What Makes a Marriage Last? A List 20 Years in the Making

We didn’t have the distractions of the world today.  I’m not sure it would have worked if we had the choices people do today.   I guess it comes down to respect and love.  But don’t let anyone fool you that marriage is easy. It’s the hardest relationship you’ll ever earn.
— My Grandfather Conrad when asked about the secret to being married 50 years.
June 1997

June 1997

Today is my 20th wedding anniversary.  I didn’t wake up to flowers, breakfast in bed, or on a beach in Costa Rica.  My morning consisted of doing dishes, folding laundry, cooking breakfast, feeding the chickens, hanging with my girls, and writing this blog.  Ryan didn’t get a day off, a good morning kiss, or breakfast at all- he had to wake at 3 am to go to work because it’s  Wednesday, a sturgeon opener,  and he has a lot of people at work counting on him. We didn’t get each other gifts, we didn’t have an elaborate plan, or a plan at all.  This is called life, and it’s not an Instagram dream.

IMG_9598.JPG

 

Last weekend we each competed in the Oregon Train to Hunt, which if you want to put suffering on the list of fun marriage activities, then that would be a good place to start. It also meant two days in the car together, getting to catch up and talk without interruption- a rare thing in our lives.  Our oldest daughter did see the need for a party, so she threw us one in our bedroom last night, gifts, dinner, and drinks included while we watched youtube videos.    

FullSizeRender.jpg

 

If you know me, you know my mind has a thousand thoughts a second. I’ve been known to throw myself into a tizzy with over analyzing and setting high expectations for my life.  My marriage is no different.  My parents have both been divorced, twice, so some days I’m shocked that my marriage has lasted 20 years, but when I look at my children and the relationship with Ryan that continues to evolve, I’m pretty sure another 20 years is in the cards for us.  

 

Ryan is by any standard of the word a perfect husband and father. But we all know perfection doesn't exist, so I think it's more important to say “He's consistently doing the work”. In my opinion, We haven't lasted for 20 years because we have a fairy tale marriage where everything just falls into place. We have lasted because we are exact opposites who each day push each other's limit, and yet have a common ground.  We could probably live without each other, but we don’t want to. We don’t need each other, we love each other, and we have a lot of reasons to keep it that way.  

 

So what makes a marriage last?  What is binding beyond faith, family, and home?   Why do some marriages last, and others don’t?  I don’t think it’s a mystery, I believe most of the time it’s staring us in the face, we’re  just are too proud to embrace it.  The simple things really do matter the most.  Nobody wants to go through a marriage without thank you’s, kisses, tears, and laughter.  Sometimes we marry for the wrong reasons, sometimes for the right reasons, and in truth I will say there may be a time and place to wave the black checkered flag, but what about the white flag of surrender?  How many of us surrender our ego, desires, and faults so that we can love and be loved?  Then how do we grow as individuals while growing together over a lifetime?  All good questions.

 

Below is a short list of 20 things I feel are vital for my marriage. Notice I said MY marriage.  Everyone is going to have a different list.  Ryan’s list will likely be different than mine.  Your list will be different, but I think overall if we all compared them, we would have the same things.  I also hope you don’t think I’m lecturing...I’m sharing.  Sometimes as a health care provider, it can come off like a training, or prescription.  This list represents what I work on daily.   

  1. Acceptance.  In my blog The Mistress Who Stole My Husband, I talk a lot about acceptance.  This isn’t just acceptance of tit and tat, but acceptance for somebody as they are at their core.  Can you accept their flaws, their desires, and their needs without being emotionally offended, or hurt?  Can you let them be who they are and let them express themselves in ways that fulfill their dreams?  This is a very deep question we must all answer, because many get into marriage thinking that they will change the other.  I would say you need to change, but forcing someone to be something other, is not accepting them.  Respect and love go hand and hand with acceptance.

  2. Give gratitude.  I would say this is probably the most common pain that people feel in marriage- that who they are and what they do isn’t valued.  Gratitude is a powerful reminder for us that we exist, and when it comes from our spouse, it fosters a stronger bond.  Say thank you more often, it’s as simple as that.

  3. Stay friends.  It’s a common dream for us to have our spouse as our best friend, but in so many cases, this isn’t the case.  The boredom, stress, and expectations of family, work, and finances can quickly drive those who were once best friends apart.  We also change a great deal in a long marriage, so the friendship is important for supporting these changes.  To me this means that I can always count on my spouse first and foremost to love, accept, and challenge me to be a better person.  

  4. Stay lovers. In the beginning of most marriages, this is the easy part.  Sex, intimacy, and lusting after each other doesn’t take much effort (and may be the reason many get married).   Now throw in a few years, a few kids, a stressful job, and perhaps a body that isn’t what it used to be, and sex can become something of a fond memory.  However, lack of sex and intimacy is one of the most common reasons people break up.  We all need that hormonal response to feel connected, and being lovers throughout the years, improves health and happiness. Its wipes away stress hormones, and builds a bond that unites body and soul.  Even just the small touches, hand holding, and kisses each day improve trust, and foster connection.  This is important not only when you are young, it’s vital throughout our life cycle.

  5. Listen. People have many different styles of communicating.  Some go internal, some get external, many just get settled in how right they are and they stop listening.  I will admit, I have always liked to push communication, and it has in many cases backfired.  My suggestion would be to talk with each other, and then listen.  Listening is a skill many of us do not do well, and if cultivating a happy marriage is a goal of yours, listening is a key component.

