Something people in successful marriages are often asked is, “What has being married for so long taught you about marriage in general?” (We’ll answer the logical follow-up question next week: how has the marriage changed us and our partners.)
A long marriage has so many moments that stretch and challenge you, it’s hard to boil them down to just a few. But today, we thought of these three as maybe the most profound observations for both of us. And as always, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Life will change you both in ways you can’t predict or expect.
In 25 years, we’ve gone through birthdays, friends who come and go out of our life, the loss of loved ones, hospital stays, career changes, car accidents, financial success and failure, births, graduations, and now a nest that is starting to empty.
These challenges will change you both in different ways.
The secret is to navigate life’s challenges together, always. The risk if you don’t is, life’s course corrections can send you off in different directions. It is common in Jeremy’s day job as a financial planner, for example, to hear from middle-aged couples that are divorcing that they “grew apart” or discovered that they want different things. This isn’t always avoidable, but it’s often because the couple allowed events that unfolded to both of them to affect them separately.
When we shut down our businesses in 2007 during the beginning of the Great Recession, moved our family, and took on new careers, it affected us both deeply. But for the first time in our marriage up to that point, we weren’t working through those changes together. Physically, we did, of course; we packed, moved and unpacked together. But what was happening emotionally? We were allowing ourselves to withdraw and process the changes alone.
Looking back, we both think it was a period of two years or longer before we finally had the really serious, vulnerable, conversations where we both grieved openly and shared what we were going through. Not wanting to burden the other, we both simply bottled up our frustrations, and for the first time in our relationship, a real gap emerged between us.
It was only in confronting not only the issues we were working through, but directly addressing the fact that it had pulled us apart, that we were finally able to begin the process of coming back together.
A marriage is very much an ebb and flow. There are times you’ll naturally feel very close and working together in real harmony. But there will be times that pull you apart or drive wedges between you that, if allowed to remain, can finally pull the whole marriage down (or allow another person to come in and fill that gap).
So, how do you fix it?
It starts with one of you simply “dropping the sword”. Get alone with your spouse, and be willing to show your soul. Accept that it may take several sessions of intense, raw emotion and rebuilding the trust to share genuine feelings without fear of ridicule or scorn.
And agree to immediately address concerns you have in the future, before they have the chance to take root and create division. We’ve developed a catchphrase for when we are feeling distant or that there is something bothering the other person: we just say, “I’m feeling eggshells.” (As in, “I feel like we are walking on eggshells around each other.”)
That immediately lets the other know that there may be issues to discuss, that our spouse is eager to keep the relationship open and honest (and close) and that it’s okay to bring up any problems or concerns. It’s a great system that has worked for us for years (and interestingly, we no longer have very many “eggshells” to bring up). We now talk to each other long before there are “eggshells”.
The fire doesn’t have to go out, but it often does.
Yeah, we’re talking about sex and romance.
We all know how it feels in the early parts of your relationship: a sizzle, then a spark, then a roaring lust-fire for each other.
And then, slowly, that roaring fire burns down to glowing embers, and we start wondering what happened to the romance and hormones and excitement that seems to be missing now.
And if we’re not careful, those embers may burn themselves out. Or worse, one of you decides to try to find a new spark with someone else. (Is it any wonder why the dating app is called “Tinder”?)
We can say with certainty, the fire doesn’t have to go out. It’s true that the newness of the relationship wears off, but it can be replaced by a comfortable assurance and confidence that can only come with someone who knows you so intimately for so long.
But again, like a fire, it takes new fuel and stoking the old embers to keep it hot.
We could devote the whole blog to just this subject, so we’ll never do it justice in just one post, but for now, let’s just say that like all aspects of marriage, keeping the love life alive takes commitment, creativity, and the desire of both of you to make it work.
Staying away from “eggshells” is a good first start. You absolutely must keep the emotional intimacy flowing if you have any hope of keeping the physical intimacy alive. (And it’s worth the effort – couples who sleep together seldom break up.)
In our marriage, date nights are essential. So is making time for each other for sex, even if it means, oddly, scheduling it. (Young couples probably can’t imagine that they’ll ever need to make time to make love, but believe us, kids, life is quirky.)
Jeremy warns you men: you have to be “all in” to do this. You can’t be flirting, innocently or not, with other women. You can’t pour all of your sexual energy into porn. You have to remember to woo her and seduce her exactly like when you were first courting her. In fact, forever courting your wife is probably the best advice he could give any guy who wants a long-term marriage to work. That means not laying around in boxers, grooming yourself, bringing flowers, etc.
