What one man learned about his own marriage(s) by watching his parents stay in love.
Today is a special day in my family. My parents are celebrating their fifty-fourth wedding anniversary (truthfully, I’m not sure how much actual celebrating is going on; blame mom’s doctors for scheduling her cataract surgery the same day).
For the last 50 of those years, I’ve had the pleasure of watching them interact. Their marriage, like any other, has been anything but perfect. However, their example has taught me a great deal about unconditional love and sacrifice; lessons that serve me well as I approach 15 years of marriage myself.
Lesson #1 – Understand How Your Mate Best Receives Love
Long before I ever read Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages, I witnessed my parents demonstrating the concepts in real life.
In case you’re not familiar, the book asserts there are essentially five ways we, as human beings, prefer to receive love: through Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, and Acts of Service.
By default, many of us attempt to show love the way we prefer to receive it. For example, I feel the most loved when told how much I’m appreciated and needed, or how great a job I’m doing in a particular area. Words of Affirmation, for me, is number one.
But if I choose to show love to my wife in the same way, my attempt is likely to fall flat, especially since she’s a Receiving Gifts and Acts of Service girl. She’ll appreciate the words, no doubt. But I’ll likely be disappointed when they don’t impact her the same way they would me.
Instead, I can rock her world with even the smallest of “just because” gestures, and being mindful of the little things like, say, emptying the dishwasher without being asked. Seriously. It means a lot.
You’ve heard the phrase, “Treat others the way you want to be treated?” This is more of a, “Treat others the way they want to be treated” mindset.
It may sound simple, but it’s hard work. My parents set a great example again and again on how to express love another.
Lesson #2 – There’s No Such Thing as 50/50
It’s perfectly natural to crave fairness, especially when it comes to relationships. And, in most life circumstances, fairness is good. However, my parents taught me that the best relationships are ones that understand fairness is the enemy of unconditional love.
Our tendency is to give, and love, and “do” until we’ve reached what we believe is halfway, at which point our mate is there to meet us. If they hold up their end of the bargain, everything works out fine. Right? Wrong.
In my first marriage (sorry mom and dad, I’m a slow learner), this was exactly how she and I viewed the relationship dynamic. I would argue this is one of the reasons our relationship is now referred to as “my first marriage.”
In my current (and, by the way, final) marriage, one of the reasons it works so well is because both of us are striving to put in 100 percent. This wasn’t always the case. We’ve worked at it.
Over time, and with examples of successful marriages around us, we’ve come to realize the power of giving and loving and “doing” without worry of keeping score.
The better I get at consistently showing my wife love in the way she best receives it, when I show a willingness to place her needs ahead of my own, when I choose to lift her up around others rather than tell jokes at her expense, she is filled with the desire to do the same. Both parties. All in.
I am fortunate to have two parents who demonstrate daily what this looks like.
Lesson #3 – Get a Hobby!
When I was younger, and arguably the most immature human on earth, the thought of my love interest preferring to do something that didn’t include me, or simply enjoying the company of others outside my presence, would pain me to no end. Thank goodness that unhealthy phase is behind me (I certainly didn’t learn this behavior from my parents. Like I said, I’m a slow learner).
My parents have always understood the value of individual expression, interests and passions within their relationship and have worked hard to encourage such expression in each other.
Mom loves to create. She’s a florist by trade. She’s in her element when she’s alone with a bevy of flowers and a bride’s wish list. Dad encourages these moments. Mom likewise, though she’d be just as happy enjoying the quiet of a Friday night at home, understands that he relishes friendship, togetherness and conversation. She too encourages these opportunities, whether they include her or not.
If you’re not truly encouraging your mate in their areas of interest – worse, if you’re discouraging them out of selfishness and insecurity – you’re setting yourself up for heartache and maybe even divorce.
My parents are in their seventies. They move a little slower than they once did. They sometimes don’t immediately understand how all these new gadgets work.
As a result, it’s often easy for faster-paced humans to scoff or look down their noses at them, and others like them. But in a day and time where half of all marriages end in divorce, a love like the one my parents share is increasingly rare.
People like my parents have so much to teach us. We just have to want to learn.
Photo: Getty Images