Let me start with a truth about marriage that has served me the last 22 years.
Truth: Building a strong foundation from the beginning is what allows it to remain standing in the midst of unseen storms to come. The key to that foundation is RESPECT.
I don't know about you, but I was a little naive when I got married. I just assumed that our love for each other would override everything, even the tough times we weren't expecting. The Beatles song, "All You Need Is Love," is what I was banking on, until I realized that wasn't the case. I found out early on, marriages need a lot more than just love to withstand the test of time.
When Ron and I got married back in 1996 the transition from single life to a married one seemed easy, at first. I was excited to "play" house in our own home. However, playing house involved all the things I enjoyed doing, decorating, cleaning and organizing. But when it came to things I didn't care about, I let them slide and others (Ron) noticed. Dinner was one of those things.
When you approach things in a childlike manner, things can get old... fast.
For the first few years in our marriage, "what's for dinner" wasn't even on my radar. My children were little and their meals consisted of baby foods or dishes that weren't substantial enough to satisfy an adult. And, at that time Ron worked well past the kids dinner hour so by the time he got home dinner was done. I was content eating leftover sandwich crusts that were frequently left behind on plates, by way of protest by my children, or grabbing something quick and easy like yogurt or fruit. Unfortunately, none of those things looked palatable to Ron when coming home hungry after working 12 hours. So, after too many nights of witnessing his disappointed expression as I scrambled something together for him like it was an afterthought, I finally did what most young wives and moms do at some point early on in their marriage... I grew up and starting showing him the respect he deserved.
RESPECT FOR EACH OTHER IS WHAT CAN MAKE IT OR BREAK IT
Respecting the person you love is one of those game changers. From that point on, everything was viewed differently for me.
*Side note - that doesn't mean everything was immediately perfect after that. It takes time to break old habits and create new ones with other people in mind. Respect had to come from both of us. However, it was the underlying foundation to who we wanted to become as a couple, and model for our family. Once we were both on board, it started to create a trickle effect. We began to appreciate each other more by being honest, sincere and most importantly, willing to change our old selfish ways of thinking.
I've yet to see or know anyone in a perfect marriage but I do believe that healthy and happy ones possess these qualities.
1) Realistic Expectations - there is no quicker way to set your marriage up for failure than carrying around unrealistic fantasies of what we think marriage should look like. Lose the comparisons, especially now with social media, when all we see is everyone's "highlight reel." What we don't see is all the work that went into that one happy picture that was posted. Unless you've walked a day in the shoes of the couple you may be envying, you have no idea what their everyday life and relationship is like. Be happy with what you have and invest your time in making your marriage better instead of comparing yours to someone else's.
2) Forgiveness - as I've gotten older this one has become easier to do, but when I was younger I relished in hanging on to my anger and hurt mainly over dumb stuff! Don't do it! It takes more energy and effort to be angry with your spouse than it does to forgive them. It's most important to admit our own mistakes first. Most times I've contributed something to a situation that required forgiveness. No one is perfect! Not even you and especially not me.(Ugh)
3) Prioritize - your marriage should be at the top of the list. For whatever reason, Ron and I are both wired to give ourselves and our time to others without evening thinking about it. And although it is great to be available for others, we sometimes found ourselves giving more to others than we did to each other. It was and is, important for us to set boundaries so we aren't left depleted to the most important person in our life.
4) Honesty - truth in all forms should be the simplest thing and yet most times it is the most complicated. It's easy to not lie, well maybe not for some, but for me that's always been a no brainer. Where I struggled was being honest about my feelings before things turned into WWIII! My pride used to and still can occasionally interfere with how I thought Ron viewed me if I admitted not feeling on top of my game on any given day. Ridiculous I know, but rather than just say I'm not in a great mood today, can I have a moment alone, or could you just handle the kids tonight because I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed, I, instead, would trudge through miserably, proclaiming, "I'm fine" or "nothing's wrong" making it worse for those around me. My pride would be the driving force of fooling myself into thinking by not saying how I really felt, I was emulating Superwoman, when in fact, I should have had the letter B on my chest instead of S! For stubborn, prideful woman like myself, just be honest. Honesty about our feelings is not a disease or weakness! (I have to keep telling myself that even 22 years later!)
Marriage is one of the hardest and greatest things I've ever experienced in my life. I have been beyond blessed to have solid support systems to help vent, weed through and give outside perspectives when I need it. Having people in my life cheering us on and wanting to see our marriage solid and healthy has been a gift. It's been important to surround myself with other couples that value marriage like I do. With them our foundation has become stronger, and we in turn have become made to last.