Celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary this week, I’ve been pondering what has helped make our marriage so happy.
What is it about this guy, now with speckles of gray in his hair, that still makes my heart skip a beat when I see him walk in the door from the orchard in his faded jeans and white tee?
Of course there are the basic pieces of advice we got when saying “I do” … keep the romance alive, say what’s on your mind, forgive, don’t go to bed angry.
What else do I know now that I didn’t know twenty years ago?
Here are a few insights …
First, you’ve got to be on your own side in life. An unhappy individual cannot contribute to a happy couple. A divided individual will feed divisiveness in a relationship.
Be kind and compassionate with yourself. When that loud inner critic rears its ugly voice, stop and reconnect with your essential self. Hear as it whispers… “I’m here. I’m on your side. You are big enough to handle whatever is here in this moment. All is well.”
Growing this simple practice of self compassion (paired with mindful breathing) has gotten me through many trials in life. When I forget to do this, I find myself taking out my inflated pride, anger or frustration on my husband. This type of projection is unfair and not healthy for any relationship.
Many relationship woes would be resolved if every time people got angry, each would stop and ask, “What am I bringing to this conflict?” and “What do I need to do to get myself to a better place?”
If you want a healthy relationship, begin with yourself. From extreme self care to fully owning responsibility for your own life, do what you need to do to be a healthy individual from inside out.
Remember Whose Side You’re On:
When we are unhappy, we tend to look at what another person is doing to cause our discontent. In a marriage, this automatically puts your spouse on “the other side.” Regularly asking, “Am I acting as if I’m on the same side as my partner?” can flip the switch to a more helpful perspective.
This practice needs special attention when kids are involved. I’ve seen parents compete for their kids’ affection and try to outdo each other. When you are on the same side, you rejoice in giving out that blue ribbon for the Best Mom/Dad in the Whole World.
My husband is an incredible dad. He asks the kids a lot of questions and listens to what they say…and don’t say. He goofs around, making up silly songs and sayings and handshakes. He gets them out doors, working by his side on the farm. He relentlessly tells them how special they are and even though they may roll their eyes as they mumble “I know, Dad” they are taking in that they have an ally who believes in them and will be there for them no matter what.
Am I jealous of my husband’s close relationship with our kids? This isn’t possibile…when I remember that we are on the same side.
Over the past 16 years, my husband’s love for our kids has made me fall in love with him again and again. It engages me. It causes me to stand back in awe as I watch his unique and beautiful dynamic with these precious people we’ve helped bring into the world.
Fully supporting this Blue Ribbon Dad – choosing to remember that we’re on the same side – makes me a better mom and a happier wife.
Hold Space for Your Individual Passions and Growth
The list of differences between my husband and I would be seen by many as long. Country boy versus city-loving girl. Carnivore versus vegetarian. Graduates of rival universities. Different religious backgrounds. The list goes on and on… If we were looking for an excuse to part ways, we easily could have found it long ago.
The cornerstone of making our relationship tick is that we make decisions from our share values and we wholeheartedly support each other’s interests and passions.
I’m not a runner, but encourage my husband’s training and have stood with pride at nearly every finish line of his 15 marathons. I’m not a farm girl, but have supported and grown through his passion for running an apple orchard and working farm. There’s no way I would have guessed as a newlywed lawyer that I’d be singing along to She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy…and mean it.
My husband is not a writer. We joke that in the amount of time he finds the perfect words for a thank you note, I’ve written another book chapter. He spends no more time in front of a computer than is essential for his work as a wealth manager, while I delight in researching online, reading blogs, and connecting with my social networks. He supports the time I spend devouring books, writing, and connecting.
We have grown tremendously as individuals over the past two decades. Some of these transformations have been drastic. And each time we step into the next version of ourselves, there is a natural period of disharmony while our marriage and life catches up and realigns. I believe this is where many couples call it quits.
We set the stage for these transitions by making a decision early on in our marriage to hold space for each other to evolve into the best version of ourselves. We’ve learned in practice that this is a dynamic and sometimes very trying process. Yet, we fully trust that our partnership is big enough to safely allow us to follow whatever we believe we are being called to do as individuals. We collectively hold space for these transformations to unfold again and again.
It is my hope that you can use these insights garnered over the past twenty years of figuring out how to thrive as an individual and as part of a couple to strengthen your relationships – marital, personal or business.
What have been your keys to healthy, nourishing, happy relationships? I’d love to hear your wisdom.