OFTENTIMES people think it is difficult to maintain a happy and lasting relationship in show business and politics because of the long work hours. But Sen. Vicente “Tito” Sotto is one living proof that it is possible to have and maintain a successful career and family life.

Sotto and wife, seasoned actress Helen Gamboa, will celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary in September. The “Eat Bulaga!” veteran host said that it does not feel like they’ve been together for almost five decades.

“We still laugh together. We enjoy doing things together. I think we are both aging pretty well. God gave me a special gift in Helen,” the senator said.

Sotto and Gamboa’s love story started in 1967. The latter was a beauty queen and movie star while the former was a recording artist and record producer.

During that time, Sotto and his band were tapped by a movie director to appear in one of Gamboa’s big screen projects. He said upon meeting her, it was love at first sight. “Low batt agad ako. I knew then and there that I wanted to be with her.”

But there was a problem. Brought up by strict parents, the young Gamboa was not allowed to date anyone or even accept suitors. Sotto persisted and even made up stories just to visit her on the set of her movie or at home.

“She was very difficult to court because her mom was always with her. Sometimes, I’d pretend that she had to record a song just to talk to her. I courted her secretly and it took us more than a year to finally arrive to a ‘mutual understanding,’” he said.

In September 1969, the couple decided to elope. The plan was to get married in secret in Sto. Tomas, Batangas then return Gamboa to her family home before the crack of dawn. But because of a sick judge and a late night surprise visit to a church, they weren’t able to get back to Manila in time.

Young and newly married, the two had to ask the then Pasay City Mayor Pablo Cuneta and wife Elaine, the sister of Helen, to accompany them and explain their decision to her parents.

“They were so mad at me,” Sotto said. “Right after the wedding, that was the only time I was allowed to visit her, to formally court her. I would visit her three times a week. We didn’t stay in the same house until our January 1971 wedding, which was 14 months after our Batangas nuptials.”

Sotto said that for 49 years, the love and dedication he has for Gamboa never faltered. He said that his wife’s happiness is always above everything else. But just like any other relationship, theirs also had its ups and downs. He said it takes hard work to have a long-lasting marriage and that they never go to sleep with unresolved issues between them.

The senator also said it pays to listen and to know when to compromise. “Always go for the give and take. But it’s better if the man will be more understanding than the woman because they go through different phases in their lives. Things change when they get pregnant and start having kids. Men should always support and give leeway to women.”

Sotto believes that “a happy wife is a happy life.”

“I try my best to make her happy. She takes care of me but it has always been about her. If she’s happy, then I’m happy. She’s my everything. In my 69 years, we have been together for 49 years. She is my life.”

Aside from their love and devotion toward each other, the television host/politician also credits their Catholic faith for the success of their marriage. He said having God in the center of their relationship not only strengthened them as a couple, but also steered their family to the rightful direction.

He also recognized his wife’s patience, love, dedication and understanding. He said Gamboa is not just a good actress but also the best homemaker. “They ask me how I balance things? I don’t. I weave them together. I don’t go out at night. I make sure to have breakfast and dinner at home. But more than that, it’s all because of Helen. She’s the glue holding us together.”

The senator said his marriage to Gamboa is comparable to her classic dish, Sinigang na Baka.

“Kumpleto! May gulay, may sabaw at may beef. Masarap at puwede pang maanghang. All the elements are there for good food, just like my marriage,” he ended.