Over the years in my hospice work, I’ve met couples married 69, 70 years and longer. When I ask them what the secret is to their marriage the answers have ranged from “You take a lot of Sh*t” to “It takes a lot of work.”
If you follow me on Instagram, you know James and I celebrated our anniversary in Las Vegas last weekend.
James found me when I wasn’t looking for him. It was during my gap year of trying to decide what graduate program to enter and the stage that my Mom called the adolescence I didn’t have in high school. A previous relationship had ended as he went off to graduate school and being married was never something I thought about.
And then I met him. Three months in, we both knew. Seventeen years later, here we are.
I was hesitant to write a post about what we have learned in seventeen years of being married. I certainly don’t want to come off as a marriage expert. I questioned what we had to share. James and I both consider ourselves lucky but at the same time, we have learned many lessons over our time of being together. We’ve seen marriages fail after only a few years and know couples that are truly not happy. What we have is something that we have worked on and continue to work on each day. I hope someday to be asked what the secret is to a long marriage.
Here are some of the lessons we feel we have learned and that may help you regardless if you are a newlywed or celebrating many more years than we are.
Marriage Is Work
Every relationship requires work. Each individual needs to be committed and realize the relationship will die if it isn’t nurtured. A strong, healthy marriage does not simply occur. Although marriage shouldn’t be considered “difficult” work, there may be times when it is more challenging. Keep working.
No Relationship Is 50/50 All Of The Time
Continuing with the concept of relationships require work, it is equally important to realize there will be times when your partner needs more from you than they can give you. There will be times when a relationship will be 90/10 or swing to 40/60. We are individuals with needs coming together. I look back at the time during my Mom and Nanny’s illness and know how much I relied upon James.
There are illnesses, job changes and life stress that often force a change in balance. What is important to consider is that the balance does not become stuck with one consistently giving more. This can lead to significant issues of feeling used and unappreciated.
Make Specific Time For Each Other
It is important that couples spend time with each other – without children or friends and family. Schedule dates and have fun with each other. Sadly, I feel that too many couples allow children and work to become their focus. Relationships need to be nourished with time together doing things that are enjoyable. Schedule a date, go for coffee, watch a movie together.
Sadly, many marriages become so focused upon kids that when the children are gone, they no longer no each other. Don’t let your spouse become a stranger.
Make Time For Your Friends Separately From Your Spouse.
Just as it is important to spend time as a couple, it is equally important to have friends outside of your marriage. Too often I have worked with widows and widowers who did everything with their spouse and had no outside relationships.
Friends are important in our life. They nurture us and help us to grow in ways that our spouse cannot. James and I regularly spend time with our friends – he has boys’ night, I go away on girls’ weekends and we both regularly meet friends throughout the week. Don’t neglect your friends.
Don’t Take Things Too Seriously
Learn to laugh, even during times when it doesn’t seem possible. One of the many things that I love about James is his ability to make me laugh. Over the years he has helped this high-strung perfectionist see the silly in my thought process. As a result, we are a couple with a somewhat dark sense of humor. We have laughed a lot over the past seventeen years; often during some of the darkest times. Laughter has been healing for us.
Being Right Is Not Always Correct
There have been times when we both wanted to be right or both knew we were right. However, being right is not always the best conclusion if it comes at the expense of hurting the one you love.
Respect Your Partner’s Interest but Know You Don’t Have to Enjoy It
I grew up in a sports minded home and knew nothing about the world of comic books. I love college football but had never watched a NFL game until I met James. I’ve been open to his interests (and I’m thankful to have discovered Robert Downey Jr as Ironman) but at the same time I am not going to read a comic book. On the flip side, he’s been to many home and garden and flower shows that he would have never attended.
Our interests are important to each of us and although we may not truly understand the full appeal, it is important to acknowledge the meaning it has.
Marriage Doesn’t Come With A Business Plan
This lesson comes from our first year of marriage when I was in graduate school and developing business plans for non-profits. I made the comment that perhaps our marriage needed a plan. If I remember correctly, James simply looked at me and firmly said “No.”
I believe that too many marriages try to have a business plan. Marriage, house, kids, etc. etc. Over the years, I have worked with way too many who have felt they were failing because they had not achieved an arbitrary goal. James and I have had loose goals of building houses, and jobs but we’ve been fortunate to simply appreciate life without strict expectations. It’s important to set goals but running a marriage like a business will lead to problems.
It’s Ok To Be Angry With Each Other
We live in a society where anger is considered a negative emotion. However, anger is normal healthy emotion that each of us feel. It is what we do with anger that can be negative.
A marriage is comprised of two individuals, you will get angry with the other. Sometimes you must recognize that, walk away and then return. I am not sure I trust a couple that states that never have been angry.
Find A Partner You Want To Be a Better Person For
A good marriage makes each individual want to be better as an individual. I want to be healthy and successful for myself but I also James to be proud of me.
Be Each Other’s Cheerleader
Don’t forget to tell your spouse how proud you are of them. Congratulate them for keeping up a workout routine or receiving the promotion. Remind the other person that you are in their corner regardless of what is going on.
Respect your Partner’s Family
I’ve encountered so many individuals who don’t like their in-laws. Your partner’s family is where they learned many of their life lessons. You may not become BFF’s but it is important to show respect to who your partner loves.
Have An Activity You Both Equally Enjoy Together
Make sure there is an activity you mutually enjoy. James and I love to travel and over the past year we’ve started cooking together.
Trust That Your Partner Knows What They Are Doing
There are times in a marriage when you simply have to trust your partner. They will catch you if you fall.