MAKING IT WORK!
By NANCY PATRICK
I thought about starting this paragraph with a string of happy emojis. The reason for my elation—my husband, Mike, and I will celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary on Nov. 23. When we married, Mike had completed two years of college, while I had just graduated from high school. Neither of us had a clue about the gravity of our action, nor did we know the difficulty of maintaining a marriage. We knew only that we loved each other.
Over the years, we grieved as many friends and relatives went through the heartache of divorce. We often wondered why so many marriages did not succeed, but we continued living our lives together as the years began adding up substantially. As we near the Golden Anniversary, I have contemplated how we made it this far, and I have compiled a list of several practices that have contributed to the longevity of our marriage.
Mike and Nancy Patrick wedding Nov. 23, 1968
Mike and I figured out early on that marriage does not require equality in giving and taking but a 100% commitment from both partners. We also learned that keeping score does not benefit the marriage.
For example, in two-career marriages, one person’s career may take precedence over the other career, a situation not always based on the higher-paying job. Each couple must decide how they will work these career moves into the fabric of their relationship. The partner whose career takes second place may experience resentment that can grow to bitterness; however, these negative feelings can cause marital distress, requiring partners to communicate openly and honestly. This candor can prevent further discord and further cement the partnership.
Both spouses must agree not to divorce except in the case of abuse, violence, unlawful conduct, or threats of harm. They commit to making the marriage work, recognizing marriage as a contract that involves many promises, both implied and stated. It also contains vows the two people have sworn to uphold. Nothing can come between these vows: parents, jobs, personalities, children, physical changes, or even principles.
Many circumstances change as people grow older. One spouse may not age as well as the other, while one may experience health issues that change the dynamics in the relationship. Sometimes one person shifts his or her values or beliefs so that the two spouses no longer share those important concepts. In addition, children’s lives can greatly affect a couple’s relationship.
The clearest example of commitment in the face of extreme change relates to my husband’s sister and her husband. Cherri and Will married at the age of eighteen after having been high school sweethearts. In their twenties, they had two beautiful children, and the future seemed bright.
Tragedy struck when Cherri, in her late twenties, exhibited signs of multiple sclerosis. Her husband, Will, seemed not to blink in the face of this diagnosis. Over the next three and a half decades, Cherri’s condition declined dramatically, completely disabling her and making Will her caregiver. If he ever considered abandoning his wife or seeking a new life for himself, he never let any of the family know. Cherri lived to the age of sixty-two, with Will’s commitment to his marriage never failing.
Spouses need to agree about whether or not to have children. Children cause some of the major stresses on a marriage. If parents do not agree on discipline and child-rearing techniques, their marriage will suffer, with children pitting one parent against the other to create an unpleasant home environment.
Additionally, we all hope and assume we will have healthy children; unfortunately, children do not come with guarantees. Every day, babies enter the world with birth defects. These children create special needs within the family, needs that include time, money, patience, love, and endurance. Caring for a special needs child changes everything in a family, including siblings.
Mike and I consider our marriage a long-term investment. Economists say success in the stock market depends on the long-term prospects. Successful investors want the best return so they weather the fluctuations of Wall Street. Similarly, investment in marriage requires long-term commitment. When people marry, they should expect their feelings to vacillate with the emotional environment.
At times, partners may feel lousy about their marriage or even “hate” each other. Abandoning the marriage defeats the point of the long-term investment—children, grandchildren, extended family, home and other property including retirement accounts, and the importance of family history.
Although last in the discussion, respect and kindness rank high on the scale for marital success. In all the years of our marriage, my husband and I have never called each other a bad name, ridiculed the other as stupid, discounted the other’s feelings, or behaved in a mean or disrespectful way.
Disrespecting a spouse is not acceptable behavior. Surely, we should treat our husband or wife with at least the same measure of respect and dignity we use for others. When we learn to control our tempers and measure our words, we feel better about our spouses and ourselves.
Though not trained therapists, Mike and I have lived through our share of disappointments and heartaches in a fifty-year marriage. We both know the frustration of giving up some of our desires and the grief of lost dreams.
On the other hand, Mike’s and my commitment to marriage has given us each other as life partners. We started by joining our two families—our parents and siblings became our larger family. Then Mike and I had a wonderful son and beautiful granddaughter who have enriched our lives.
I know the comfort and security of having a companion who loves and accepts me even though he knows me better than any other living being. Best of all, I know the pride of succeeding at the exceedingly difficult job of creating and maintaining a family in a world of fragmented relationships.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing.