“Happy 37th Anniversary My Only One, Janet! 37 years is far too short a time to spend together, so we’ll just keep going for ‘always’!”
This sweet Facebook post showed up on my scrolling recently, bringing a smile to my heart. In a world where divorce is increasingly more common and life long marriages few and far between, it always gives me hope to see such public declarations of love. Especially after 37 years.
But this particular one is more special to me because Janet is my mother, and the author of the post is Ray- my father.
I know that all 37 years of my parents’ marriage haven’t been sunshine and roses. They’ve had their moments of disagreement, tension, and compromise. But that’s the reality of marriage, and I bet that if you asked them today, they would say that they have come out stronger through it all.
I count myself very lucky to have grown up with them as my example. They’ve shown what it means to really build a life together. I’ve had the benefit of witnessing it over my life time and the opportunity to apply to my own marriage. Here are just a few of the things that have stuck with me over the years.
My parents always prioritized each other all else- even us kids.
In our society that idolizes our children, this one can rub the wrong way. You mean this precious little child who depends on me for survival should take a lesser priority than my spouse? As crazy as it sounds, yes. It can be so easy to put that child on a pedastool and make all our decisions based on what she needs and wants. But when we do that, we can neglect our spouse. And one day, when the kids are grown and gone, we’ll be alone in the house with a person we’ve pushed to the back burner for 18 plus years.
As a kid that grew up in this kind of household, I can promise you that you won’t scar your children by setting these priorities. I knew without a shadow of doubt that they loved each other in a way that they didn’t love me. And that there was something special about that love. I may have been irritated when my dad consistently picked what my mom wanted to eat (Qdoba, probably) over what I wanted (Subway, most likely). But I didn’t feel neglected. In fact, I felt rich parental love and protection because my parents were the most important thing to each other.
They made dates a priority, even in the most simple way.
I’m the oldest in my household, so as soon as I was old enough to watch my brothers, they regularly dated each other. Sometimes it was going to Lowe’s to plan home improvement projects. Other times it was going to McDonalds and getting a Coke, finding a quiet moment to chat. Sometimes it was carry out after we went to bed.
I have to credit these date nights with the start of my culinary skills. It was during these date nights that I perfected the mac ‘n cheese and hotdogs dish for my brothers. Every now and then I’d mix it up and put food coloring on the mac ‘n cheese. Why they ate green past; I’ll never know.
But even today, with no kids at home, they still date. They grab a few tacos each Tuesday from the authentic Mexican place, even if it’s just to bring them back home and enjoy time together.
They learned to enjoy each other’s hobbies.
Marriage would be pretty boring if each party shared all the same hobbies. In fact most marriages bring some hobbies that make the other person roll their eyes. Over the years, my parents learned to enjoy each others interests, even if they weren’t necessarily their own.
My dad is a fan of any kind of music. He’s a music nerd. My mom, not so much. But I’ll never forget the day I went to their house and heard my mom listening to an 80’s rock playlist. I gave her a questioning look. “Your dad likes it, and it’s kind of grown on me.” At one point, she learned to play the dulcimer and the ukulele in an attempt to be a part of something that was big in my dad’s world. And she knows how to operate my dad’s fancy coffee contraptions and make a pretty good cup of coffee, even though she hates coffee.
And my dad has made similar sacrifices, neither of them losing themselves, or became something they aren’t. They just take the time to invest in each other’s hobbies.
They’ve created special memories just between each other.
The first time I took my husband to meet my parents, I knocked on the back door- no response. I nudged the door open. “Hello?” I heard the reply…”We’re in the living room!”. We walked on in to find my parents engaged in an vicious game of Wii tennis. “Dang, you guys got here quicker than we thought.”
As we left later that evening, Brandon remarked that he’d never met a couple that had been married that long and actually enjoyed doing things together…just the two of them.
And they do it all the time. During the winter, they do themed movie nights- featuring a certain actor. During the pandemic, they purchased several Andrew Peterson virtual concerts and set up the living room for a fancy dinner and a show. They kayak and play disc golf together. Their ‘just them’ time is special, and it’s intentional.
My parents aren’t the perfect husband/wife/mom/dad. They would admit that. There are things that I saw them do that I won’t do, as I’m sure my kids will say of me. But there are a lot of practices that made a big impact on me and the way I approach my own marriage.
And I’d just like to thank them for being that example, of loving each other and putting each other first, event though I know it wasn’t always easy and they didn’t always get it right. Thank you for keeping on keeping on all these 37 years.