“To find someone who will love you for no reason, and to shower that person with reasons, that is the ultimate happiness.”
30 years. It’s nearly as long as I’ve been alive, and today it’s as long as my parents have been married. In 2017 most people’s attention spans don’t last 30 seconds, but my mother and father have managed to keep their union in focus for thirty whole years. The older I get, the more I realize how fortunate I am to have their legacy to look up to, and how their unbreakable bond has molded me as a human. Here’s 30 ways I’ve learned from their 30-year-example:
- Have a great story. To hear my parents’ story of how they met and how my Dad proposed is like reading a cheesy romance novel. If you’re going to have to tell the story a million times, make it good.
- Pitch in. My Dad always tells the story that for the longest time when at least one of us kids were in diapers, every time he walked in the door from work he would seek out the baby and change their diaper. Even if we didn’t need it. It was his way of showing my Mom he appreciated her, and he was here to help.
- Sacrifice for each other. My parents didn’t have it easy starting out. But my mom was willing to live in a tiny little house, with very little to call her own, because she was willing to do that for my Dad. She had faith things would get better.
- Believe in your dreams. Similarly, both my parents have pursued lots of business and careers goals, and the other would support them wholeheartedly. When my Mom became Executive Director of a non-profit, my Dad was there cheering her on. When my Dad started a business furnishing retail stores, my Mom was all for it. Both those things have since come and gone, but my parents were there for each other when that season of life came and went.
- Have that one thing you both love. My parents met playing volleyball. I grew up in a bouncy seat on the side of the court while my parents played. They didn’t give it up after they had kids, and they can still pick up a ball and hang with the best of them because it’s something they both enjoy doing together.
- Be each other’s best friend. My parents also always say they got married because they can’t stand being around anyone else. Ha! But it’s true, they are married to the only other person they know who they can spend an infinite amount of time with and not get annoyed by.
- Be nice. By this I don’t just mean compliment each other. I mean my parents are over-the-top nice to each other. They are polite to each other. They say please and thank you. They treat each other kindly ALL THE TIME.
- Be positive. To piggyback on number seven, they are also obnoxiously optimistic with one another. When we would be on vacation as kids, very rarely would they lose their temper with each other. They would see the silver lining in most every situation.
- Have each other’s back. There have also been times in their marriage when one or the other was being attacked by outside forces. It would have been easy for my parents to distance themselves from the situation, say they didn’t know what to think. But they didn’t. They stood beside each other, relentlessly giving their spouse the benefit of the doubt.
- Be the yin to the other person’s yang. When my Dad was stressed, my Mom would be the calming force in our family. When my Mom was having a freak out moment, my Dad would step up to the plate and keep things stable. Neither was perfect all the time, but they alternated screwing up so at least us kids were mostly unawares. 😉
- Travel. Every year for my parent’s anniversary, they take a trip. Some years it was just across town, some years it’s been across the globe. But without fail, they go somewhere, and even when it’s not a special occasion they never miss an opportunity to see the world.
- Set goals together. On these anniversary trips, they always sit down and discuss their goals for the next year, 5 years, 10 years, etc. They’ve discussed their will and estate with all of us kids more than we even care to admit. They are planners, but the best part is they plan together, and they then set out to check off their to-do list together.
- Try new things. If they’re not on an actual trip, my parents still find the time to try a new restaurant, go skydiving, visit a new museum exhibit. They keep every day life exciting, and they aren’t content to just sit in front of the TV and let life pass them by.
- Grow with each other. Obviously my parents don’t look the same as they did when they got married. They don’t like all the same things. But my parents have evolved together, shifted interests together, and that has been key to their longevity.
- Switch roles. At home my mom is more or less in charge. She knows where things go, what the plan is for dinner, etc. But my mom also helps my Dad on the farm during harvest, and she is totally willing to let him be in charge then. They respect when the other is the “expert” and they help each other as best they can.
- Treat each other. Every year for Christmas my parents say they’re not getting each other anything. And every year they both “surprise” the other with something. It’s not always big and flashy, but they never fail to put in the effort.
