This past August my parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. Forty years. I can’t even fathom that. They have spent over 2/3 of their lives together, and that blows my mind. They are best friends, amazing parents, and two of my very favorite people on the planet. They met while my mom was a senior in high school and married when my mom was 19 and my dad was 21. (For years, my mom told me she was 21…I think she forgot I could do math.) The very first time she saw him, they were at a gas station. She was sitting in the back of a friend’s car, and he was pumping gas. She saw him from behind—didn’t even get a glimpse of his face—and knew she wanted to meet him. I mean, who wouldn’t? Look at this guy back in the 70’s!
And to say my mom was beautiful is an understatement. What’s not fair is that she still looks like this at 60.
Their marriage has not always been perfect. They have faced addiction, suffered tremendous loss, and had their share of financial problems, but they always had one constant—each other.
I don’t think there is a perfect recipe for a happy marriage. Everyone relationship is different, but here are 5 lessons I have learned from my parents’ 40-year-marriage.
Money Doesn’t Matter
During their 40 year marriage, the money has come and gone. Sometimes they are up, and sometimes they are down, but money has never defined them—love has. When my husband and I were going through a difficult time, I asked my dad for advice. He asked why we were fighting, and I answered that it was over money (or lack thereof). He said, “Well, if you don’t have it, what’s there to fight over?” Wow. He was right. Since then, we haven’t let money define us. We have faith in each other and are able to laugh at the hard times and appreciate the good ones that much more.
Time Together is Time Well Spent
My parents gave me a childhood most people only dream of, and they did it without breaking the bank. They gave me experiences. They gave me dance parties to classic rock, a love of learning and debating (thanks, Dad!), family traditions, and most importantly—their time. They worked different shifts so one of them was always home with my sisters and me. They helped with homework and always made sure we ate dinner as a family whenever we could. We read together, laughed together, and one of them was always at every game, awards ceremony, or important event. Having them present was the best gift they ever gave me.
Say I Love You
Everyday when I talk to my parents—yes, I talk to them everyday—we end the conversation by saying “I love you.” I can never remember a time when we didn’t say it in our house. I heard my parents say it to each other, they said it to my sisters and me, and my sisters and I said it to each other. It was, and is, important. We knew we were loved, and we knew we were capable of loving each other.
As important as it is to say you love someone out loud, it is equally as important to show your love. My parents always kissed each other in front of us and showed affection to each other every day. We thought it was super gross when we were younger, but I look back at those memories—a simple hand on the back, a passing glance, or an embrace—and my heart is full.
Never Fight in Front of the Kids
I can honestly say that I’ve never seen my parents fight. Not that they don’t fight, but I never witnessed it. I could tell when a conversation would escalate into a disagreement and had the potential to reach argument status, but it never went beyond there. They would look at each other, acknowledge the fact that they had to continue this later, and move on. This is the single most important thing to me when trying to set a good example for my children. I never want them to see my husband and me argue. They should know that we don’t always agree on everything but that we respect them enough to leave them out of it.
Marriage is Work
The single most important piece of advice I’ve ever received from my mother: marriage is work. Before we got married, she told me that being in a marriage was a lot like having a job. You had to work at it. It doesn’t always come easily, things aren’t always perfect, but the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. It’s easy to call it quits and give up when things don’t go as planned, but if you truly want it to work, you have to put in the time.
I’m incredibly grateful to be their daughter. I’m proud of the life they have built. I’m thankful I’ve been able to learn from their incredible journey.