My wife and I have an outdoor ritual that takes place predominately in the spring and summer months. Most mornings, between seeing our son off to school and leaving for work, we’ll have a chat and a cup of stove perked coffee on our back deck.
We’ve even made the attempt to keep the tradition going as the weather gets a little crappier – drinking the coffee in our deck chairs as the temperature hovered near thirty degrees.
It’s hard to let go of something that works so well.
This time spent – and the communication that it inspires – is one of the reasons the two of us have been able to enter our 24th year of marriage.
24. In today’s world, it sounds like a freakishly long time to sustain a relationship. And for many people, no doubt it is.
Eyes go wide with curiosity when you tell folks you’ve been married for more than 20 years.
Everybody looks for the “secret to success,” that one magical short cut that will skip the tough stuff, and retain the romantic ideal of the wedding ceremony. In our impatient, always connected sound byte society, the short cut is what’s deemed as acceptable.
“How have you made it so long?”
The answer I might give – “How the hell should I know?”
I don’t know. Realistically, 24 years of marriage as a measurement of time is a drop in the bucket. Before my grandfather’s death in the year 2000, he and my grandmother were married for 66 years.
Did you catch that number? Sixty-six years.
In case you think that’s a fluke or an outlier, my grandfather’s brother Mariano was married to his wife even longer.
In my head, I still think my wife and I are in our honeymoon phase and, although our youngest kid is a teenager, just starting out. When you look at the standard that’s been set in our family, we really are just starting out.
There are a myriad of ways you can work to improve a relationship, whether in or outside of a marriage.
As you might expect, there are no secrets. Great relationships are simple – but they’re not easy.
The Ego Is Your Enemy
Unless you prefer a life of misery, it’s a smart idea to put your ego on the shelf. Everyone has one – giant, massive egos. Myself included.
OK, maybe Mother Teresa didn’t have an ego. Maybe the Buddha, or Trappist monks don’t have egos. They’re the exception, not the rule.
We all have friends in various stages of relationship duress. And the stories are consistent – about how their lives are affected, how they’ve been wronged, how nothing goes their way, et cetera.
The consistent theme here? – “Me. Me. Me. And more me.”
Again, there are always exceptions – but I guarantee that if egos on either side were shelved, in the interest of empathy, an attitude of service, and the idea of meeting halfway – compromising – for the greater good of both parties, you could save and improve any relationship.
But that takes work. And it’s a helluva lot easier just to think of yourself than to do the actual work, because work takes commitment. Speaking of which…
For a lot of us, commitment is a bit of a dirty word. Whether it concerns eating habits, relationships, jobs, exercise – the idea of commitment isn’t always a palatable one.
That means I have bad news to share – without commitment, there is no success. Especially in the realm of marriage.
With commitment, you go all in. There are no options, no plan B. You burn the bridges behind you.
Over the period of 66 years of marriage between Sebastian DeGiorgio and his wife Rosina, there was massive commitment. Ups, downs, highs, lows, through prosperous times and tragedy.
In a life that was made more difficult in the beginning because of immigrant status – they remained committed until the end.
That’s my model for commitment. The model of today includes large diamonds, opulent receptions, destination weddings. Once that’s over, marriage success is a roll of the dice. If only the same effort that was put into wedding planning was part of the relationship building as well.
Prepare For What It Is – Work
“Successful people never accept good enough; they are always pushing themselves more than others would ever dare.” – Grant Cardone
The morning after our December wedding, crews had to de-ice the wings of the jet airliner that was to start us off on this new journey. We were prepared for a week of fun and sun on the beaches of Mexico – but were we ready for what was to follow?
The building of a sustained relationship requires work. You have a role of spouse. Parent. Provider. Protector. In each role, you can never be “good enough.” To make a marriage a success, improving it every day should be your goal. And that takes continuous effort.
Almost 24 years later, my wife and I still stand close to each other at parties. We finish the other’s sentences, laugh at the jokes. We flirt, and more often than not we’re thinking of the exact same thing at the same time.
All of that is the result of many years of effort to keep our relationship like new, making little adjustments every day to make each other happy. There have been (mainly financial) struggles, but struggles can be overcome with – work. The work can help you weather any storm.
Most marriage issues (ours included) stem from problems that the modern era hoists upon us. But I’m here to tell you – modern marriage should be easy.
None of us had to board ships to complete an arduous journey. We never had to leave our home country. Most of us don’t have to spend our lives in physical toil, or deal with the prejudice and backlash that comes with being an immigrant. Or fight to put food on the table, or stay alive.
Our families of yesterday were shining examples of work, commitment, and humility. You want a better relationship? That’s how it’s done.