Monday, March 10, 2014

A Few Things I've Learned After 20-Something Years of Marriage

My husband and I have been married for almost 22 years - not a huge stretch of road - but enough to know that we are in this for the long haul. I honestly can't imagine being married to anybody else but him. 

I work with college students. I see a lot of oohing and aaahhhing over engagement rings. I also see the worried glances of those who are not "in love" by spring. And, I can't help thinking how little they know. I wish I knew then, in my 20s, what I know now. 

So, here's my short list of advice for couples just saying, "I do":

1. You sometimes should go to bed angry

When we were first married, I remembered the Bible verse that said the sun should not go down upon our wrath. I worried about that one. You see, we were wrathful. Actually, sometimes we were furious. I don't know about those couples who never fight. My husband and I can get stubborn and vengeful and exchange words we don't mean; words meant to hurt. Throughout the years, we've gotten better about fighting fair and about not fighting in front of our daughter, but the fact remains that we have moments where the temperature rises and we are engaged in a fast and furious battle.

Because I am a resolver, I want to fix our fights on the spot. And, I've found that the more I try to fix them, the angrier he gets. In my resolve to make things right - and to get to sleep - my husband feels I am chasing him down and pushing my own agenda. I've learned to back down, to walk away, to go to our corners. For him, it's usually the garage. For me, I take a walk or sulk or even cry.

There are times we go to bed angry only to wake up and talk. We are more reasonable after a break. We see things differently. We've had time to realize we aren't perfect. We've let the blood pressure sink back to normal levels.

Should you always go to bed without resolution? Probably not. But I've found that hard and fast rule does not work for all couples.

2. You don't need to do everything together, but find a few things you can share.

Milt loves cars-I mean he really loves them. He loves going to car shows, car races, car anything. I go along because I love him. One year we went to a drag race on our anniversary. True, but then we did go to a French restaurant (my choice) later that evening.

But, despite our differences, we also have some things in common. We love 50s music and vintage everything. He'll happily walk through antique shops with me, and we learned to swing dance together by watching a video tape in our basement. This commonality bonds us - we have fun going to rockabilly events together. We made new friends - as a couple. Those experiences have grown and solidified our marriage.

Some married couples I know don't do much together. They have separate checkbook, separate friends, and take separate vacations. They have individual passions and rarely spend time doing something they both love. I would urge you, early in your marriage, to find a common interest and cultivate it. I think there is health in alone time, but your marriage will be stronger if you find something you can both engage in. For my parents, their home church became that thing - and camping. They really loved being together - I wanted that for my marriage as well.

3. Keep the love alive - physical attraction needs nurturing.

My teenage daughter is a bit mortified if she walks in on us kissing. But, I do know she likes to see her parents hold hands. Milt and I need to be physical together. He can tell something's wrong if I cling to my edge of the bed and put my back to him. He can tell I'm happy if I reach out and hold his hand across the front car seat. Our physical actions are a gauge for our emotional status.

I recently told a friend that my physical attraction to my husband helps us get over fights. It's true! I might be angry with him when he's awake and frowning furiously at me, but when I wake up and he's asleep, I still think he's adorable. I love him, and I'm attracted to him. That physical attraction is different than when we first dated, but it is still there.

Some people think physical attraction should not be on the list of "why" you marry. Perhaps it shouldn't be a priority- but it is a part of what brought you together. Don't let that die. Make an effort to look good for one another. Speak a kind word to each other every day. Give him a compliment. Hold her hand. Sit on one couch when you watch television. Nurture the spark that drew you together.

4. Go on dates, and they don't have to be at night

I always hear about couples who have a requisite "date night." They are right - you should go out. It is fine to sit in front of the television. It is fine to enjoy just "being together" at home. But you need to leave the house and go somewhere, anywhere, intentionally, alone. It is not easy to do that when you have kids. You have to get a babysitter and make plans. But try to sneak away and spend time alone together...even if it means taking a walk in the afternoon.

I enjoyed the movie Date Night with Tina Fey and Steve Carell - theirs was a date night gone disastrously wrong. But, it did illustrate a point. When they got out of the house, out of their routine, they rediscovered each other. They had an adventure, and the date wasn't what they had planned, but it was good.

Even walking through the aisles of Menards or stopping at McDonald's for a burger can count. As parents, there is the divine joy of uninterrupted conversation. There is looking into each other's eyes and being able to finishing complete thoughts. Sometimes there's laughter and holding hands. Other times you just remember all the little things you wanted to tell him or her. It is about time together. It is about making new memories. It is about remembering that once, not so long ago, it was just the two of you.

5. Selfishness will kill your relationship

Today, I didn't really want to help my husband figure out how to modify a convertible top for the corvette he's been tinkering with for the past 15 years of our marriage. It was cold in the garage, and I had other things to do. But, he'd been asking me to help all week. He had done other things for me. I had to get over myself. It was my turn. I did it because I value him.

Marriage isn't always fun. And, more importantly, it isn't always about me. It can't be. Resist the urge to focus on what you aren't getting out of the relationship or what the other person isn't doing for you.

Do the things the other person wants to do. Do them willingly. He watches Downton Abbey with me - and I watch Miami Vice reruns with him. It works out. I usually find that when we both engage in doing things the other person wants or needs, we both become so much happier.

I can say - even after 22 years of living alongside one person - that I love being married. But I don't think I think the same way today that I thought 20 years ago. I've learned, sometimes the hard way, that marriage isn't about perfection. It is about really loving one person and acting as if I do. It means going to car shows and watching Miami Vice. It means fighting and getting really angry, and then forgiving, admitting my mistakes, and making up.

Marriage is choosing to be unselfish even when it's hard. It means putting the other person ahead of yourself, even when you really want that last piece of chocolate.

Marriage is more than just romance - but, a good marriage creates its own kind of romance.

Marriage is work . . . it's true, but you are in it together.

I'm hoping the next 20 years are even better than the first.

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