As part of our 50th anniversary June and I tried to identify five characteristics or keys we have found to be important as part of our marriage. Obviously the annals of time are filled with ways husbands and wives can enhance their marriage and increase its longevity. It was not our goal to review the literature but to look inward at who we are and who we have been the past 50 years. In so doing, we tried to determine what we would suggest to someone who was traveling a similar road of life. The following represents areas we consider the base line of our values. Interspersed are several quotes or sayings we consider meaningful.
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall become one.”
Key one: Balance: In order for a team to function fully there must be balance within the players. If one player is out of balance the entire team suffers or becomes dysfunctional. We are multi-dimensional beings—Body, Mind-Spirit. It is important for partners to maintain balance in these three areas. This truism becomes increasingly important with the aging process. Early on in our marriage June and I sought to maintain our bodies. Regular exercise (walking, stretching, bicycling etc.), food intake, maintaining our weight. We must be in control of our bodies. It is easy to ignore this vital part of a marriage by allowing sedentary lifestyles to creep in ..Balance in our lives also includes an active mind, -reading, problem solving, participation with discussion groups, cross-word puzzles, anything requiring the exercise of the mind. Think of the balanced lifestyle as a triangle with equal sides. The first two dimensions, body and mind, grow in direct proportion to their connection to the Spirit. We are spiritual beings and we must maintain balance with our spiritual life. It is the foundation for a healthy, vibrant life. As you travel the road of life be in charge of your own health—body, mind and spirit—you can only rely on yourself for this. Do you have balance in your lifestyle.
Key two: Help-mate and Cheerleader. June and I got a special laugh with this characteristic. June was a cheerleader in college and I played basketball. You could say she was my cheerleader before we met and continued throughout our lives. A key characteristic for a happy marriage is for your mate to be your cheerleader. I get no greater pleasure than hearing June compliment me or express pleasure with my actions. The same is true of being a help-mate. There may be gender specific tasks but to have your spouse assist with whatever is needed produces a special bond and a merry heart. I hasten to add that actions should be proactive and should never belittle or be derogatory. Never, Never, Never be negative about your spouse in public. Sarcasm has no place in a marriage. Be a cheerleader and helpmate.
“When you stop laughing, you stop living.”
Key three: Communication is the breakfast of champions. Early in our marriage, on more than one occasion, I have come home and quickly realized, “something was wrong.” The doors to the cabinets were closed a little harder, the silent treatment prevailed. “Honey, what’s wrong?’ As a cabinet door closed with authority, a voice louder than usually said, “What makes you think something is wrong?” Perceptions become reality and the lack of communication creates an atmosphere of uncertainty. Earlier in our marriage we started to have “family meetings” just the two of us. We agreed we would sit down and discuss whatever was ‘bothering us’ with complete honesty and openness. At times this was difficult, and learning to say “I’m sorry,” was equally difficult. However, with time the process paid huge dividends. It is good to end everyday with a time of reflection and discussion. It is noteworthy that either June or I could declare we needed a family meeting. Out of this process we developed a policy to over communicate– the breakfast of champions.
“Marriage is not tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.”
Key four: Courtship: what was it that caught your eye about your spouse? Was there something intriguing? What created that spark in your heart? What was special about the chemistry between the two of you? It has become my responsibility, as the husband, to be sure those actions and behaviors continue as strong after 50 years of marriage as during the time we were ‘courting.’ In fact, all of marriage should embrace the concept of “courting”. Don’t stop doing those ‘little’ things, they send powerful messages. Be sure the social etiquette you displayed during your dating years is as vibrant today as it was then. Your spouse should be the most important person/activity in your life.
“No one stays in love by Chance, it is by WORK”
Key five: …..and they shall become one. June and I represented two distinct cultures with varying exceptionalities. A young lady spending her formative years in an urban environment in New England and a young man who had spent his formative years in a rural setting in the South were unlikely candidates for marriage. Geography was not the only difference. Customs and traditions were different and at times clashed.
Neurologically we are born with certain ‘bents’ that form many of our personality traits. As a student of the behavioral sciences with graduate degrees in psychology you would have thought these differences would have been quickly recognized and accommodated. Not So!! I immediately began the process of leading June toward the “wife” I thought she should be. It was after considerable time, the realization of capitalizing upon her strengths rather than trying to ‘make her’ into what “I” wanted began to evolve. The adage ‘opposites attract’ has never been more appropriate. Key five is to allow your mate, as they were created, to be who they are and the two of you become one. This concept leads to what could very well be the ‘key’ to longevity in marriage and the development of intimacy.
The word intimacy conjures up several thoughts and the one that immediately appears is sex. While sex is a part of intimacy it does not represent the totality of its meaning. I’ve heard it said that intimacy means “into me you see.” I love this definition because it paints a clear picture of what is happening when two people are intimate. Intimacy is the acceptance of your mate for who they are. In so doing you begin to build upon each others’ strengths. It means the sharing of each others’ dreams, wants and desires. You open up your heart and see deep inside one another. In short you are in love.
The list of key factors that have contributed to 50 wonderful years of marriage could be expounded and made into a novel. Suffice it to say that both June and I frequently say; “You are the best thing that ever happened to me and I love growing old with you.”
………and the greatest of these is love.