My husband and I celebrated our 21st anniversary the other day by doing nothing. It’s not that we planned to do nothing. It’s not like we enjoyed a lazy day in which we spent the day in bed taking pleasure in each other’s company. It was just another day. After 21 years, our anniversary had morphed into an average day. And that’s okay with me.
Let me explain. It’s not because we have problems, or our marriage is on the rocks, or that we don’t care about anniversaries, because we do. We didn’t think about anniversaries when we got married. We didn’t think about the fact that my husband was in college to be a teacher and that most teachers start their new year mid-August. We didn’t realize that once we had children, we’d be experiencing first days of school and all that jazz around the same time. And it never fails. Almost every year, the first day of school for the kids and my husband falls on our anniversary, give or take one day.
This year was no different. After both kids finished their first days of school, after our son practiced golf for a few hours and our daughter went to Tae Kwon, after multiple phone calls and faxes between me and several doctors’ offices clearing our kids for just about everything at school, and after my husband’s full day full of 178 new students, duties as head of the math department, and other activities as the coach of various sports, we all settled in for the night.
I do admit feeling a little spoiled having the “expensive” carne asada on the grill for dinner. With several never-ending medical bills, a splurge on the good stuff – good eats and possibly a couple bottles of expensive beer to toast and homemade brownies for (me) the kids – made it feel like a first-class celebration. We also managed to share some amazing stories of the last 21 years that the kids are now old enough to hear and understand, bringing a few tears to all our eyes. I’d say our day full of everyday chaos and nothingness was everything I could hope for.
What topped it off as one of the best anniversaries ever was when my husband sneaked around the corner after dinner to surprise me with flowers. I was sure he didn’t get them, which was okay with me, but he did! They didn’t need to be big, flashy or expensive – in fact, I think they were the average grocery store kind you get when you’re in line and think, “Oh crap, I forgot our anniversary!” even though I know he didn’t forget.
Still, these flowers made me feel loved and appreciated and surprisingly wife-ish, this coming from an independent woman. It wasn’t the flowers, but his action that reminded me why our relationship continues to be strong. He’s consistent, and, yet, surprising at the same time. I’d like to say he’s vanilla ice cream – a regular guy who made my heart melt when I first saw him standing there at that pub almost 24 years ago. But when all those first feelings got mixed into real life, my ice cream guy brought and still brings everything he’s got: the hot fudge, sprinkles and cherry on top. And thankfully, we both are a little nuts!
It’s not easy to make long-term relationships work, but these tips should help make yours last at least 21 years and hopefully many more.
1. You need to know that those crazy-in-love feelings will meet real life someday.
This doesn’t mean they go away; this just means they have to be tamed. Walking around on Cloud Nine is awesome, until you can’t get anything done at work. Or until your significant other does something that really pisses you off. This is the first time we have a “judgement day” or “Is this what I want?” moment.
“Falling in love and having a relationship are two very different things.” ~ Keanu Reeves
2. You won’t always like your partner.
It’s true. There will be moments when you’ll look at your partner’s face and wonder why you ever thought it was attractive. He or she will make you so angry, or act so silly, or be so. . . wrong, you’ll barely be able to deal with tit. And that’s okay, as long as you both know it’s “a moment.”
3. You won’t always feel attracted to your partner.
What? No way, you say in the beginning. However, it’s true. It’s usually because you’re angry. Or maybe you’re shallow. Whatever the reason, we go through phases and our partners don’t always attract us the same way as day one. It becomes an issue when this is long-standing. Try to remember what attracted you to your partner in the first place. Hint: It’s not always looks. One of the sexiest qualities of my husband is his sense of humor. (Of course, he’s pretty good-looking, too, but he’s damn funny.)
4. Your sex life won’t always be amazing.
In fact, there will be times when you have no sex life. Sometimes it comes naturally and the stars and planets align, the kids fall asleep early, your work schedules mesh or a million other things happen, and, voilà!, sex happens. Other times, you’ll have your hands full of babies, work demands or so much laundry/cooking/cleaning that you’ll be exhausted, or, as in our case, yet another heart surgery (me) that will wipe out this activity for months. That’s life.
Intimacy, however, doesn’t have to mean sex. Just saying.
5. You’ll wonder if there’s something better out there.
Heck yeah, you will. You’ve probably seen better on social media. That’s because everyone posts the best of the best. Happy families, awesome houses, beautiful new cars, amazing vacations, perfect kids – those are the things we post. Who wants to see pictures of my 12-year-old Expedition that needs new tires? Only when I have all the surf boards on top because I’m posting that the kids are going surfing and that it’s 80 perfect degrees in perfect San Diego. It’s no wonder we think about greener grass out there. Just remember, everyone has weeds in their grass. (Trust me, in California, there’s no greener grass anywhere during this drought!)
