I have been married for more than 40 years, to the only man I ever dated. So, why in the world would I be writing about relationships? After all, I’ve had only one real one. For forever. So I readily admit that I have no idea how to date, how to pick the “right” one, or how to break up.
I am quite aware that I am one of the fortunates. But I also know that I am one of the strugglers. One of those who decided to fight for every inch of that forty years. And I am married to someone who feels the same. It is worth that much.
So since most of you have not been married this long, if at all, I decided to tell you what we did before we married that has helped to bind us together. For forever.
I thought that once I started writing there would be 10 or 20 amazingly wise things to share, some pithy do’s and don’ts. I was wrong. Nope. Nothing like that came to me.
What did come to me were deeper issues than I expected. Much deeper. And there are only four. Just four. But, for us, they were gigoondo (that’s bigger than huge)
We take none – not one – of them for granted. They are what make E and I inseparable (written with tears of thankfulness!).
Friendship First, Last and Always
I know that most relationships start with a physical attraction, a spark. That’s fine and good. We all def need that. Our spark came after we had been friends for awhile, when we started noticing that we reeeealllly liked each other.
But before that we were laughing, talking, walking friends. We truly liked each other. A greeting card that I sent him (and that he kept) said ‘Isn’t it ironic, we were once platonic!’ Witty.
If you start with the spark, at some point, you have to figure out if you really like each other, too. You need to find out if you would rather spend a rainy afternoon with him watching a movie than with anyone else on earth. Anyone.
A lot. Because friendship is what fuels the spark. When stress and age and life starts to sap that flame, it’s your friendship that keeps it all cooking.
Sharing Values that Last a Lifetime
Values are the non-negotiables.
The things you really want your life to be. It isn’t politics or sports team or the way the toilet paper hangs off the roll. All those can be very important, and you should know about them, but most can change over time. (Hey, I voted for George McCarthy in 1972, and today Ronald Reagan is my hero.) Friends know about these things.
But the non-negotiables are the things that you want in your life when you’re 90.
For me it was shared faith in God, kids and complete trust. For you it might be something different. You get to decide what these are, and the two of you get to decide if you are aligned.
I know two women who did not do this. They both wanted kids. It was a non-negotiable. But they married without that shared value. One assumed he would change his mind, the other assumed he wanted what she did without asking him. The former is divorced, remarried and has 4 kids. The latter is still married to the same man, and has three dogs that she treats like they were her kids. A compromise, of sorts.
Shared values are vital.
Without them you will have to compromise on things you may not want to compromise on. And that will always leave a bad taste.
Shared Expectations of What Marriage Really Is
Marriage is not easy. It is not dating on steroids. It is hard. And it requires two adults being sold out to figuring out what will work. For them. Not for your parents, not for the couple on TV, or the next door neighbors. What you both expect and want YOUR marriage to be.
Expecting perfection, or a look-alike, will only get you mired down in comparisons. Expect that you will need to work at it, work that may look completely different than your best friend’s, or your parents.
Accept that before you get married. It will save you major grief.
Without The Commitment to Cherish there is Nothing
I know this seems like a given. To love each other. But love is more than just a list of things to do – be kind, selfless, not proud, not angry. All so beautifully listed in 1 Corinthians 13. Read at many a wedding. For good reason.
But before you get married, read and absorb and decide to live the first 4 verses of that chapter:
If you do not love, you have nothing. You are nothing. You gain nothing.
Hear that loud and clear. When the feelings leave, when the bells and whistles of first love cease to chime, there is only love. Grinding, daily, tiring as marriage – and life – may be, there always needs to be that conscious effort, every day, to preserve it, to cherish each other. Every day. No matter how frustrated, how annoyed. Love.
We can trace the valleys in our marriage, the times we failed each other, directly back to one of these four things. To this day, we re-commit, we discuss expectations, we revisit what we like about each other.
Forty years is a long time. People change. Needs change as all the seasons of a life together tick by. These four remain the framework for being together, and staying together, through all of it.
And will continue to be that. Every day.