My wife and I just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary this weekend. The statistics show that only about half of all marriages (more or less) last this long – more for college-educated people who make a couple of children together, less for uneducated divorcees with a couple of kids on their 2nd marriage. Statistics really can get oddly specific.
It’s not like we’re one of the great love stories of the ages, or like it’s been two decades of happiness and bliss. On the contrary, the last 20 years have seen at least six different broad categories of problems, and no shortage of trials, obstacles and hurdles to get over. We’ve often bemoaned, “I’m not asking for things to be EASY…just to be not-hard once in a while.”
So how is my marriage in the half that’s lasted this long? Is it really as simple as a steadfast refusal to get a divorce?
First, I love my wife. I know the experts say that love isn’t what makes a marriage last, and by itself it totally isn’t. The whole head-over-heels-in-love courtship phase, with fluttering heart and quivering loins…that fades away to a warm memory in a couple of years. But love is still necessary. For one thing, love makes one more likely to forgive their spouse for the dippy shit that they do – and don’t act all superior, everybody’s spouse does dippy shit…I know my wife’s spouse certainly does. When your spouse does something that makes you squint, cock your head and wonder “what the fudging fudge,” love is what cushions the landing. Love gives you a framework for your relationship, a basis of “that’s okay, because I love her(him).”
Second, I trust my wife, and she trusts me. My wife can go out to the club with friends, and I know that she’s not going to do anything that would hurt me. She knows that I can work out of state all week, and I’m not going to do anything that would hurt her. I know she’s not going to spend all our money. She knows I’m not going to buy a sports car. That basis of trust removes so much worry and tension that it’s hardly believable.
Third, we talk. This should maybe be the first thing on the list, because it’s a real key…but I’m too lazy to rearrange paragraphs. We talk…about everything. I tell my wife everything, and vice versa. Through the worst times, it felt like this was all we really had, sometimes…but this is a BIG thing to have. One therapist (a long time ago) asked if my wife knew about whatever it was that was depressing me, and when I said “yeah,” she gave me a look that clearly said “you’re a liar, you can lie to yourself but don’t lie to me.” All I could do was shrug and say, “We talk about everything…we always talk to each other.” It’s a big deal. Talk with your spouse. Not AT your spouse, WITH them. Share everything.
That leads to a small fourth thing. Don’t keep secrets, because the more secrets you try to keep…and the LONGER you keep them, the harder it is to remember all of the things you were hiding from your spouse, and what might have been a slightly embarrassing little thing at the time becomes a big, storm-out-and-spend-the-night-at-her-mom’s-house fight when it comes out that it’s been hiding for 8 years.
Fifth, and maybe should be first, too…DON’T LIE TO YOUR SPOUSE! Be honest. Be truthful. Sure you can tap-dance away from the dreaded “do these pants make me look fat?” But in all REAL matters, honesty above all else. Even when it hurts to be honest…be honest. Honesty works hand-in-hand with trust, and helps maintain that framework so that when you speak, your spouse will believe you when it matters.
Sixth. Money. Don’t fight over money. Money is stupid. Share the money…you’re a team, after all. From the very first day we move in together, there was no “my money” and “your money.” There was just “the money,” in a pool. The household’s money. We know people who do it differently and have lasted a long time, but we do things this way. The minute you give your spouse “an allowance” you demean their dignity and their adulthood.
Seventh, we are a team. We don’t agree on everything, we definitely don’t do things the same way. But we DO come to an agreeable understanding on major things like finances, child-rearing, and home-life, and we have each other’s backs. I back my wife’s handling of the bills. She backs my handling of car repairs, etc. We work together on cooking and housework. She hates dishes, I hate laundry. She loves cooking, I love repairing things. As a team, all these things get done.
Lastly, don’t expect everything to be peachy all the time. Because that’s not how life works on this planet. People fight. People get sick. People get depressed. But even through the dark times – and you will have some over a 20-year period – look for the little glimmers of light. Look for the little good things. More importantly, DO the little good things so that your spouse will have some glimmers to see, if they’re looking. Sometimes, just knowing how your spouse likes their cup of coffee (one Stevia packet, two ice cubes) and making it for them every day can be a big deal. Sometimes, just letting your spouse heap your dinner plate can be a big deal. Sometimes, a simple post-it note can be a big deal. When you’re in one of those times when the little good things are the only good things…they can be your lifeline.
You might have read all of these things and are now thinking “Gawr, marriage sounds terrible! All of these bad times to get through and troubles to overlook! Where’s the happy advice?” Well, people don’t typically need help and support to get through the happy times, do they? Happy, tropical-vacation, Christmas-Day, kids-got-a-great-report-card days are EASY to get through. Twenty years of THAT would be like “oh, fiddle-de-dee.” Real marriage, on the other hand, has hardships, and It’s how you handle these hardships that define you and your relationship, and determine whether you’ll still be together when Justin Bieber is cashing pension checks.