Last week my husband and I celebrated our 49th wedding anniversary. We got married on Father’s Day in 1968.
I know what you’re thinking … boy, that’s a LONG time!
Well, the funny thing is, I feel like it’s flown by in a flash!!
As my husband, Sonny, likes to say: “It feels like it was yesterday … and you know what a lousy day yesterday was!!”
He’s kidding, of course. But that’s an example of Sonny’s humor — a bit on the snarky side. Which leads me to my first secret for a lasting marriage:
Secret #1: Look for the humor in life
Our anniversary was June 16 and we had dinner reservations, but no plans for the afternoon. So I asked Sonny if he’d be willing to sit down together and each of us answer this question:
How have we lasted 49 years together?
We each took out a piece of paper and started writing. He finished first while I continued to write. Then we each read what we wrote. Here’s what Sonny wrote:
The short answer is: I don’t know!
Longer answer: We’ve adjusted very well to our quirks and habits and ways of communicating. We work well as a team.
We’re like an old comfortable shoe. We hardly know it’s on because it’s so well-conforming to our feet. Yet, the shoe also comes with fancy socks that are colorful, classy, and ever-changing. Sometimes with new shoelaces, as well. We never know. We change over the years and adapt well to new conditions.
Oh yes, we love each other.
I loved his metaphor and since he’s a cartoonist, I asked him to draw a cartoon to represent what he’d written.
Sonny and I met in 1967 and after several weeks of dating, we took a ski trip to Lake Tahoe. We talked the whole drive up and I thought, wow, this guy is a great communicator.
Over the years we’ve developed many different ways of taking time to talk and listen to each other. The most challenging years were when our children were growing up and we didn’t have much time to talk to each other. A therapist suggested a communication tip for practicing how to be a good listener.
Set aside 20 minutes and sit on the couch together. The first person takes 10 minutes to say what’s on his mind and the other person just listens without making any comments but keeps eye contact. When he’s finished, then the second person takes 10 minutes to say what’s on her mind but not to react to what the first person said.
The purpose of this powerful communication tool is to practice giving your full attention to the speaker so that she feels heard and understood.
A few years ago, I noticed we were developing some bad communication habits like calling out to each other from another room. I also had two bad habits: I would start talking to Sonny when he was engaged in something or I’d walk through a room, say something to him, and keep on walking. He called that “drive-by talking.”
We decided to refresh our communication tools by trying to eliminate these bad habits. We collaborated on a blog post, “Communication Tips for Couples.”
The most useful tip I learned and still practice: get your partner’s attention before you begin speaking so they’re not in mid-thought or in the middle of a project. For example, ask: “Would now be a good time to ask you something? Can I tell you something?”
That one tip has helped us both remember the importance of showing respect for each other when we communicate.
Secret #3: Be cheerleaders for each other
When I met Sonny, I’d just started graduate school for my master’s degree. We had a pretty short courtship. We met in November of 1967; got engaged in March of 1968; and got married in June of 1968. After we got engaged in March, I decided to drop out of grad school so I could put all my energy into planning our wedding. Sonny made me promise I would return to graduate school and complete my degree after we got married. I re-enrolled after our wedding and Sonny was my cheerleader for the next two years while I completed my degree.
At the end of graduate school, when I was pregnant with our first child, Sonny got a job offer in southern California. I was sad to move away from our family, especially my parents who were about to become grandparents for the first time. But I knew the advancement was important to Sonny so I supported his decision. We moved to a new community when I was seven months pregnant and it was challenging but I knew it was the right move.
Throughout the years, we’ve always encouraged and supported each other in taking on new growth opportunities and challenges.
Secret #4: Do new things together
Sonny and I have always enjoyed collaborating on projects together. We learned desktop publishing many years ago and produced newsletters for our childrens’ schools. When I founded the GaGa Sisterhood in 2003, he learned new technology and created a website for me and has been my web master ever since. We’ve also taken improv and yoga classes together, and joined Toastmasters.
Secret #5: Be patient with each other
Living with another person can be challenging at any age, but as we get older, it can get more challenging. We forget things; we can’t hear as well; our attention span isn’t as good; and we may not have as much energy or patience.
Several years ago, I read The Power of Patience by M. J. Ryan. I reviewed her book in a post and have kept it by my bedside to inspire me with ways to cultivate patience. I confess I’m not always the most patient person. Before reading Ryan’s book, I thought I was genetically predisposed to impatience because my mom has always been very impatient. Now I realize that impatience is a habit, not a genetic trait and this human quality, like any muscle, can be strengthened if you are motivated, aware, and committed to practicing. And therein lies the key … PRACTICE!
Ryan suggests a helpful practice for moments when you start to feel irritation rise. Keep a small pebble in your pocket and when you notice you’re becoming impatient, move the pebble from one pocket to the other. The physical action helps interrupt the anger cycle and gives you a chance to regroup.
I know there are a lot more secrets for a long lasting marriage. I hope I’ve inspired you to think about some that work for you and share them with your partner.
What do you think? Tell us your best relationship secret.