6. You’ll hurt each other.
Meaning you’ll say stuff that you wish you could take back. Regularly. It will roll off your tongue in the heat of the moment because you know just how to hurt your partner. You know him well enough to know what stings the most. He knows your every fault, and your family’s faults and your history. Don’t think any of it is off-limits when you argue. Is this okay to do? Absolutely not. We shouldn’t try to hit hard with the zingers, but we do. It takes work to fight fair, but in the long run, it’s worth it.
7. You’re not always right; Your partner is not always wrong.
It’s really not about who’s right and who’s wrong. Don’t spend hours or energy trying to prove it. You’re wasting oxygen and minutes of your life.
8. You’ll ride the edge of trust and so will your partner.
Personally, I think Smartphones are the devil. They are the biggest cause of trust issues these days. Use them wisely. Between social media and texting, we’ve all second-guessed ourselves or our partners at least once. Long-term relationships MUST include trust. While you’re as open as possible with your partner, you will each need to have some privacy. This means trust. Just know that trust has an incredible ebb and flow in relationships.
9. You may hit that rock bottom moment when you think there’s no way this marriage will last.
Sometimes, things happen in life that change the very core of a marriage. My husband and I have two children with devastating health conditions, we’ve been through more than any parent or married couple should have to go through. Ever. I’ve had serious health issues. Some people tell my husband he’s a trooper “for sticking around”. If you’ve ever experienced a death of a parent or, worse, a child, or have gone through a catastrophic event, you know how hard it is to remain together. Only the strong marriages survive. When you hit that moment of truth, it’s not enough to simply say, “We made a vow.” You have to pull out all the punches and remember who you are to each other and who you need to be for each other.
“Love is no assignment for cowards.” ~ Ovid
10. You need to swallow your pride. A lot.
Just get over yourself and do it. No need to say more.
11. You should be kind. All of the time.
Even if you’re mad, be a kind person. Don’t be an jerk. (Well, sometimes you have to be, but return to kindness fast). Remember that phrase “Kill ’em with kindness”? It works.
12. Understand your partner will change, develop and evolve over time. Be accepting.
Because you’ll change, develop and evolve over time, too. And you’ll expect your partner to accept you. Because life changes around us and experiences change people, you can’t expect people to stay the same. Hopefully, the two of you will evolve together.
“People change and forget to tell each other.” ~ Lillian Hellman
13. Learn to appreciate your partner’s good and bad qualities.
Don’t dwell on your partner’s faults. You don’t want her to nag on your faults all day long, so don’t do it to her. In the beginning, those faults didn’t matter so much. You were able to fall in love, weren’t you? Even if your guy leaves the toilet seat up . . . every single time he goes to the bathroom. Are you really willing to kill the relationship over a toilet seat?
14. You’ll see each other at your worst.
If you stick around after seeing each other at the bottom most point in your lives, you’re golden. After several surgeries, my poor husband has had to help me in ways I NEVER thought he’d have to do. Totally embarrassing, but he didn’t even blink. He’s a keeper (and apparently so am I).
15. You should be eating dinner together.
Having this time together is almost a thing of the past these days with all our crazy schedules, but this is an incredible opportunity to reconnect with your partner. Talk about your day. Talk about the good and bad things. Use this time to work things out. Enjoy the senses together (sight, smell, taste).
16. You should be playing together.
Activities don’t have to be fancy or planned. Sometimes impromptu is the best. It can be as simple as walking out back to play an imaginary putting contest (as we often do when we can’t hit the course). You can include the kids or go at it alone. Enjoying activities together makes your relationship stronger.
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” ~ Plato
17. You’ll always have someone to laugh at your incredibly stupid jokes.
Even if it’s a courtesy laugh.
18. You’ll grow old together.
You can freak out about gray hair together. You’ll figure out wrinkles look better on him; he’ll figure out anti-wrinkle cream is damn expensive and a necessity for you. You’ll both move a little slower or work out a little harder. Food will become a little healthier and a little more important. Money will become an issue you discuss together. You may or may not have children, but if you do, you’ll be exhausted together, overwhelmed together and utterly in love together. You’ll start watching weird TV shows together and maybe worry more about the news together. Whatever you do, it will all be done as a unit because you’ll always be thinking as a couple.
While it’s not easy to maintain a long-term relationship, it’s certainly doable. It’s not always as happy as butterflies and unicorns and not always as exciting as March Madness, but the hard work is certainly worth it. Who else would understand my strange obsession with Converse, my 365-day-a- year love for Christmas music, and wacky humor about my defective heart? Only you, baby. Here’s to another 21 years and counting.
Featured photo credit: Ian D. Keating via flickr.com