This week my wife and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary.Â Neither she nor I can believe we have been married that long — part of it is that we just don’t feel that “old”! (To keep the edge of reality a bit less sharp, we usually comment that we were only 12 when we got married.)
But as we have shared about our milestone with others, we have been asked quite a few times:Â “What are the ‘secrets’ to being married that long?”Â I started to reflect on the question and came up with a few thoughts in response that I thought I would share.
- Marry the right person.Â This may sound strange — and doesn’t really help those who are already married –but marrying a person who has the foundational character qualities that are needed for maintaining a long term relationship is key.Â Two come to mind (there are many, obviously) — 1) avoid someone who is easily offended and 2) a person who holds grudges.Â Both make it really difficult to forgive.Â The first (being easily offended) means the person is going to have to forgive you a lot over the future decades.Â And the second (holding grudges) means that they have a hard time “letting go” of offenses, which undermines the ability to maintain a close long term relationship. Most of us are blinded by infatuation and physical attraction when we are looking for someone to marry.Â Some of us are (or were) just young and clueless.Â So finding the right person under those circumstances is largely due to God’s grace in our lives.Â But if you are still looking for a spouse, be sure and look for the true qualities you desire. (On the other hand, don’t be looking for Prince Charming or ‘The Perfect Woman’ — they don’t exist in reality.)
- Both individuals need to become good at forgiving.Â Throughout the months, years and decades of your marriage, you will screw up a lot; and your spouse will make a lot of mistakes, so it is critical for both parties to be able and willing to forgive one another.Â I truly don’t know of any other way to make a long term relationship work — practicing forgiveness is key.Â There are a lot of misconceptions about forgiveness — that you have to ‘forget’ what happened to be able to forgive; that forgiveness means what happened really didn’t matter or hurt; or that what the person did ‘wasn’t that big of a deal’ — none of which are true.Â Forgiveness is essentially “letting go” and not holding the offense against the person any longer.Â Easy to say, but a process which can take a long time to enact. [A great book on this issue is The Art of Forgiving by Lewis Smedes.]
- Learn (and then practice) the ways that your spouse experiences being loved.Â For a long time (I mean 25 years or so) Kathy and I struggled.Â She was frustrated with me, not feeling like I cared for or about her.Â And I didn’t feel like she appreciated me.Â Then we read Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, and began to understand that each of us experiences being loved differently.Â Kathy’s ‘love language’ is having focused attention and quality time; mine is verbal praise.Â Once we understood our differences, and have worked at loving each other in the languages important to us (it has taken me longer than Kathy), then our frustrations have diminished.Â Although the concepts of this book are pretty simple and not ‘magic’, they helped us get over a barrier in our relationship.
- Work on your relationship.Â “Working on your relationship”, to me, means — make your marriage a priority.Â You have to spend time, invest mental and emotional energy, be willing to spend money on your relationship — and say “no” to other things (hobbies, work, other relationships, leisure activities, activities with or for the kids).Â Although I rarely looked forward to a marriage seminar or retreat (being honest), I almost always felt like there was significant benefit from going.Â And I get tired of reading books on marriage, but I continue to glean helpful concepts and hints to make me a better husband.Â Anything that you want to be of good quality takes time and effort.
- Be committed to stay married even when it’s tough and you don’t like your spouse.Â Sometimes I feel ‘commitment’ is overly emphasized in weddings and advice to young couples — to the point that it seems that the only thing needed to stay married is commitment (which I don’t believe is true).Â But, if you ask most couples who have been married a long time, the rock bottom foundation of being committed to staying married, no matter how tough it gets, has been true for them.Â And it is true for us.Â We have had times where it seemed it would have been easier (and less painful) to just call it quits.Â And there were times where we really didn’t like each other much, and didn’t enjoy our relationship.Â But we were committed to make it work, and to this point we have been able to do so. [An ASIDE:Â I clearly believe that there are circumstances when it probably doesn’t make sense and can be dangerous to stay in a relationship — when there is drug or alcohol abuse, or anger and abuse issues.Â Being committed doesn’t mean you should be foolish.]
- Give up trying to change your spouse (the “if only …” game).Â Part of the ability to keep together (and get past those really tough times) comes with the true acceptance of the other person for who they are.Â And even if it would be good for them to change for certain habits or to “grow” in character (patience, perseverance, follow-through, impulse control, you name it) — accepting that they may never change reduces a lot of conflict.Â And yes, life would be better “if only …”, but “if only …” may not happen and you certainly aren’t going to make it happen in their life for them.Â So accept the reality that your spouse is a flawed individual and that it would be helpful if you learn to live with them the way they are.
- Miscellaneous parting thoughts.Â Â There are lots more principles — that is why there are so many books on marriage.Â But I want to get on with my day, so let me just finish with some additional short comments.
- Be thankful — for your life, for your spouse, for your family.
- Learn to enjoy activities that you can do together.Â Do things with your spouse that they enjoy — go along with them just because they like it.
- Live within your means.Â Financial stress from overextending your lifestyle creates additional unnecessary stress that can undermine your relationship.
- Realize life is hard.Â Enjoy the good times and persevere through the difficult ones.
Have a great week.Â And if you are fortunate enough to be married — give your spouse a big hug and kiss sometime today.