Lessons from 40 years of marriage
Valentine’s day has come and gone, but hopefully, romance is here to stay.
This year, Diane and I have been married for 40 years! It’s hard to imagine that so much time has elapsed since we first met, in 1973, on the registration line in graduate school. Four decades is a lifetime of love, tears, joy, ups, downs, and everything in between. Like many other couples, we raised a family, made big geographic moves, argued about laundry and dirty dishes, struggled through health problems, our parent’s old age and deaths, had many lovely family vacations (and some not so great!), and laughed and cried together. Our personalities and dispositions are polar opposites! Yet, we share the same basic values—the importance of family, loyalty, honesty, a strong spiritual faith, and devotion. In good times and bad, we have been there for each other.
What have I learned over these many years? What are the important elements to a strong, sustaining relationship?
My Lessons Learned
Accept your partner for who they are.
It’s true---opposites attract. But then Joe spent the next 20 years trying to get Mary to be just like him! When you first marry—what you see is what you get. Our personalities don’t change. Our dispositions don’t dissolve. Your partner is not a lump of clay that can be shaped into your own image. If your loved one wants to make changes, it will come from him, not from you. This doesn’t mean that you have to like everything about your mate! Love her for who she is—not who you hope she will become.
Good and bad habits are hard to change.
Love is easy--living together isn’t. Most conflicts come from colliding with each other’s habits. Be patient. It takes a very long time to establish good habits. Trust me, I know. Bad habits have nothing to do with love. They were established way before you met.
The marital machine runs on good will.
Joe thinks to himself— “What has Mary done for me lately?”. Mary ponders the same question. Meanwhile, both are waiting for the other person to make the first step in their direction. Guess what happens—nothing.
The way to build good will is to perform deeds of loving kindness. What will bring happiness to your loved one? If each person wakes up every day and asks themselves— “How can I express my love to my partner today” and then brings that answer into being, your good will gas tank will always be topped off. Believe me, it’s the small things that count. Want to bring a smile to your honey? Fold some laundry, wash the dishes, bring your partner a cup of tea, buy your spouse a cookie they love, send a loving text, or simply leave a note with a warm message.
Don’t perform these good deeds with the expectation of appreciation. Do them because they will bring happiness to your partner. On the other hand, when your spouse does something nice for you, express your gratitude! Approval is highly reinforcing. It feels good too.
Don’t give unsolicited advice.
I’m still guilty on this one—despite knowing better. Adults who want advice, ask for it. Otherwise, unsolicited assistance can feel insulting, intrusive, and annoying. When your wife or husband is venting—don’t jump in with your solution. They probably just want to talk out loud and come up with their own answer.
Make time for each other. Go on dates. Dance, laugh, hold hands, connect with each other when you come in or out of the house. Don’t ever take your loved one for granted. Relationships are tender and need nurture and care to grow and flower.
Remember, at the end of the day, it’s all about love.