Lessons from 30 Years of Marriage — Part 2
This is Part 2 of my three-part series with my lessons from 30 years of marriage. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, here you go:
Lessons from 30 Years of Marriage — Part 1
Even a stubborn old dog eventually learns something
The first act of your marriage is exciting. You have the honeymoon phase and spend years getting to know each other. You have so much fun exploring and experiencing things together as a couple.
You don’t know it yet, but you’ll never have quite that level of freedom ever again. The second act starts when you move past this initial glow and settle into a routine. It will really change if and when you decide to start a family.
My wife wanted children years before I did. I wanted to wait until I finished graduate school and landed my first real job. She was ready much sooner.
So, I did what most people would do. I got her a kitten. But, of course, it grew up to be a cat. Still some cuddles, but not quite like a kitten.
So, I added a puppy to our household. It, too, decided to betray me and turn into a dog. The only answer was to get another puppy. Our home became a zoo.
I still remember the moment that the fatherhood switch flipped inside me. I had a full-time job at Apple but was still working on finishing my dissertation. One day, we had lunch at a park nearby, and we watched a young couple playing with their baby.
Something inside me clicked, and I said, “Wow, I think I’m ready. I want a baby too.” I barely made it to my goal. My wife attended my graduation from Rice University in a very pregnant state.
But I finally did it. I had a job, my Ph.D., and our daughter was born a couple of months later.
Here is my next batch of lessons learned from a decades-long marriage. I’ve included the sage advice from some of my friends who have been married a long time as well.
Children change everything
You have to be on the same page with regards to children. I know some couples that disagreed but thought it would be ok (i.e., one wanted children and the other did not). It eventually tore them apart.
Raising our children has been the most amazing experience of my life. There is no love like the love a parent feels for a child. I don’t know how to explain it.
The love you feel is completely different than any other relationship you have (e.g., spouse, your own parents, siblings, friends). And the love you feel grows with each additional child.
But, it will change your marriage completely. Now, the focus is on your children. Everything you do is different when they are your top priority (as they should be).
It gets a lot harder to find time alone for just the two of you. But, it’s important for the health of your relationship as a couple and not just being “Mom and Dad” 24x7.
Be together for the right reasons
Recently, Mark Manson asked 1,500 people:
“Anyone who has been married for 10+ years, and is still happy in their relationship . . . what lessons would you pass down to others if you could? What is working for you and your partner? Also, to people who are divorced, what didn’t work previously?” — Mark Manson (source)
He received some great answers and included examples of all the wrong reasons to enter into a long-term relationship. In Part 1 of this series, I talked about why you should marry for potential instead of focusing on shallow characteristics (e.g., looks, money).
Here are a few of the wrong reasons to marry someone:
- Your family or friends think you should
- You committed too soon and think you can’t back out
- You feel desperate and out of options
A few good reasons that you should consider marrying someone include:
- You deeply love and respect them for who they really are
- You know they are a great person
- They have the potential to keep growing and becoming their best self
- You both feel more complete together
- You bring out the best in each other
- You selflessly want the best for them
Fix your personal issues
So many things that seem wrong in a relationship aren’t about the relationship. The problems are inside each individual.
You can’t love someone well when you don’t love yourself. You can’t forgive others when you can’t forgive yourself. You can’t create a stable family when you aren’t stable.
I have so many personal issues, and I know it sabotaged previous relationships. It’s made my marriage a lot harder than it had to be. My wife is very patient.
It took me decades to work on myself, and I’m far from where I need to be. I should have sought therapy a long time ago.
Don’t expect a partner to fix you. Too many people get into codependent relationships. They feel broken somehow and lean on their partner to support them, fix them, and give them a sense of worth.
A healthy relationship requires two healthy individuals. Do what you need to do to be healthy before committing to a serious relationship. Get the therapy you keep putting off. Seek counseling for unresolved issues.
Find a way to keep yourself balanced and healthy, and your relationship will benefit.
Keep a short memory
My friend Max Klein recommended, “Keep a short memory.” Don’t keep track of wrongs.
Forgive and forget. Don’t always bring up old mistakes your partner made.
To be clear, you should remember all of the good things. But it’s ok to have amnesia when it comes to the less-than-ideal stuff.
This won’t be easy for some people. I know we held onto some bad memories for way too many years and would occasionally bring them up when we argued. Not good.
