Originally written for and published by Your Tango on July 15, 2022.
I’m happily married. But, happily, has not always been the case over my 25 years of marriage. Yes, 25 years. This summer, my husband and I are throwing a blowout party to celebrate our milestone wedding anniversary.
A lot has changed since we wed. In 1997, Pluto was still a planet, Bill Clinton was president, Buffy was slaying vampires, and the Backstreet Boys were playing games with our hearts. Not only has the world changed, but we have drastically changed as we’ve navigated life’s twists and turns together.
We adopted our daughter, gave birth to our son, moved cities, changed employers, became employers, bought a house, sold a house, bought another house, sold our second house, bought our dream family home, lost parents, adopted a dog, adopted a dog for our dog, lost a dog, adopted another dog, became empty-nesters, made new friends, lost friends, changed social circles, became financially stable, became civic-minded, became politically aware, left organized religion, received joint replacements, fought cancer, attended graduations, watched friends divorce, celebrated second marriages, joined AARP, and most recently have witnessed friends become grandparents at record numbers.https://3226df03f7b8e84b89941e9dbc942747.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Through all this change, we have managed to stay together — sometimes feeling as if our marriage was being held together by a single thread. We’ve had our challenges, and we still do. Our marriage isn’t unique in this way. All marriages ebb and flow.
So, what is the secret to a twenty-five-year marriage that has been tested over time? It comes down to one simple word.
I discovered this secret just five years ago. Sponsored Content 3 Military Veterans Share Their Success Stories With a Career at Spectrum By Spectrum
The year leading up to our 20th wedding anniversary was difficult. I felt stuck in my marriage, blaming my husband for the loneliness I felt.
I now realize that when I blamed him for my unhappiness, I was blame-shifting, which meant if he was the only one responsible for my unhappiness then he also was the only one who could have the solution. By blame-shifting, I was unconsciously giving away my power to find a solution.
My husband had a busy year at work, consumed with life as a trial attorney and shareholder at his law firm, spending most of his time in his home office while at home, going to sleep before me so he could wake up and hit the gym with his buddies at 5 AM each morning.
Meanwhile, I was the kids’ chauffeur, a stay-at-home mom, having left my law career behind years prior. I was unhappy and I felt I couldn’t leave the marriage because I no longer had an independent stream of income, and I had the responsibility of raising my kids.
Not only were we not spending much time together, but we also were communicating without a hint of grace or love. We felt like roommates or business partners more than lovers. To help me process my thoughts, I began journaling and taking a hard look at myself, gradually accepting responsibility rather than blaming my husband for my discontentment.
As I let go of the resentment and accepted responsibility, I felt a feeling of freedom and power return, which led me to cancel our planned 20th wedding anniversary fancy dinner date and instead set a date with my husband to sit down at home and discuss whether we each wanted to be in the marriage, a check-in that has become an annual tradition.
These annual anniversary check-ins have given us the permission to be honest with one another about what we each experienced in the past year and recognize that although we are both in this marriage, our experiences and feelings may not be the same or we may be misreading our partner’s experience.
Knowing we have a scheduled time to have this sometimes difficult conversation gives us the pause we need to step away from our emotions and look objectively at our marriage and think about what we want in a partner.
Instead of focusing on the day-to-day grind that can be stressful, by checking in each year, we are not only taking time to recognize the challenges in our marriage, but we are also taking a pause to appreciate the qualities in our spouse that we admire. It changes the mindset from having to be in the relationship because we are married to choosing to be married because we want to be in the relationship.
It is important to recognize that because you made a choice at one point in your life, it doesn’t mean the choice that was working for you when you were younger is working for you at an older age. Give yourself the grace to ask yourself, “Is this still working for me?”
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There are many relationships and life experiences, including careers, living environments, and friendships, that worked for you when you were younger but no longer make sense as you age, and that fact should come with no judgment. You and your spouse are constantly evolving with different needs at different life stages.
You owe it to yourselves to recognize and celebrate your individual growth during your marriage. And always ask for more. What are you not asking for that you need to make the marriage work?
Marriage begins as an agreement between two people, and unlike a divorce that can be instigated and finalized by one person, you both must affirmatively choose to be married. That power of choice doesn’t change over time. Marriage is a union by choice.
And when you give yourself the permission to choose one another each year, you are recognizing that you each want to share your life with one another, which is one of the most romantic and greatest lifetime gifts you have the power to give and receive.