I was on the phone with a dear friend. She was telling me about her recent breakup and that she was depressed. The ending of the relationship left her feeling as though she had largely wasted three years of her life and she didn’t seem very enthused or optimistic about starting over, finding someone new.
Our conversation eventually shifted directions. And the question I feared would be asked, was asked – “What are you going to do this weekend?”
I hesitated, debating whether I wanted to tell her the truth. I am not a liar and don’t like keeping secrets so I fessed up.
“Well,” I said. “It’s my parents fortieth wedding anniversary. They are renewing their vows at their church and hosting a reception afterward,” I told her, feeling as though I had just slapped her in the face.
I didn’t get the harsh reaction I thought I would. Instead I was asked a question – “What is their secret?”
Admittedly, I didn’t know. Secret? My parents don’t have a secret. They are just my parents.
“You know, that is an interesting question.” I said. “To be honest, I don’t know. They’ve just never got a divorce.”
Mom and Dad in 1977 and 2017
A few days went by. I didn’t think a whole lot about my friend’s question until I received a text the day before my parent’s big day from my mother.
Your speech will be after your brother’s. Was all it read.
This got me thinking. My thoughts turned, focusing in on my friend’s question – What is the secret to a forty-yearlong marriage, a forever marriage?
I quickly realized that I have largely taken my parents forever marriage for granted, though I feel very blessed to have had them stay together. If you have read some of my other posts you’ll know why. I took my curiosity to the internet, looking for some statistics on divorce. I ended up on a few family law offices websites and discovered that the divorce rate in the U.S. and California has actually gone down in recent years. One reason for this is that there are fewer marriages taking place as more couples choose to cohabitate rather than get married. When cohabiters part ways it is not catalogued as a divorce. But, I can tell you, when cohabiters split, a very real traditional divorce ensues in many cases. Emotions are through the roof, lawyers and mediators and called in, property is split up, kids are shuttled around.
My mother and father have stayed together for forty-years, which seems rarer than I believe it actually to be. They are genuinely good people who entered a union together – two individuals became one. From that union on they have navigated life’s challenges as one rather than two. All the ups and downs were figured out together, imperfectly at times, but together. They may not have agreed on everything but they loved and supported each other no matter what. And when they fought, they did so fairly, not dirty.
They are humble people who took their vows, a solemn promise, seriously and accepted that neither one was perfect. They both have made mistakes and have character flaws – believe me! We all do. My father’s humility was apparent when he gave the first speech at the reception. He thanked my mother for being his wife of forty-years, that he couldn’t imagine his life without her, that he felt lucky to be able to walk by her side through life.
When it was my turn to give a speech, I recounted the story I have just told you. Ultimately, I concluded that there isn’t a secret to a forever marriage. Why does there need to be a secret to loving and dedicating your life to your partner? I don’t believe romantic love can be reduced to a formula. Like life, romantic love is vast and complicated, a mystery not intended to be figured out, I believe. What works for one couple may not work for another. Some couples need date nights and vacations, some need lots of gifts, some need a lot of physical interaction and passion, some thrive on verbal communication and positive affirmation. Whatever the case may be, the one common denominator that I have observed is that the couple needs to surrender to the marriage. A marriage won’t work if it is not taken seriously, viewed sacred, and isn’t nurtured and cared for, evolving with the ebbs and flows of life.