Today is my thirtieth wedding anniversary. Un-freakin'-believable. When I met Mark in 1977, I couldn't even imagine being thirty years old!
Like all couples who have been together forever, Mark and I have been through many of life's highs, lows and everything in between. Together we went through graduate school, traveled the world, raised children, changed jobs, changed careers (me), changed careers again (me), endured illnesses, grieved, laughed, cried, and laughed some more. My adult life is my life with Mark.
We joke that we have to stay together because we're too tired to "break in" someone new. Truth is we still like being together. Have we had our share of arguments? Of course. Do we agree on everything? Of course not. Are our interests completely aligned with one another? Ha!
Every marriage is unique, but after three decades of marriage and nearly a decade as a life coach, I have concluded there are a minimum of three ingredients required to create and maintain a happy, healthy marriage:
1. Shared values. It is imperative that both people have a similar world view. Mark and I are very different people, to say the least. He is soft spoken and doesn't make waves, and I, er, have chutzpah (Yiddish: nerve). He is extremely calm and rational, even in the face of difficulties, and I am passionate and assertive. He enjoys golf and I prefer the world of paper, beads, and rubber stamps. He grew up in a soft-spoken Midwestern Protestant family, and I grew up in a noisy, Northeastern Jewish family. We epitomize the cliche "opposites attract." I have long joked that if Mark had married himself, they would put each other to sleep, and if I had married myself, it would have been a murder/suicide long ago!
In spite of our differences, our values are nearly identical. We had very few disagreements about raising our children because we had clarity about what was most important to instill in them--have respect for self and others, be an independent thinker, and know that family is love and safety. We are grateful for all we have and know how fortunate we are compared to most people throughout the world. We place family first, but believe that we have responsibilities to others, most of whom we will never know.
2. Laugh. Relatively few days have passed when Mark and I have not gotten silly together. After thirty years, we can look at each other in response to an event and laugh without uttering a word. We each think the other one is funny and clever! (We have to stay together because we are each other's best audience.)
Our laughing has, at times, been problematical to our children, especially when they feared for their lives. Once, while at the wheel on a narrow, winding mountain road, I announced through tears of laughter that I could hardly see. Another time, I nearly had to pull over on a four-lane highway because I couldn't stop laughing at something Mark said (it is still funny ten years later). One night our daughter asked us to "keep it down" because our laughter woke her up. It's not that every day is a riot, but most days have at least one thing about which to chuckle.
3. Trust. There are two kinds of trust in a marriage: fidelity and I-got-your-back. We all know how devastating infidelity can be on a marriage, and it's not worth discussing here. The trust that I think is less obvious but no less important is knowing your partner is there for you no matter what happens, that the commitment is unconditional. Just as we want our home to be a safe haven for our children, it should also be a respite for each partner. I am blessed with a husband who has been my biggest cheerleader, especially through all my iterations! Mark knows I'm always on his team.
So, Mark and I have gone from being young, carefree students to middle aged parents. Sometimes it seems like a flash, and other times it feels like the full thirty years (especially on the mornings when we both utter "oy, my back" as we get out of bed). We have endured better and worse, richer and poorer, and sickness and health. What is next for us? I'm not sure, but I'm glad it will be with Mark.