This last week my wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. So many factors have to fall into place for a couple to make it 25 years. Not only does the couple have to have a strong marriage, but they need to fight off all the struggles of life. I recently read a quote that said, “Falling in love is easy, staying in love is hard.” Statistics say the odds are stacked against them, but it is a victory that can be won. It requires passion from each spouse and demands a steadfast resolve that they will be the exception and not the rule. I’m certainly not the perfect husband by a long shot, but here are a few things I’ve learned in my first 25 years of marriage.
1. Love and Respect
Dr. Emerson Eggerich asked 7,000 married people this question: “When you are in a conflict with your spouse or significant other, do you feel unloved or disrespected?” Eighty-three percent of the men said they felt disrespected compared to seventy percent of the women who said they felt unloved. Generally, more than anything men desire to be respected, while women desire to be loved. Eggerich says when a woman feels unloved she generally will not respond respectfully to her husband. When a man feels disrespected he won’t move with love toward his wife. It can start an unhealthy cycle. It’s OK to be the one who breaks it by loving her/him anyway.
My wife and I have never really gotten into many knock-down, drag out arguments, but when we do, the only way to recover is through forgiveness. The only thing that stops a cycle of hurt and bitterness is forgiveness. In a scene in the movie Parenthood, the matriarch of the family is speaking to her grown daughter who has a struggling marriage. She says, “Do you know what marriage is all about? Forgiveness.” I know it’s not easy, but for the marriage to last, it’s a must.
My wife asks me all the time, “What are you thinking about right now?” Communication is everything to a woman. She wants to know what you are feeling, thinking, and doing. Too many times though, I come home upset about something that happened during the day at work. When I was younger, I brought home too much of that frustration and vomited it all on my wife. As I’ve grown older, I hope I’ve also grown a little smarter too. Now I realize my wife doesn’t want to hear all my irritations of the day so I try to keep it to myself and simply ask her how her day was. I try to make it less about me and more about her. I’m not always thinking that clearly and sometimes she is wonderful about just listening to me complain. She knows she can’t fix my problems but she also knows sometimes I just have to talk about it out loud. When I do need to talk about my frustrations though, I try to keep it short and then I let it go.
4. Don’t be controlling
Most men tend to carry the burden of responsibility for their family. We’re supposed to be the protectors and in control of everything in our lives. Too many times though, men try to control their spouses or their children. To be clear, it’s not always the husband that does this and it can just as easily come from the wife. It may not always be intentional, but it does happen regardless. These controlling spouses and parents manipulate feelings, thoughts or ideas through the parent-child relationship using guilt, love withdrawal, showing disappointment, disapproval and shaming. A pastor once told me, “Being a good man means caring for the overall well-being of his family with a generous and kind spirit, while also having the heart of a warrior to protect it.”
5. Compassion and Sympathy
“The value of compassion cannot be over-emphasized. Anyone can criticize. It takes a true believer to be compassionate. No greater burden can be borne by an individual than to know no one cares or understands.” –Arthur H. Stainback Your bride needs your deepest compassion and empathy on your journey together. She will follow you to the ends of the earth if you give her this. It’s been my experience that many times all I need to do is sit and listen to my wife when she’s talking and be fully engaged. If she knows I’m “hearing” her, then she feels like I care.
The wedding day is not the culmination of the relationship, but the beginning. Romancing your spouse is something to be done for a lifetime, not just while you’re courting or dating. OK, although I do acknowledge this statement, I don’t always follow it. Full confession, after 25 years of marriage, sometimes I have to proactively think about romancing my wife. I have a mentor that I meet with for one hour, every other week. He oftentimes asks me, “What have you done this week to make your wife feel special?” Sometimes this question cuts me deep as I realize I’ve done nothing to make her feel special. I guess as a man, I typically associate making my wife feel special means buying her flowers or planning a trip together. What I’ve realized though is that sometimes my wife simply wants me to sit next to her and hold her hand. That’s all it takes to make her feel special.
Laying your life down for those you love is not easy, but it’s what love is all about. Loving someone fully means we put aside our own wants and needs for the sake of the other person. When both people love sacrificially, the relationship works beautifully. However, the strongest people sacrifice regardless of what they get in return.
8. Healthy Lifestyle
Right now I’m 55 years old. On our 50th wedding anniversary, I’ll be 80 years old. Obviously, if my wife and I are going to make it to our 50th anniversary, it’s going to require good health, and probably better than where we are right now. Give up your bad habits. Confront your anger and manage your stress level. Eat well and exercise. Look into the future and think about what you want to do and see. You won’t get to do or see those things without staying healthy. My wife and I want to travel and see the world. To do that, we’ll need to be healthy. We’re not perfect, but we are trying to get better together.