This week Thom and I celebrate our 37th Wedding Anniversary. Whew! It’s strange to think that I’ve been married longer than many people I know have been alive. It’s even weirder to think that when we met all those many years ago I had the foresight to know that Thom was the one. Not just one, but THE ONE. Obviously, my life as I know it would have been dramatically different with any other man, Plus I would probably be much different than the person I now know myself to be. In the big picture, I’m sure there are several reasons why we’ve lasted while so many other good people haven’t. But one thing I know for sure is that my marriage to Thom differs tremendously from both my parent’s marriage and that of my in-laws in a couple of very distinct ways. And perhaps that offers some clues to others who would like to create a marriage of a lifetime.
In case you’re wondering, both my parents and Thom’s parents have previously passed away. What’s unusual in both cases, at least in terms of what happens today, is that both of our parents remained married exclusively to each other throughout their lifetimes. What is perhaps even more unusual is that in sharp contrast to all of my sisters (there are three) and Thom’s one, we started in an opened-ended pledge to one another to “stay-together-only-as-long-as-it works.” And here we still are 37 years later. What makes us different? It could be because of several differences between my marriage, and that of my mom.
#1 Thom and I are best friends. We became good friends before we ever went to bed together. At the time we were both recovering from failed former romances and that helped us delay the urge to get immediately physical. By slowing down our attraction to being “just friends” we got to know each other on several levels prior to complicating things with hormones and lust. That friendship has deepened and developed throughout the years until now I know him almost as well as I know myself. And I’m sure that he could say the same about me. Yes we’ve had our challenges—like any friendship I’ve ever witnessed—but we worked out most of them in the first twenty years of our marriage. Now we are so in tune with each other that I can safely say:
I love who Thom really is—and yes after all these years I know who he is. He isn’t going to change because of me, or for me—and visa-versa. I like him, I respect him, and love him just as he is.
We’ve smoothed out most of the rougher areas where we disagreed or saw things differently (money, work, etc.) so they no longer have much of any impact in our lives. No, we don’t agree on everything. We do occasionally see some things quite differently, but there are no huge surprises that can cause major disruption.
I can’t imagine my life, or “me” without him.
In contrast, I don’t doubt that my parents loved one another but I think in my Dad’s case he liked being with his buddies best (he loved to shoot pool, play cribbage, horse shoes or most games in general.) My mom (who didn’t like games at all) would rather read, create art, or be with her girlfriends. While I believe their love grew during their 55 years of marriage, it wasn’t based on friendship as much as companionship and duty to the family.
#2 We communicate with each other. Thom and I talk about anything and everything.
One of our favorite things to do is to find an intriguing and juicy topic and hammer it to death. We are particularly found of all topics we consider SMART so there is no accident that writing this blog is not only therapeutic to me, but a consistent way that Thom and I continue to connect to each other. How great is that?
Of course we don’t agree on everything. We are both pretty opinionated and sometimes our discussions get rather “vigorous!” But in contrast to my parents we make an effort to see each other’s point of view even when it doesn’t come naturally. My memories of my parents communicating were my father letting us all know “what-was-what” and my mom smoking a cigarette and tuning out. I saw how that didn’t work and had no interest in recreating it.
#3 Thom and I choose not to have children. I’ve explained part of the reasoning behind this in another post so I won’t go into details. But my mother talked to me about it and admitted that if she had had the choice, she likely would have decided against having children herself. Not all of us want or need children to have a happy and fulfilled life. My mother knew that, but in her day and age women did not have the option if they wanted to marry and have sex. She had five children total, four that survived, and although I never doubted she loved us all, her life was very different than it would have been with either no children or less children. Obviously that has a huge impact on a marriage in both positive and less than positive ways. The good news is that today women and men have a choice—and in my opinion it should be a choice that both people completely agree on in advance.
#4 We share most of the same values and beliefs. This might not be something people have control over and are even able to change if they wanted to, but because Thom and I had so many core values and beliefs that were very similar from the beginning, they just deepened as we went along. While I know my parents shared several of the same values, I’m not as convinced about their deeply held beliefs about life. If possible, I think it’s best to discover these up front before becoming surprised by them a few years into a marriage.
#5 My parents considered divorce but didn’t. What makes Thom and my relationship different from both my parents and his parents is that we never considered divorce. (Both our parents did!) How do I know that was true for us? Because if it had come to that, we would have gone through with it and divorced. As I said in the beginning of this post, we pledged to one another that we would end the relationship rather than stay together and “endure” what we witnessed our parents doing. While some might say that was a fatalistic approach to a relationship, we disagree. To us it was permission to try to create something much more deeply connected than what we had witnessed from our parents and from just about everyone else we encountered. Think about it, if all young people observe are unhappy, dull, lackluster relationships built on duty and obligation, why would anyone want to recreate that in their life? We craved something different and because we were willing to gamble that we could do it—it gave us the courage to stick with our commitment.
Regardless of whether these ideas work for others, I do believe that exploring them with someone before marriage could only be helpful. Several months ago when I wrote a post about what people regret at the end of their life, I was struck by one of the suggestions in terms of relationships. That “tip” was to spend a LOT of time and energy considering the person you marry before you make the commitment. I’ve also read that some women spend way more time planning their big wedding day, than they do considering who or why they are marrying the man in the first place. I can’t say that I was SMART enough to have considered all the implications before Thom and I hooked up way back when. But I’m happy to say that we both knew and considered what we saw in our parents and chose something different. Staying awake and aware when making a big choice like marriage is always SMART!