My husband and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary! When I think back to October 23, 1993, it feels simultaneously like “just yesterday” and “a lifetime ago.” I was 26 and Jim was 31 when we got married, and we had no idea what life held in store for us. We’ve been blessed in many, many ways (most notably with three amazing kids) and are grateful for the life we’ve built together. We’ve also had our share of challenges. Thirty years is a LONG time to be with someone so, of course, some years have been tougher than others. We’re in a great place now — we love & appreciate each other, we have a lot of fun together, and we’re excited to continue on this journey together.
I’ve been thinking about how our relationship has evolved, and about the things we’ve done that have been good for us, as a couple. I would never describe this as a “recipe for a healthy marriage,” because every couple is unique and what’s worked for us isn’t necessarily going to be the answer for anyone else. Instead, this is an “off the top of my head” list of ten things that have helped make me feel good in our relationship.
1) Asking for what I want. I learned this early on. I went into marriage with the romantic notion that, “if Jim really loves me, he’ll know what I want” (or what I’m thinking, or what I really meant…). To Jim’s credit, he addressed this early on by telling me, “I’m not good at subtleties. If you’re giving me hints and expecting me to pick up on them, you’re going to be disappointed.” I realized I had a choice. I could strive for that ideal where he could prove that he really understands me, but there was a pretty high likelihood that wouldn’t happen. Or I could be direct. Once I accepted that his ability to read my mind wasn’t an accurate measure of his love, the choice was easy.
2) Making time for fun. Life can get so busy with all the things we “have to” do, so it’s been important to prioritize things that we enjoy doing together. Whether it’s walking the dog in the woods or taking the kids on a family adventure, the times that have been fun for both of us are the ones that hold the best memories.
3) Spending time with friends. This one is huge for me. My mom’s best piece of dating advice when I was young was, “pay attention to his friends. If you love him but don’t like his friends, that’s a big red flag.” I took that advice to heart and was happy to find, very early in Jim’s and my relationship, that I absolutely adored his friends. And I love the fact that he values & nurtures his friendships (though he’d never describe it that way!) We’re both pretty social, and we love doing things with other people. We’re incredibly lucky that, throughout out marriage, we’ve formed amazing friendships, and those relationships have made our relationship better.
4) Laughing together. Pretty self-explanatory! Jim has, on more than one occasion, told me to “lighten up.” (Note: If you feel like someone close to you is taking things too seriously and needs to relax, you most likely will not achieve that by telling them to lighten up!) However, finding a way to inject humor into a difficult situation can work like a magic wand to diffuse tension. Jim is really good at knowing how to make me laugh, and finding humor together always makes me feel closer to him.
5) Doing things apart. As much as I love Jim, I really need time away from him. I love spending one on one with my kids, going out with girlfriends, and having lunch with my mom, and I’m energized by connecting with others. Jim and I each have interests that the other doesn’t share, and that’s been good for us. I know that I also need time alone in order to recharge. Spending an afternoon by myself, browsing in a bookshop, taking a long walk, and relaxing in a coffee shop is heaven. For me, part of bringing my best to my marriage involves spending time away from it.
6) Having a shared vision for the future. The times that I’ve felt the most out of sync with Jim are the times that we haven’t been on the same page with our goals. At some points, we’ve wanted different things, and at others we just didn’t have a clear picture. We’ve found that identifying shared goals — having something we’re both excited about moving towards — is essential for us. The vision is always subject to change (and often does), but we need that guidepost.
7) Working as a team. The two of us are really good at collaborating on projects together. I think that’s why parenting together came so easily to us. (To clarify, parenting is NOT an easy job!! Figuring out how to balance the responsibilities and support each other is what we did well.) We can also throw a great party together. We both love to plan the menu. Jim is an amazing grill master, and I love making side dishes & desserts. I enjoy decorating, and he’s great at estimating quantities of drinks needed and getting everything into coolers and iced down. (I’m always really grateful, especially in the hours leading up to a party, that this seemingly simple task isn’t on my list!). We each enjoy applying our own unique skills and strengths in a way that compliments the other’s, and we love taking pride together in a job well done.
8) Noticing things we appreciate about each other. We each do things that bug the other. Typically, when we think about the things that annoy us, we’re more tuned in to those things, and we see more of them. The more Jim thinks about how much my tendency to be late bothers him, the more he’ll notice me being late. But the opposite is also true. The more we each focus on the things we love and appreciate about the other, the more we’ll notice those things. I love how attentively Jim feeds all of the birds and squirrels in our yard. Watching him doing that makes me more aware of how much he cares about all animals, which leads to me taking more notice of his interactions with them, which makes me feel grateful and, in the end, closer to him. It’s not about forcing ourselves to “look on the bright side,” it’s about paying attention to the good things.
9) Recognizing that we don’t have the same love languages. In his book, The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman explains that we can give and receive love in five different ways: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. Some of those things make us feel more loved than others, and we tend to express love in the same ways we prefer to receive it. When our love languages are different, it’s easy to feel disconnected. Jim’s and my love languages are completely different, and gaining insight into this has helped us both to let go of assumptions and appreciate the efforts the other is making.
10) Setting aside time every week to talk about whatever is on our mind. This is something we started doing three years ago, and it’s been a total game changer for us. We have an hour blocked on our calendars, every Tues morning, for a conversation about whatever is on our minds. We try to minimize interruptions and distractions, so it’s a great opportunity to talk about upcoming weekend or vacation plans, to check in on our finances, and to bring each other up to speed on anything we haven’t found time to discuss. It’s also a safe space to talk about anything that’s been bothering us. Knowing that we’re both entirely focused on the conversation, and that we’re each showing up with an open mind and are receptive to what the other has to say, has enabled us to communicate more openly and effectively.
As I said earlier, this list is by no means exhaustive, but everything I’ve touched on has been important in helping us get to where we are today, and they’re all things that I know will continue to help us as we move forward. Here’s to the next 30!
Does anything resonate especially well with you? Anything you’d add to the list? I’d love to know!
With wishes for growth, evolution & much love in your relationships,