My husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary last week. I still consider my wedding day to be one of the best days of my life, and I would still be watching my wedding video for fun if only I had a VCR that worked. It seems like eons and yet just a moment since we vowed our forever to each other, and we have learned so many life lessons along the way.
Even though I frequently remind my children how fortunate they are to have parents who not only are still married but who actually like each other, I was pleasantly surprised when I researched the latest marital stats. As it turns out, we are not so special—according to the US Census, approximately 52% of people have been married 30 to 35 years. But—how many of them are truly happy? I am not sure that the census bureau measures that.
How did we do it? I’m so glad you asked…
I think that our best man actually set us on our path to success with his toast—that we should grow in love as individuals and together, and that is exactly what we have done. In other words, throughout our commitment to each other, we also have never lost our selves, always allowing for our individual growth. We work as partners—two people moving along a path together, rather than two lives fused into one. We are not each other’s “everything.” While this may sound unromantic, it’s not meant to. By being individuals working together, neither of us runs the risk of being frustrated at having “lost our self” and each of us has the benefit of bringing new and exciting experiences to our home.
What other secrets to success are there from our long and winding road of happiness? Many of these may seem obvious, but if it was so easy and obvious, divorce rates wouldn’t be so high. So read on…
First and foremost…show the love. Every day. When I say hi to Ron, I actually look at him and give him a hug and kiss. And when I leave, I again take an extra moment to be sure that he heard me say good-bye and tell him that I love him. We happily help each other where and when we need it without micromanaging or infantilizing. Ron is not my child—he is my husband. And I am not his “pet”—I am his wife.
Say thank you and please. So obvious, right? Yet I see so many of my friends and family members bark orders at their spouses and never say thank you? Or they complain about all the things the spouse doesn’t do while forgetting about the many things that are handled. Humans want to be appreciated and acknowledged. It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to be gracious and let someone know that you have noticed what he/she has done. I firmly agree with the adage that there is nothing sexier in a marriage than a man who does the dishes or empties the trash. And Ron was very excited yesterday when I came out to help him sweep the outdoor storage area. He also was very excited when I suggested that we do something we had never done before—take a golf lesson for our anniversary. So fear not, it’s not all trash cans and sweeping in our lives.
Touch. It doesn’t have to be a lot and doesn’t have to be all about sex. Just touch. Pat a knee. Hold hands for a moment. Rub a back. Just as children feel safe and reassured when they are touched, so, too, do adults. Deep inside, even the strongest adult is a child who desperately wants to be reassured and held in a safe space. Little touches mean a lot and are not the special privilege of the young. You never grow too old to touch.
Play. Sure, life is serious business, and the responsibilities of work and children and family can become overwhelming at times. But don’t forget to play and laugh—even laugh at yourself when you do something dopey. We all do silly things, like being clumsy and spilling something or forgetting something or singing really badly. When our daughters criticize our shortcomings or foolishness, as children are prone to do, I remind them that we all have those “cutisms” and that’s part of what makes us human.
Related to all of this…
Love them for who they are and who they aren’t. If you thought you would change your spouse into a different person after you were married, you were in for a rude awakening, right? A quiet person doesn’t suddenly become a chatterbox…nor does a couch potato suddenly become an avid hiker. So now you’re married, and those “short comings” may have become annoying. What can you do? Just love your partner for who he/she is and who he/she isn’t, and remember that the pluses outweigh the negatives. People may evolve, but they don’t change who they are, no matter how much they are nagged. One of the things I appreciate most in Ron is his ability to look past my many “cutisms” and to simply love me.
A question that I have pondered is whether good marriages are good from the start and bad ones are troubled from the start. Or is it a question of whether you really thought it all the way through when one popped the question and the other said yes?
To me, at the root, we are picking partners who can help us become the best person and have the fullest life that we can. Someone who will complement us, not mirror us. And someone who shares core values about the relationship and life. All marriages have bad moments. Deep commitment to the relationship and your vows of partnership can help you avoid making an emotional decision, while play and touch and please, thank you and I love you can make those bad moments more manageable and may even keep many of them at bay. You can’t control the surprises that the world will throw your way, but you can control the way you and your partner face them.
Thank you, Ron. I love you.