On Jan 1st, we celebrated 22 years of marriage. At this point I have been married almost as long as I was single. And since the first 16 years of my life don’t really count as being “single”, well then, I have been married for almost three times as long as I have been single. As I look around, 50% of my peers have divorced, moved on, and even remarried more than once at this point. So I feel like I can speak a bit into the longevity of marriage.
I do want to make one thing clear, I have no judgment for the people who didn’t make it this far. There are so many reasons for divorce, and many people were indeed “left” by some pretty extenuating circumstances that had nothing to do with them. Others just don’t hold marriage sacred, and they have no aspiration to live a married life. Some people don’t want to learn hard lessons or grow forward, and, again, no judgment…Everyone has a right to live the life they choose to have. So for those who are looking to have a long marriage, who are fighting for “happily ever after”, or just want a different perspective on a specific life choice, read on.
I met my husband when I was 19. We dated for about six weeks, and then we broke up. We remained friends, though. And over the next 5 years, we grew that friendship into something that crossed state lines and life transformations. Those five years are the foundation that our marriage has been built on. We learned a lot about each other, supported dreams, walked through hardships, leaned on one another with genuine love, and encouraged each other to be authentic. And when we did get back together, it was with the intent to get married. We eloped six weeks later.
So here is what I have learned over the last 22 years.
Be malleable. Malleable means able to be hammered or pressed permanently out of shape without breaking or cracking; easily influenced; pliable (easily bent, flexible). I am not suggesting that we let go of everything we hold near and dear and completely conform to someone else’s world view. But marriage will break you if you are NEVER willing to be flexible or to bend. And yes, you BOTH have to be malleable. It doesn’t really work when only one of you are bending and conforming. If both of you are working towards a common goal (to stay married, to pursue a dream, to raise kids, to not have kids, to better the planet…) then you will need to be malleable. I honestly do not think you can be filled with joy if you aren’t willing to bend a little. The world rarely meets our expectations because those expectations are generally rooted in selfishness.
Be intentional. Seems obvious and a little easy. The truth is, when you have kids, when you have a busy schedule, when you have a sick parent to take care of, or just life in general, those things will all push themselves into the main focus of your life. If you are not intentional about your partner, you will loose sight of why you are together. When that happens, and stress taps you out, fights will ensue. And if you haven’t been intentional, you will start to wonder what you are fighting for.
Be present. Once we had two kids in high school, the schedules were so crazy that we were basically ships crossing in the night. The time we had together had to be planned and thought out. Sure, we could go see a movie. OR we could just sit and have coffee and talk. We had to be present with each other.
Have mentors. I am watching a lot of women discover things in their late 20’s and 30’s that I already know. And I started to realize that I came to “know” those things at those same ages. We just need some life under our belts to learn certain lessons. Having mentors can help you navigate some of those tough lessons. They can also help you understand that you aren’t crazy, just learning what we all do at that age and stage. If you are lucky enough to find a mentor or even a married couple to be mentored by, be intentional in that relationship as well. Set goals you want to go over. Share meals. Be honest. We were not meant to do this life alone.
Do the work. My oldest graduates out of her teens this year, as my middle graduates high school. Teaching them how to “adult” has not been easy. That road has not been smooth. We constantly remind them that it takes work to be healthy. Typically, we don’t just get sick. Either we haven't been taking good care of ourselves, or we have been around sick people and didn’t wash our hands enough or spray enough lysol around the things they touched. In the same way, we don’t just end up in a place where divorce is suddenly on the table. It takes years of undealt with problems, issues and fights. Doing the work in the begging sets up habits that will last throughout the tough years, because there will be tough years. Starting the work when you hit the rough road is better than not doing it, but it is also harder than doing the work when the road was still relatively smooth. Do the premarital counseling. Pay attention to red flags when you are dating (and either deal with it, or walk away). Get a coach or a therapist you both feel comfortable working with. DO. THE. WORK. You can’t run a marathon without training at least a little bit. You don’t get to 22 years without working.
Find the fun. Your tastes will change. What made you laugh when you were in your 20’s won’t make you laugh in your 40’s. Financial restrictions, health limitations, and time constraints may keep you from doing the one thing you used to love. So find new things (be malleable). Find things you can do within the budget, time and physical health you have now, not what you had. Find things you love to do together, and with your kids (if you have them). I loved watching my kids play and perform. Watching a soccer game wasn’t the best use of my time on a Saturday, but I loved seeing them play. We sat through brutal football games just to see one of my girls twirl a flag for 10 minutes at half time. Most people would rather play golf than watch it. I would watch my daughter play any time she asked. And I learned to let go of the fact that all of those things were time suckers. And I embraced the fact that I really enjoyed watching them do the things they love to do.
Redefine joy. See the good in the small details. There will be days where that will feel impossible. But it’s the only way to survive. If you are only focused on the negative all the time, you will not make it. People make us crazy. Living with another human being is hard. Waking up all night because of a snoring spouse is exhausting. Focusing on the positives allows us to celebrate our loves. Living with another human being means I don’t have to bear the load alone. Waking up to a snoring spouse means I’m not alone. Teenagers drive me crazier than my husband ever could (plus, they aren’t teenagers forever!), so it's not all bad. I choose to focus on our partnership and all the benefits we have for being able to fully trust another human being with our love, our hopes and fears, and with our lives. And that makes all of this worth it.
Celebrate seasons. Remember that every stage is just a season. There are some pretty beautiful things about winter-the fresh snow, the warm food that fills us up, and the cute sweaters we get to wear. But when it’s 50 below outside, or the snow has completely covered our cars, it may not be so fun. And a few months later, there is no snow. We move on. Those hard years won’t last forever. And while you are in it, there are genuine things to celebrate. So find those things. Make a list if you have to, but celebrate what you can. And if you are in a glorious spring of newness, freshness, and abundant growth, celebrate that as well. Just remember, good or bad, that season won’t last forever.
Serve others. Whether you are faith based or not, serving others is always a humbling experience. It changes us. It stirs our souls to do better in life and to love those around us. Serving others helps us to be more authentic and puts things into perspective. A humble heart will always strive to do better in their own relationships. So serve together if you can. And go outside your comfort zone. It is an incredible experience to be reminded that the world doesn’t revolve around you-and a huge boost for your relationship.
Honestly, I could talk about marriage forever. I really do believe that a healthy marriage enriches our lives and gives us an abundance of blessings we can’t get when we are single. Again, no judgment on those who choose a different path. I will add that our faith plays a huge role in what our marriage looks like. I do not know how couples who have no faith (or not a shared faith) make it as long as they do. Trey and I share a common goal to serve humbly. We often get it wrong. But we are willing to be challenged, to learn, and to grow through really hard experiences that we have. And we have seen tremendous blessings because of that approach to this life.