This past year, both my parents and my in-laws reached a wonderful milestone in their lives: they celebrated their 50th Golden Wedding Anniversaries. As my siblings and I prepared to celebrate my parent’s anniversary, we began to reminisce about our childhood. We were reminded yet again of what an incredible marriage our parents had and still have. In fact, as far as we can remember, they only had one big argument. And it was over something so trivial that it has become a family joke.
A loving marriage is like the air we breathe: as long as we have it, we take it for granted. But, take oxygen out of the air and we’re in danger of suffocating. Likewise, if you take love out of a marriage, the relationship dies.
At the same time, a loving marriage is like a game of golf: To the outsider, it looks so easy and natural. But the reality is that a loving, stable marriage takes a lot more effort than it looks.
So for Valentine’s Day, I asked my parents and in-laws, golden experts on true love, for their advice on how to have a happy and lasting marriage. Here’s what they advised:
What do you think is the most difficult thing about marriage and how do you deal with that?
The most difficult thing is to adjust to and accept the idiosyncrasies of one’s spouse and to give in to reasonings and decisions that do not seem rational but mainly based on emotion or first impression. We deal with it by simply accepting and loving each other the way we are… both strengths and weaknesses.
In matters of decisions, I just let my wife make all the decisions that has to do with the home. Where my opinion is sought, I give it and where it is not, I keep quiet and let her have her way. I follow this principle: I am in charge of earning; my wife is in charge of spending.
In our 50 years of marriage, I haven’t had any difficulty in our marriage. Your dad has always been accommodating and respecting of my autonomy as a person. The Family Enrichment courses we took and brought to many couples helped us to navigate the intricacies of marriage and saved us from making wrong decisions in family life.
In early marriage the hardest part was struggling to make enough money to pay the bills. However, this struggle brought us closer together. We found you don’t need a barrel of money to be happy. This experience taught us to trust in God’s Providence, work hard, and to be generous with the Church, friends and family, and those in need. We learned not to worry about money. You will always be provided for in good times and in bad. God cannot be outdone in generosity.
How do you deal with major disagreements?
Mom and Dad:
We try to follow the advice of Blessed Alvaro del Portillo: “The one who thinks he/she is right should be the first to apologize.” However, except for that one episode, which was very minor, we have had no major disagreements.
Find the middle way. Remember the old saying: “ The truth stands in the middle.” If you are angry, “Don’t let the sun set on your anger.”
What are the most important things you do to preserve your marriage?
Serve, serve, serve. I put the needs and preferences of my wife over my own. We spend time together and develop common activities and interests.
When we were younger, we attended courses on marriage and family life to get ideas on how to improve ourselves as spouses and parents. Now, we continue to attend to our own personal and spiritual formation. We practice our faith and live a life of piety. We also continue to nurture friendships with couples who have the same moral and family values.
I listen sympathetically to Barbara’s troubles of the day originating either in the workplace or in the home. I also nurture my faith so as to grow in love of God and each other.
I keep in mind an old German saying: “Don’t put everything on a scale.”
What do you advise to couples who have: 1. Young children, 2. Teenagers, and 3. An empty nest?
Mom and Dad:
When you have young children, instill the virtue of obedience from the very start. Establish a good routine, then form in them other good habits and virtues such as order, perseverance, willingness to share, and the habit of saying “I am sorry, please and thank you”. Young kids are selfish by nature. So try to teach them to be more generous and considerate.
With teens, educate them in FREEDOM and help them develop a sense of responsibility for their actions. Support and encourage them on plans, projects and activities that you agree with. When they make decisions you do not agree with, allow them to make mistakes, but make them fully aware that they will be on their own to face the consequence of their decisions without your support. Encourage discussions on current topics, respecting their opinion and expressing yours but avoiding heated arguments.
When you have an empty nest, develop common interests and activities with your spouse and spend more time together.
When children come into your lives, parents need to realize that their life needs to be totally transformed. You are no longer living for just each other, but rather for the whole family. Keep in mind at all times that you are living out God’s calling in life. Raising young children, however, can be stressful at times. Don’t neglect keeping alive the flame of love that you have for each other. Find a time to talk with each other after the kids are in bed. Share with each other, the ups and downs of your day. Be honest and open with each other.
With teenagers, rely on each other’s strengths and insights in dealing with adolescents. Don’t think you know all the answers. Listen to your spouse’s point of view. Try to be of one mind. Always keep the lines of communication open with your teenage children. Encourage the teenage children to cherish the Faith. It will be like a lamp to their feet, especially during the current cultural upheaval and confusing times.
When you have an empty nest, try to go out on dates on a regular basis and do things together that you both enjoy. Stay close to your adult children and their children if you are blessed with grandchildren.
Any other thoughts on how to have a happy and lasting marriage?
Focus on your spiritual development. The closer you get to God, the happier and more loving you’ll become.
Serve one another and pray together. Be cheerful and accommodating to each other’s desires, and live St Paul’s description of what love is: love is kind, love is patient, it is not easily angered, it is not self-seeking…etc.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Keep alive the flame you had when you first met. Give thanks to God continually for your spouse. Overlook a lot of small stuff.
I’ve always found that if you try to make the other person happy, you find great joy yourself.