It seems that people have asked me how I managed to stay married to the same person since we celebrated our 20th anniversary. That was 21 years ago. When I mentioned to my class of high school seniors that I had been married for over 30 years, one of them piped up: “To the same man?” Yep. It’s rare these days.
Sadly, my husband Jimmy passed away shortly after our 41st anniversary in January. How did we manage to stay together that long? Especially when Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases began to steal him away from me? I have some words of wisdom, I dare say. I think I’m qualified after staying married for 41 years. So here goes.
After you kiss and embrace at the wedding altar, keep embracing.
- Embrace commitment. Marriage isn’t all dress-up, cake, dancing, gifts,and honeymoon. After your one day in the spotlight life settles down with jobs, bills, laundry, and morning breath. And sometimes babies.
2. Embrace your differences. What you once thought was a cute quirk now annoys the heck out of you. Get over it. Do you really believe that nothing you do could possibly annoy your partner? Choose your battles. Does it make sense to argue over whether the toilet lid stays up or down? Does it really matter in the whole scheme of things? Imagine life without that person. Can’t you live with socks on the floor?
3. Embrace their family. When you get married, you marry the whole package: parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, children. They are now your family as well. You might as well accept it and stop complaining about having to visit them, buy them gifts, etc. They will be the ones who stand by you during hardship or tragedy, and believe me, there will be hardship or tragedy.
4. Embrace teamwork. It’s not all about you and it’s not all about your spouse. I once heard someone say that a marriage is 50-50, but it’s not. It should be 100-100 with each partner giving their all to the other. That isn’t a welcome thought in today’s what’s-in-it-for-me mentality, but I promise that if you give you will receive. I’m not advocating that you put up with abuse because that is a different matter entirely, but if you are willing to go above and beyond for your spouse, it is likely that they will do the same for you. Marriage is hard work and it takes both people to manage it.
5. Embrace not being happy all the time. Your goal shouldn’t be to find someone that will make you happy. This isn’t a Hallmark movie and marriage isn’t a fairy tale. Marriage is spending your life with someone else, and life isn’t a fairy tale or movie. Living involves ups and downs, heartache and disappointment, wins and losses. Being in a marriage means you have someone to share all of life’s hardships as well as the happiness. And happiness, by the way, is something that comes from within yourself, not from someone else.
6. Embrace challenges. There will be many. Jobs will be lost, cars will break down, appliances will shell out, friends and relatives will die. Kids will stretch your patience and finances to the limit. Plumbing will rupture, bank accounts will deplete, the house will need repairs. It’s life. It will happen. It happens to everyone. Look around you. People survive these challenges and you will, too. Not only that, but it is the trials of life that will strengthen your marriage. Stick it out during rough patches. As you get older you will reap the benefits.
7. Embrace being a couple. But find time to be apart sometimes. It is true that absence can make the heart grow fonder. My husband always encouraged me to spend time with my friends, to attend professional events, and to go camping. And I always encouraged him to go hunting, motorcycle riding, or to concerts with his friends. Small and occasional breaks from your spouse are good. They keep you interested and interesting and hopefully anxious to get back home and share your adventures with them.
8. Embrace growth. There is a line we often hear in movies or TV shows that is supposed to explain why a character wants to end a marriage: “we have grown apart.” What a load of baloney. Yes, people do grow, but people can also share their individual growth so they can grow as a couple. My husband was a warehouse worker when I graduated from college and became a teacher. Some might say that I “outgrew” him intellectually or socially. I never entertained that thought and our marriage grew stronger as we shared our lives and built our home and family together.
If you can adopt these principles or habits, or whatever you want to call them, you may find yourself celebrating a milestone anniversary someday. Isn’t facing a long life together better than facing a life alone? Embrace that thought!