It’s been said that to become an expert it takes approximately 10,000 hours, give or take. Given the right teacher, the right student, experiences, etc.
I’ve been married 30 years, which equates to 10, 957 days or 262, 974 hours, so I have, to some degree, reached expert status. The thing is I don’t consider myself an expert so much as I consider myself a seasoned student.
I’m blessed to be asked to participate in interviews around my line of work and give my thoughts on personal branding and intentional life design and almost always, the question will come up about the ‘secret’ to being married for so long.
Here’s the secret as I see it: It is freakin’ hard work. It’s roll up your sleeves, dig down deep, and give more than you ever thought possible work.
We got married at the ripe old age of 19; high school sweethearts who were ready to take on the world together.
Background wise, we are quite different. If you had to take a snapshot of what the ideal American family looked like and sounded like, that would be my husband’s family. One of four, he was raised in a faith based, solid values home and as far as I know, no one has ever heard his parents raise their voices to each other.
I, on the other hand, was raised in rather different circumstances. My parents ‘had to’ get married, and my birth mother flew the coop when I was about 4 and I was raised by my dad, who remarried when I was 7 (sometime I’ll tell you that story, it’s a good one). That marriage lasted 12 years and both of them have since moved on and remarried. If you total up all the marriages of my assorted parents, I think it adds up to about 9.
Personality wise we are very different in some ways and very alike in others. He’s a chipper early bird, I prefer to start my day with coffee and solitude (which is a kind way of saying I may take your head off if you talk to me before I’ve had coffee). He’s easy going and laid back, I’m the worrier and more intense. He is deliberate and methodical, I tend to be an impulsive whirlwind. I have the Italian temper and Irish fiery-ness, he has the German stoicism and even temperament.
We are both extroverted introverts and often finish each other’s thoughts. We both have sharp senses of humor that have gotten us through many tough times. Most importantly, we share the same values.
Back to that ‘secret’ of marriage. I don’t know you, your circumstances, your experiences, your beliefs, etc. Every marriage is different, just as every person is different. I can only share my perspective and experience and maybe there is a nugget in there that you might find useful.
Respect each other and yourself. We have never resorted to calling each other names when we argue. I’ve witnessed it growing up and it’s a horrible way to treat each other.
You don’t just choose a partner, you also choose a family. For better or worse, you not only marry an individual, you also marry his/her family, values, beliefs, culture, traditions, and way of life. You don’t have to embrace it, but you do need to understand the importance of that in your spouse’s life.
Face challenges together because they will come. Challenging situations can so easily divide a couple. In the last 3 years we’ve had all of our children living under our roof, a grandchild, and my mother move in with us. It’s been hard, and a spouse is an easy target when nerves are frayed and tempers flare; but at the end of the day, it’s how you manage it as a couple.
This too shall pass. A cliché; perhaps, but also some of the truest words ever to be uttered. It will not always be hard, it will not always be happy, but it will always be worth it if you want it to be.
Sometimes it’s more than ok to go to bed angry. Personally, I need time to stew process things before I speak and talk things out. Not everything can be solved before the 11 o’clock news.
It’s not your spouse’s job to make you happy. It is your spouse’s job to love you, respect you, value you, and want you to be happy, but not make you happy.
Communicate. My husband has many gifts and talents, but I have learned over the years that mind reading is not one of them. Expecting him to know why I’m pissed off or upset by giving him the silent treatment or being passive-aggressive never works and often makes the situation worse.
Marriage is not 50/50. Marriage is giving 100%. Will you do that all the time? Nope, but it’s certainly much better to make the choice to give it your all and not 50% of yourself.
Have a sense of humor. Find someone who makes you laugh. Laughter really is the best medicine.
Love is the work that is not work, except when it is work. You’ll fight, you’ll drive each other crazy, outside influences will work their way into your relationship; how will you handle that? This marriage gig is work. Sometimes it’s work that is easy and sometimes it’s hard as hell. Anything worth having and appreciating requires blood, sweat, tears, sacrifice, and commitment. Many people today throw in the towel when things get hard or challenges seem insurmountable.
Just the other day I was griping about how ready I was for it to be “our” time, just the 2 of us; and he said, “But it’s always our time”. And that’s why I’ve been married to this guy for 30 years.