Kari’s advice for you ladies: when you were dating, we went through the effort to look nice, dress nice, kept our figures, and look our best for our man. It’s important to keep doing that because men are visually stimulated. I’m not saying plastic surgery or Botox, and your man may not notice that you got your hair cut or did your nails, but he’ll definitely see you looking great overall, and be proud to have you at his side.
There are a lot of resources out there on this subject that we’ve read and incorporated, and would definitely recommend. Check these out (and support Go25ToLife by buying them here):
All things being equal, traditional gender roles work best.
Here’s where, in 2019, we’re bound to face some resistance, but hear us out.
We’re not talking about men being the lord of the home, and women being “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen”. We’re not advocating that men come home and flop on the couch with a beer, while the wife does all the cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, shopping, laundry, etc.
What we are talking about is more a Biblical definition than a stereotypical redneck, “king of my castle” chauvinism.
In the Bible, men are told to “cherish” their wives as Jesus loved the Church (meaning, be willing to lay down his very life for her without a second thought). And to the ire of many feminists today, women are instructed to “honor” and in some translations, “submit” to the final authority of their husbands.
These two instructions are supposed to go together. A woman who honors her husband is supposed to be cherished above all else by that husband. When they work together, these roles build an amazing and dynamic partnership. It’s only when one of these roles is enforced and the other is not, that serious marital problems can develop.
Kari likes to say that in our marriage, she wants to be the “First Officer” of our family’s Starship Enterprise, not the Captain. The First Officer is responsible for the smooth operations of the entire ship. The Captain has to make most of the life-or-death decisions. But the Captain cannot run the affairs of the ship and its operations at the same time, and relies heavily on the First Officer to make sure it all runs smoothly. The Captain always seeks the input of the First Officer but ultimately has the responsibility to make the final decisions. And in the event the Captain is unable to perform his or her duties, the First Officer stands ready to step in.
For centuries, the Captain was expected to go down with the ship, after assuring the First Officer and the rest of the crew were safe. That’s the kind of husband we’re talking about.
Sadly, in our culture today, there is tremendous pressure on marriages to forego or even reverse these traditional leadership roles. And we think that’s a mistake. We know, because for many years, we tried being co-Captains.
Being raised in a single-mother household, Jeremy had nothing but respect and admiration for how hard his mother worked to support the family. She took on both roles for over a decade while he was growing up. And so, when we got married, Jeremy really tried hard to empower Kari with every aspect of leadership at completely equal levels. Often, however, to Kari, that felt like Jeremy wasn’t leading.
And later in the marriage, when Kari’s career required her to work long hours (often away from home for days on end), and then put in much more time pursuing her degree, Jeremy stepped in and took care of much of the household tasks that Kari simply couldn’t do. It wasn’t ideal; we both felt like we weren’t performing our “roles”, but we did what we needed to do.
But as soon as we could, we naturally, without prompting from either party, switched back to traditional roles. It’s just a deep, human need to “play your part”. Anything else feels foreign.
Let us be clear about something: we’re not necessarily advocating for a single-income situation where the man works and the woman stays home. Those days may be behind our society forever, for economic reasons if not because of social change. We’ve always supported each other in the things we wanted to do. For instance, Kari has always been able to pursue whatever her passions or interests were, whether it was buying and running a business, going back to college so she could earn more money working, or staying home to raise our young kids.
But what we’re saying is, your marriage will feel “off” if, for long periods of time, the traditional marital roles are violated.
One thing we know for sure, men: in the absence of your leadership, a woman will automatically step up and take charge of the situation. And make no mistake, she will resent the hell out of you for making her do that. Taking on her role and yours, frankly, sucks. It is fundamentally unfair to her to force her to assume your role as a leader in your home. And it may very likely end in a broken home: stay-at-home-dads are 32% more likely to be divorced than dads who work outside the home to provide for the family.
To maintain a stable, harmonious home, we need to accept and embrace the biological reality that we’re different. Men have specific roles to fill, as do women. Violating that politically incorrect reality may score points with people outside your marriage, but we believe, will do great harm within it. (And ultimately, whose opinion matters more – your peers, or your life partner?)
We know this post may stir some strong feelings, and we welcome your respectful feedback. We’d also love to hear from other couples what you’ve learned about marriage over many years. Share it below!