Let it go when someone apologizes, makes amends, and learns from the mistake. Of course, it depends on what the issue is. Some things may be unforgivable. If so, get marriage counseling or end the relationship. Arguing about it for the next 20 years makes for a miserable marriage.
Choose your battles
Here’s another recommendation from Max. Even if you feel like you’re right a lot of the time, you don’t always have to prove it.
Is it worth it to win an argument but lose the relationship? Your spouse isn’t your debate opponent. They are your life partner, so don’t treat things like a verbal competition.
Be careful when you choose what you want to argue about. Be even more careful when you choose what you want to be right about.
Ask yourself, “Does it matter?”
Most of the time, it usually doesn’t. Let it go.
It took me a long time to learn how to keep some thoughts in my head. With age comes wisdom and a buffer system. Now, I hesitate, play scenarios in my head, and review the outcomes.
It’s not worth it to argue about something trivial and ruin an entire weekend. Take a deep breath and let most things go.
Don’t take them for granted
Finally, Max said to remember not to take your partner for granted. Familiarity can breed contempt. So, you have to always fight that tendency.
Even if you’re not trying to take someone for granted, you can get lazy and not treat people how they should be treated out of familiarity. We sometimes fall into this bad habit with our friends and family, as well.
Even the little things matter. I make coffee for my wife every morning. I’ve probably been doing that for 30 years. She still says, “Thank you,” as I hand her the mug and smiles.
We often cook breakfast together, but my wife usually makes our dinner every evening because I’m still working and on client calls. I always thank her for the meal and tell her how wonderful it is.
Life is short, and you never know how much time you’ll have with someone. Treat each day with them as a gift.
Earn your relationship every day
This is a good reminder from my friend Bill Lennan. You should think about earning your relationship every day. Don’t treat your marriage like a commodity.
“She takes good care of me. I take good care of her.” — Bill Lennan
We’re both busy with our daily schedules, but we try to make time for a short walk together in the evening. We still walk arm in arm when we go out. I hold her hand. I open doors for her.
People want to feel like they matter. Your partner certainly hopes that you care more about them than anyone else in the world. Don’t get complacent and ignore their needs.
Pick a safe word
I like this advice from my friend Michael Thompson. Pick a word you can use when you need to take a break from arguing.
Anyone can use the word, and it forces you to take a step back. That’s when you know that your partner needs a breather.
I used to leave and go for a long drive to clear my head. You may say something you regret in the heat of the moment if you don’t take a break when you need it.
By the way, arguments are a normal part of a healthy relationship. I mentioned that every marriage has highs and lows. Well, every marriage has some conflict too. It’s part of bringing two strong-willed human beings together for years and years.
I wish I could remember where I read this, but someone once said they could tell if a marriage would last by watching how the couple fought. You can disagree with someone while still being loving and respectful and giving your partner space when needed.
Never give your partner a reason not to trust you
This advice comes from my friend Jack Calhoun. Your partner needs to know that they can trust you. And, not just in terms of fidelity — which is, of course, the biggest one — but also in terms of finances, parenting, and general behavior and intention.
They need to always know you’ve got their back. You need to know they’ve got yours.
I recently read about a spouse who blew the couple’s entire life’s savings on a spending spree. Can you imagine how the other partner felt? Everything gone. That’s such a massive betrayal.
I can’t think of a single person that you need to trust more than your spouse. You are at your most vulnerable with them and vice versa.
Put your spouse’s needs ahead of your own
Here’s another tip from Jack. Always think about putting your spouse’s needs ahead of your needs.
It’s the same if you’re a parent. Our children always came first. We never jetted off on frequent vacations — or parties — and left them behind. We spent 99% of our vacation time, weekends, and recreation together as a family.
My wife and I were both raised that way, so it seemed natural. Our childhoods were full of family road trips, hikes, camping, game nights, meals together, etc.
By the way, I’m talking about parenting, not pampering. We didn’t put them on a pedestal, spoil them, or flood them with gifts, treats, and unlimited screen time. But, we do give them our unconditional love and attention and make sure they are safe, healthy, and happy.
I’m also not talking about being spineless or codependent with your partner. If you marry the right person, they will put your needs first, too.
You’ll have a relationship built to last when you’re both focused on taking care of each other.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series coming later this week. I’m saving some of the best for last (sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll)! Follow me to see the final story in your feed.