- Forgive. My parents are not ones to air their dirty laundry in front of their kids, but it’s not as if we never saw them argue. They would disagree, but it wouldn’t take much for them to forgive and move on.
- Take care of yourself. My mom likes to get pedicures. My dad likes to have time to read his ever-growing stack of magazines, farming newsletters, etc. They both know what the other requires for basic sanity, and they give each other that space.
- Respect the other’s needs. In a similar vein, my mom needs to sleep about 10 hours every night. Literally. And my dad works crazy hours during harvest and planting season because he loves his work. But they don’t give each other a hard time in either case because they care about each other more than themselves.
- Forget quickly. If you ask my parents how it was having six kids, they will give you this glossy picture-perfect answer every time. It’s not because it wasn’t difficult or stressful, it’s because they compulsively look at the past through rose-colored glasses. Holding on to a grudge from that one time my dad dropped my brother on his head would be unproductive. Just kidding, I’m fairly certain that never happened. 😉
- Allow each other’s indulgences. My mom loves to buy shoes and purses. But instead of being a grumpy old fart about it, my Dad just lets it go. They’re both adults and they can both make superfluous purchases at times.
- Be affectionate. I wrote about this in my post on their parenting techniques forever ago, but my parents grossed us out with their PDA back in the day. They still do, actually. But I’m glad they were loving to each other in front of us and anyone else for that matter.
- Have time apart. I’ve mentioned this before as well, but until I was about 14 or 15, my parents had never gone more than 24 hours without seeing each other at least once. Since the day they met. But that doesn’t mean my mom doesn’t also love to be at home alone reading. Or my Dad doesn’t use the long rides in the combine to just think by himself. They are happy together, but they are comfortable being apart.
- Remember there will be bumps. Recently my parents were trying to save some money for upcoming trips and goals, and my brother’s wedding was coming up. Instead of spending a few hundred dollars on a new dress, my mom chose to simply reuse the same dress she wore to my sister’s wedding. She didn’t complain, she didn’t throw a fit, she just knew she made a commitment for richer or poorer, and another dress wasn’t as important as other things in life.
- Refuse to criticize your spouse in public. This is one I need to improve on for sure. It’s so tempting to make your partner the butt of jokes, but my parents never take that bait. They only speak highly of each other, and wouldn’t you know most people perceive their marriage to be a happy one. Coincidence? I think not.
- Accept the other person’s quirks. Now, does this mean they never get on each other’s nerves? Heck no! My mom has this one way of saying, “CLINT!” when he has just pushed the wrong button, and it’s hilarious for all us kids to imitate it. But there is not one annoyance that is a deal breaker between the two of them. They just won’t let it happen.
- Know how to just be with each other. Oftentimes since my Dad has his office at home, you’ll find my mom sitting in front of the fireplace reading and my Dad at his desk working. They don’t need to talk, they don’t need to fill the silence, they’re happy just to be in each other’s presence.
- Communicate incessantly. On the other hand, to see my parent’s text message exchange is like witnessing a NASA rocket launch. Especially with our big family and crazy schedules, they are a well-oiled machine communicating the tiniest details throughout the day. They would rather overshare than let something fall between the cracks and an argument ensue.
- Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. I’ve seen both my parents break down and become emotional in front of one another, and in front of us kids. My dad doesn’t need to be a “macho man”, and my mom can’t help but cry every time she drops one of us off at the airport. It’s ok to have feelings, and it’s ok to show them to one another.
- Keep your faith at the center. I have a feeling my parents would have put this at the top of this list, but they’ve told me relentlessly that the best times in their marriage have been when they were most reliant on God. When they let themselves drift away from that is when they struggled. It may the greatest challenge of all, to keep your focus on what matters.
All this to say, my parents’ marriage is not perfect. I don’t think anyone’s is. But they’ve made it thirty years because they are willing to admit that, and they’re willing to be better. My mom always says, “There’s always room for improvement; it’s the biggest room in the house.” Their example of refusing to give up gives me hope for the future, and a foundation on which I can build my own marriage. I love you, Mom and Dad. Thanks for being you.