierville, TN

How did you meet and fall in love?

We met at a hotel — we worked together. When I was leaving, he was my relief. About four years later, we saw each other at the Virginia Gold Cup races and exchanged numbers. We were both dating someone else at that time, but Matt and I kept our friendship through work. When we finally went out, I ended up staying the night … not on purpose but because we were having such a good conversation. We stayed up all night laughing like two schoolgirls! He didn’t try ANY funny business. That is what made me know he was the one. That and the laughing all night together.

What was your proposal like?

Matt was adamant about going hiking on Christmas Eve. We went to Fall Creek Falls and did a short hike. The hike led us to a waterfall. As we were admiring the water, I turned around and Matt was on one knee crying. I just kept repeating “Oh my God” over and over again. It’s like we glided down the mountain back to the car!

Vonne and Matt Atkinson

The outdoors have always been a huge part of this love, so Vonne and Matt’s mountaintop vows were as meaningful as they were stunningly gorgeous.

Tell us a little about your wedding.

We got married barefoot on a mountaintop in the Smokies. It was just us and the minister. It was perfect for us! We didn’t have a traditional wedding at all. We didn’t want that. We are outdoors people and I’m very earthy and wanted to feel the earth’s electricity under my feet on the most important day of my life. We also didn’t have guests. I come from a split family, so we decided to just be intimate and have us and our dog, Vinyl Lily. The only regret I have is I wish I could have gotten a better photographer.

How have you fostered your love throughout the first 13 years of marriage?

Talking problems out with each other, making time for one another, and remembering the good times when things are bad.

Vonne and Matt Atkinson enjoy outdoors with their kids

Now, Vonne and Matt are able to enjoy the outdoors with their two fabulous children.

What advice would you give newlyweds?

DON’T DO IT! Just kidding! But in all seriousness, I say this: If you’re going to get married, take it seriously. I feel like people get rid of spouses like they are Goodwill clothes. The honeymoon doesn’t last forever. You have to keep the love with each other. Marriage is meant to be for life, so make sure you TRULY want to be with that person forever.

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Alison and Rally Killian
Married December 1, 2018, in Wilmington, NC

How did you meet and fall in love?

Rally had just moved back to Charlotte, NC, from St. Louis and was reconnecting with his UNC friends. I was living in Charlotte with two girls who went to UNC, and Rally and I both showed up to the same UNC/Duke basketball game viewing party. Rally was fascinated by this new girl with green eyes (his words!). Two months and a Facebook friendship later, we had our first date. Both of us were focused on demanding careers, so quality time together was limited. We got engaged four years later.

What was your wedding like?

Our wedding was very traditional. We had a formal wedding ceremony at the church where I grew up in Wilmington, NC. I always wanted to get married around the Christmas season, and Rally happily went along with my dream. It was a rainy evening, but it almost made the night feel more romantic. We put A LOT of thought into our music. So between the music and Christmas decorations, our guests really felt they were in a special place despite the rain.

Alison and Rally Killian at their wedding reception

Alison and Rally took dance lessons in preparation for their first dance. “We had both taken cotillion growing up, but it had been a few years, and we needed to update our dance moves! We danced to one of our favorite songs by The Dirty Guv’nahs called ‘Lovin,'” Alison says.

How have you fostered your love throughout the first few years of marriage?

One thing that was super important for both of us growing up was having dinner together as a family. We wanted to start this tradition early in our marriage. We have always placed a priority in enjoying a meal together at the end of every day (free of mobile devices and any other distraction). It is a sacred time for both of us. We are so thankful for the examples provided to us by our families, and we hope to carry this on when we choose to grow our family.

RELATED: 5 Common Reasons Marriages Fail (& How to Keep Yours Strong)

Do you have a funny story of compromise or sacrifice?

I grew up with a dad who LOVED to cook on the grill for the whole family. It was well known amongst my friends and family that my future husband must know how to cook on the grill. Sadly, Rally did not. But he recognized how important this was to me and decided to learn. He got a grill as a wedding gift from coworkers and spent a whole day assembling it. Unfortunately, the hardware store had to tell him natural gas grills do not connect to propane tanks. Several months later, we have a fully assembled and functional grill, and Rally is serving up some mean burgers and brats!

What advice would you give newlyweds?

Tough question since we’re newlyweds ourselves! But we have picked up on the importance of listening to one another, understanding each other’s priorities and being respectful of them. Compromise is key! We also love finding activities or hobbies we can both enjoy doing together. We have really realized the importance of this during quarantine … I’ve even picked up a golf club a few times!

Rally and Allison Killian on a hike

Rally and Alison place a big importance on outdoor adventuring as a couple — from hiking and biking to wine tours and safaris.

Thank you, Wanda, Connie, Vonne, Alison — and your lovely husbands — for contributing to this portrait of weddings and marriages throughout the years. Your advice and anecdotes will stay with us. All images submitted by interviewees.

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