This week my husband and I celebrated 20 years of marriage. There was a time when people would think us still in the early part of our marriage, but in modern times this is 3 times or 4 times the national average. When we celebrated 15 years, Rich asked me, “What do you think is the key to staying married 15 years, and is it the same as what you thought it would be 15 years ago?”
There were plenty of sarcastic thoughts that pummeled me first, but in the end I’ve decided on three things. And now at 20 years, they are still true. Before I start, it must be said that God is the key to success. God is present in all three of these things on my list, but there are many God-fearing people who still find themselves divorced, so this list is a little more specific.
1) It helps to make a wise choice in mate at the beginning.
Some people believe that there is one person for one person. This sucks. What if my one person died? What if my one person married the wrong one? Am I destined to be forever alone? Rich and I both think that “choose wisely” is also a good theory. And what’s a wise choice for me, may be a bad choice for someone else. One person may need emotionally stoic while another needs a heart-on-my-sleeve type. The clown may need a “straight man” to anchor him while the spouse may need more laughter. Whatever it is, don’t go on feelings, love/lust, or things that ebb and flow with the tide. Choose the things that are character traits. Avoid the things that are bad character traits. Choose wisely.
2) It helps if you like each other.
Love is great and that’s good, too. I’m not talking about the doe-eyed admmiration love. But to like someone is to actually enjoy that person’s company. Be friends. Be comfotable in your own skin around someone. Rich makes me giggle. A lot. There are still times after 20 years that one of us will say something that totally catches the other off guard and we start laughing. We like the sense of humor. We are friends. Because we like each other.
3) But the big key is being committed to the institution of marriage.
There will always be a point where things go sideways and it’s totally thinkable that life would be easier apart or with someone else. It’s that point when you have to be committed to the concept of marriage because it’s that commitment that forces you to hang in there until the rough stuff passes (or you can find a good therapist). This goes well with item #1. If you made a bad choice in the beginning, this step is harder (and sometimes impossible like abusive relationships). But violence/danger situations aside, be committed to marriage. “For better or for worse” is there for a reason. He can’t keep a job? She’s a gambler? Someone cheated on the other? Hoarder? Got fat? Got skinny? Whines too much? Drinks too much? Can’t have kids? Doesn’t want kids? Wants too many kids? Whatever it is, when you “fall out of love” or things look greener somewhere else, stay committed to the idea of marriage is forever. Work it out. Talk about what’s going on without getting or being defensive. And get therapy. No, really. A good therapist (especially who shares your religious views) can go a long way to help get through the fog until you can remember why you chose this person in the first place.
When we said our vows, one line we whispered to each other: “There’s no way out.”
I’ll let you know on our 30th if I still think these three things hold true.
Note: This was originally my post in a Facebook note from our 15th anniversary. The only chamges were a few references to 15 changed to 20. Otherwise this is unchanged.