  6. Be kind.  This seems so obvious, but I’ve known so many couples who just aren’t kind to each other.  Blatant abuse should never be tolerated, but the small insults, aggressions, and passive irritations can add up, and make for a miserable life.  Be kind...even when you don’t want to.  Your children are watching you, and resentment is easy to build when kindness leaves the marriage.

  7. Acknowledge discomfort.  This is a very difficult place for many to go, especially men, because it requires not trying to fix a problem.  Everyone has stress and turmoil in their lives, no matter how big or small.  Being able to share it with your spouse, and have them be OK with discomfort is important. Acknowledging creates a safe harbor for someone to know they can suffer without fear.  Don’t be afraid of tears.  

  8. Forgive.  If you have never done anything wrong in your marriage, then I would say you aren’t human.  No relationship makes it 20 years without a whole lot of forgiveness.  We are human, and we make mistakes, tragedies happen, and others will mess up.  Forgiveness for wrongs doesn’t mean they were right, or they can go away, but it means we don’t have to carry the burdens of what is dead and gone.  Forgiving ourselves and our spouses for not being perfect it the best first step in a loving marriage.

  9. Support each other’s dreams.  If you are married, you are not on an island alone.  You must work with the other person to make the island inhabitable.  It’s true that many people fulfill their dreams without thinking of others, but my guess is that’s a pretty unhappy marriage.  Supporting each other's desires and interests allows for freedom with trust.  It creates growth, and cultivates each person’s unique strengths.  I feel this is also a key cornerstone is parenting.  When a child sees support in the marriage, they see that they will be supported in their dreams as well.

  10. Be part of nature. The noise surrounding us in life today is deafening.  Doing outdoor activities that require a bond with nature means you get a break from the noise.  Nature is truly the ultimate healer, and it’s no different for marriage.  If you want to bond again- go camping.  If you want to sweat it out- go hiking.  If you want quiet- sit on the mountain together and say nothing.  You need nature in your marriage, for sure.

  11. Take care of your body.  This is something we have always valued.  Eating right, exercise, and healthy living are a cornerstone of our marriage.  When you have a body that is healthy, it’s easier to manage the daily events that can wear you down.  Some marriages don’t have this balance- one person wants to eat healthy etc, one person doesn’t.  This can create separateness.  If you need to get healthier, doing it together will improve your success.

  12. Be good parents. I don’t think anyone has a child and admits they are going to be a crappy parent (even though we may secretly have that fear)   It’s also obvious that parenting is the hardest job ever.  Many people do the best they can, but in my opinion- poor parenting is what leads to so many poor decisions later in life. Just like marriage, parenting is a lifelong learning process.  Children emulate their parents, so creating a healthy marriage shows them that love and affection are positive healing emotions.  When a marriage is safe, the children will feel that way as well.   

  13. Put your phone down.  20 years ago, we didn’t have this problem.  Phones were just that, so when we were together, we didn’t have the distractions that we have now.  I feel that it’s a mini addiction most everyone has now, and it’s a love hate relationship.  We are all dependent on social media, email, and text messages now to communicate, but putting your phone down and being present with your partner will improve your relationship 100%. Remember there is no one else out there that should care more about you than your spouse- everyone else can wait.

  14. Be honest. - Again, another obvious one, and common sense would seem to prevail  Sometimes when we get caught in a lie, we keep it going to try and protect ourselves. If you can’t be honest with your spouse, you aren’t being honest with yourself.   

  15. Take time for yourself.  You need time alone, without your spouse and kids. I think this comes down to self love.   You must take this to have a better marriage.  Nobody has a marriage like an Instagram “Power” couple, and being attached at the hip all the time is, in my opinion, suffocating.  

  16. Laugh.  When was the last time you laughed with your spouse?  For many, it’s been way too long.  I’m 100% guilty of this one, for when I get busy, on a mission, or stressed- I get frustrated.  If I can get a good laugh in, I feel soooo much better.  Marriage is really funny anyways, so it’s important to to laugh as much as you can.

  17. Do things together. This has become more clear me since we began Train to Hunt and Hunt Harvest Health. I’ve realized that for most of our later marriage the only thing we did together was kids.  It’s a distancing feeling to not have interests together anymore, so within the last two years, doing these together has changed us greatly. It’s brought in excitement for the future, and has returned us to our roots.

  18. Make financial decisions together. Money is a huge stress in marriage.  We don’t always make the best choices with it, and we all have different spending habits and triggers when it comes to money.  It’s also common that many people never talk about money, and they don’t know their numbers.  One person usually deals with all the finances, which can be a stresser, which is why talking about money- the highs and lows is vital for a lasting marriage.

  19. Take care of Spirit.  Spirituality means many things to many different people.  I have a unique spiritual background and it has lead to a lot of confusion in my life, and marriage.  I know that I am calmer, happier, and relaxed in myself when I take time with Spirit, and this enhances my marriage.  When Ryan and I share in these moments, it solidifies even more my commitment to him, our family,  and our Creator.

  20. Find a community. Just like you can’t have a marriage by yourself, you can’t get by without community.  The family unit as we know it today has been spread out and torn apart by distance and necessity.  Whether it’s a neighborhood, spiritual group, activities like Train to Hunt, or family- having a community that you can fall back on also helps to alleviate stress in a marriage. Asking for help from others is vital, which is where community becomes a blessing.  

In conclusion, I am a lucky woman.  Ryan has walked through fire for me, while working hard to maintain his core values. He is a tremendous father, who I know will be there for our girls someday when they are navigating the hurdles of marriage.   He doesn’t bow out, he bows in.  I couldn’t have asked for a greater partner to spend my life with, and no matter the day or the gifts or the limelight, we will always have each other.   Happy 20th babe- and here’s to 20 more!