How diligently I’d searched for just the right hair clip to draw back my auburn locks. Although no one was likely to notice my barrette with its pale peach-colored rosettes hidden beneath my flowing, white veil, I spared no energy in my search for it. The tiny fabric flowers continued the theme of my wedding gown which was adorned with clusters of silk roses. As a young woman, preparing for my nuptials, every detail seemed incredibly important.
What care I’d taken in preparing for that whole day. From the superfluous purchases, like finding the perfect shade of blush to compliment my complexion, to the necessary arrangements, like choosing matching gold rings, a great deal of time and attention went into making our wedding day perfect.
I did my best to prepare for the day, but I wasn’t quite as thoughtful about equipping myself for the life ahead. As a blushing young bride, I never dreamed of the heartaches, disappointments, frustrations and losses that we’d face in the years to come.
Ten years in, a major storm struck our relationship. It was the kind of trauma that caused us to seriously consider breaking our vows and walking away. Divorce had been on our never-do-list up until then, yet there we were contemplating a division of our family.
Honestly, we weren’t sure we’d ever recover, but, instead of calling it quits, we dug our heels in deeper and decided to save our marriage. Call me naive, that was when I first realized that couples don’t stay together for 50 years without learning some survival techniques.
We’ve revisited those turbulent waters more than once during the next thirteen years; however, we’ve learned a thing or two along the way about how to shore up our foundation.
Choose to love.
Based on a typical romantic comedy, love seems like little more than romantic or sentimental feelings powered by sexual attraction. It’s exciting, for sure, to watch two characters fall hard for each other and run with reckless abandon into each other’s arms. Except movies usually end on this high note. Real life, on the other hand, eventually includes hard days when feelings sour and attraction can temporarily disappear. Merriam Webster defines love as “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.” During the tough times, it’s this understanding of love that sustains a marriage. You need to choose love for the sake of your spouse (and your children) even if he/she doesn’t seem very lovable at the moment.
Don’t fight dirty.
Words have the power to build up or tear down. They also tend to stamp an indelible memory in our brains. So, even though you may make-up later, your spouse will likely still feel the bite of your comments (sometimes for years to come) if you resorted to name calling or personal insults. When you find yourself drawn into an argument be cautious with your words. Focus on the problem and how to solve it, not on the character or appearance of your partner.
Leave the past in the past.
Rehashing old mistakes every time you get angry is not productive. No one can improve and move forward if they are repeatedly punished for past misdeeds that have already been dealt with. Understandably, sometimes our weaknesses cause us to repeat our mistakes, but your spouse can’t undo what happened five years ago. Concentrate on the present problem at hand and focus your discussions on that.
Remember what attracted you in the first place.
When life is good, the sun seems to shine a little brighter inside and outside your home. Then when your marriage hits the rocks all of your spouse’s little idiosyncrasies suddenly grate on your nerves like nails on a chalkboard. Rather than inventory all of your spouse’s irritating habits, flip through your wedding album and reminisce about all those endearing qualities that made you fall in love in the first place. Also, make a concerted effort to notice those things your spouse does that still make your heart skip a beat.
Whether you caused the argument or not, it usually takes two to tango. Learn to apologize to one another. Saying “I’m sorry” allows both parties to take responsibility and helps each person realize that his/her words and actions have hurt the person they’ve promised to love.
Get help when you need it.
Sometimes marital discord has deep roots that are best extracted with the help of a trained counselor. Your friends may be a great source of support, but they aren’t likely to be impartial with their advice. Don’t be ashamed to seek the assistance of a qualified third party.
These last 23 years of marriage have definitely been a journey. We’ve climbed the high peaks and trudged through the dark valleys. We’ve experienced the whole range of emotions, from sheer joy to stinging sorrow.
On that day when I clipped my hair in that rose barrette and fixed my veil in place, I had no idea what the future held in store. Looking back now I’d have to say that it’s all been worth the effort because every challenge has fortified our resolve and deepened our connection.
This year my love and I will clink our glasses to the hope of getting to share another 23+ years together.
Do you and your spouse have any particularly helpful tools in your marriage survival toolbox?