Twenty five years ago two very young, some might argue too young, people stood before an altar and vowed to love each other “until death us do part.” We had no idea what we were saying, at least I didn’t. For me, standing there in a white dress with good hair and make-up was like being in a Hallmark movie. The ones where the most handsome guy falls for the average girl and makes her feel like a princess. So, in the movie, the couple dates, gets engaged, marries, and goes on a fabulous honeymoon with nothing but stars in their eyes. Perfection.
And then they go home to live happily ever after.
I remember feeling shocked when I realized my prince didn’t rinse his toothpaste out of the bathroom sink, even though I had asked him so kindly to do so. And how could he leave his dirty socks in the bedroom floor…again?? And what was the big deal if I slurped my soup off the spoon, didn’t everybody? Why was he so annoyed by it? And what do you mean we only have $1.27 in the bank to last the rest of the week? What were we supposed to eat? And, I’m sorry, I don’t know how to cook like your mother. Maybe you should go live with her…
Those were the glory days.
When I think back, I’m amazed we are still here standing…together…only slightly battle scarred from twenty five years of trying to figure out what marriage is supposed to look like. We’ve pretty much given up on reading articles about what happily married couples do or self-help books on how to make your marriage better in ten easy steps; although those articles and books do have their place, I guess, with some folks. The problem with us is we never seemed to fit into any one book or step, our relationship could’ve been summed up as a mess married to an even bigger mess.
And there was no book or plan for that.
I was laughing with a friend a few days ago about the early years of our relationship. We were discussing flight or fight. We defined fight as the one who wanted to stay and fight for the relationship, and flight as the one who was ready to flee as soon as things got too hard. Well, for those of you who have been married for more than one second, you know that marriage is always hard on some level. Well, in our situation I was the flight risk. Honestly, I would probably be single and miserable if I’d had my own way. I was young and immature and only by the grace of God and my husband’s determination are we here to celebrate this milestone.
Our silver anniversary.
I could tell you some stories, seriously, stories that would make you wonder why he would want to stay, but I won’t rabbit trail. Let me just say I married an almost saint. I harbor no illusions about him, I still remember the toothpaste, but he has stayed with this by definition dysfunctional woman for longer than he was old when he married. (Think about it.) So, he must be “sainted” somewhere or he deserves to be at least.
Instead of telling you the highlights of our relationship that might make you laugh or cry, I decided to share with you some of the things I’ve learned over the last quarter of a century. Twenty five things to be exact, just to carry out this whole cheesy number thing we’ve got going on here.
Actually my husband helped me with a few ideas of his own, I’ve marked them with an asterisk so you’ll know which ones are his.
1. Keep Christ a priority in your marriage and go to church. Just. Go. To. Church. Without God’s strength and mercy my husband and I would surely not be celebrating today. That, and the fact that my daddy told him once we were married not to “bring her back,” and I quote. So, there’s that…
2. I can’t stress the importance of this lesson…NO ONE WINS when you fight. I say WHEN because, you WILL have arguments, fight fair and always strive for resolution. If you fight to “win” you both lose.
3. When you look at each other, look past the wrinkles and age spots and see the young man/woman you married. I don’t understand it really, but I still see my man how he looked at twenty. The clock hasn’t stolen his youth in my heart. I understand the phrase now, “you’re only as old as you think you are.”
4. See the humor in life. I wish we had laughed more when we were younger, I think we took things too seriously and stressed out more than necessary. It’s funny because all those things we were so upset about I can’t even remember today, they all worked themselves out.
5. Tell your spouse how much you love them and show them in many different ways. * My husband and I have gotten better at this over the years, it takes practice.
6. Don’t be a backseat driver. I need a bumper sticker that says, “Back seat driving destroys relationships.” Telling your significant other how to drive will only make them mad. Trust me. Just buckle up, pray hard and hang on. If you live, just think of the stories you’ll have to tell.
7. Don’t wish away the years of “not plenty.” Sometimes I miss having to search for change in the couch and under the car seats just to buy a pizza. I think it tasted better when I didn’t take it for granted.
8. Compromise is foundational and cannot be understated. Always be willing to give and take, it makes living together so much easier. Most of the time whatever it is you think you can’t be flexible about, you won’t remember in twenty, ten even one year. Let it go.
9. Life is not fair and it’s hard, but it’s definitely worth living.
10. Always have each other’s back. We face enough judgement and rejection outside of our homes, we need to feel that no matter what happens there is someone who matters to us that will come to our defense.
11. A night IN can be just as much fun as a night OUT with the right person. Be better than me and play games with your spouse, they will appreciate you for it. And if you want to be truly amazing, play Monopoly.
12. When choosing between family and making extra money, choose family. Every time. *
13. Long walks and talks are as good as therapy. Maybe they ARE therapy.
14. Kids change EVERYTHING. No explanation needed.
15. Say “I’m sorry” a lot. *
16. Let go of the dream of privacy once you have kids. One day, like me, you’ll have an empty nest and you’ll have all the privacy you want. Hang in there, it will come back to you.
17. Even when you don’t like each other very much, be best friends. You know, sometimes my husband and I go to bed angry. I heard you gasp. Well, it’s the truth. But, we never stop believing that we are best friends, even BFF’s fight sometimes. Just always make up as soon as possible.
18. Cheer for each other in success and support each other in failure. Failure will come, handle it with grace and understanding. I wish I could go back and relive some moments…
19. Always kiss, every day. I won’t tell you what else my husband said you should do every day, I’ll let you use your imagination. And the answer is no, we don’t, not every day. Sorry, if that makes you uncomfortable, you must not be married yet.
20. Celebrate milestones, like birthdays and paying off credit cards. I remember going out to dinner to celebrate paying off some painful debt, we had done it together, as a team and we celebrated big. Don’t underestimate the value of celebrations.
21. Cry with each other in grief. Sharing in each other’s pain is a holy experience. It will bond you in ways no amount of happiness ever will.
22. Don’t let finances destroy your relationship. *
23. Don’t forget how to have fun in the midst of chasing dreams and raising kids, find hobbies and new things to do together. *
24. Don’t be a flight risk, it damages the relationship and erodes trust. Stay and fight, it’s worth it.
25. Live each and every day to the fullest; one day too soon one of you won’t be here anymore.
I wish I had practiced each of these things from the time I said “I do.” I learned a lot of them the hard way. I want to leave you with one final bonus tip, call it number twenty six if you want…don’t give up. Don’t ever give up trying, loving, listening and being interested. It’s worth all the blood, sweat and tears. And, one day, when your hair is grey and the house grows empty you’ll be left standing with your very best friend, the one who lived with you through it all.
And maybe you’ll even be lucky enough to celebrate gold.