Tying the knot is the easy part; staying together requires some intentional habits.
Dear Teenage Son,
Today your dad and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary. It was a remarkable day since increasingly we see marriages that are falling apart. Tying the knot is the easy part; staying together requires some intentional habits and staying in love.
Well, that most certainly doesn't happen by chance. Here are some things you may be unaware of that your dad has worked hard on to keep us together and in love over the years.
1. Stay in shape for each other.
We married young and he brought his high school football body into the marriage. Luckily, he quickly realized that without playing the game his muscles would turn soft, so he morphed into a runner. When we turned 30, and again when we turned 40, people continued to warn us that time was drawing nigh when rapid weight gain was practically guaranteed due to a slow-down of metabolism and a sedentary adult lifestyle.
Your dad thought it a ridiculous prophecy and rejected it by regimented exercise. Because of this, at age 46 he kept up with you in the last Spartan Race competition. Not only is he able to be a more engaged, energetic father, his disciplined workout routine has kept me motivated to do the same.
We have a fuller life because we can bike, run, paddle-board and hike together. Besides the natural health benefits of staying within our ideal weight range, we recognize that our options are more open to the adventures we can have now in mid-life and as we grow old together. If the day comes, I imagine that we'll also be better able to keep up with grandkids.
2. Synchronize your sleeping patterns.
Your dad's professional life has always meant that the alarm sounds early. Synchronizing our sleeping habits was reasonable because we wanted to be tired at the same time so that our rising together helped launch a new day better.
Establishing this routine helped us do the little but hard daily things together, like getting you out of bed for school. Even when you were little and having dinner at 5 PM so as to have time for the subsequent bath/bedtime routine, I'd have dinner with your dad when he arrived home.
There were times in your dad's career when he'd barely get home in time to kiss you goodnight before you drifted to sleep. After he did, we'd share a simple meal of grilled meat over greens. Though he'd be deservedly whipped, he would fill me in, as I would him, on the day.
He would patiently recount the highlights for me even when it was the last thing he wanted to talk about. It helped keep our worlds connected. Too many couples fall apart because their worlds grow apart.
3. Don't harbor resentment toward one another.
Your dad doesn't keep a list about what I've done wrong. He doesn't keep score. This character quality is something I've admired in him since we were married. I'm profoundly grateful that he honestly lets things go after some disagreement has been righted.
There are already too many things that pull relationships apart. Nagging each other about trivia is perilous to a strong marriage. So is regurgitating past wrongs. It simply doesn't profit the relationship.
4. Prioritize "adult playtime" every weekend.
Your dad likes to make memories together. Early on in our marriage, we did weekends very simply: we played together. When you kids entered the picture, we adjusted and went to playgrounds. We didn't have huge expectations for our weekends. The honey-do list didn't exist and neither did your dad have unrealistic expectations for me. We were content putzing around and playing together.
Do couples who play together stay together? For us, yes. This doesn't negate the obvious, that, as you've often seen, he's often worked late into the nights. But play over the weekend was and always will be important.
5. Review each other's schedules at the beginning of each week.
We talked beforehand about what the schedule for the upcoming week included — no surprises means better prepared. This time of exchanging and reviewing the upcoming week's schedule often revealed just how many times your dad had excused himself from various cocktail parties and receptions so as to get home at night.
These conversations were illuminating to me: it underscored his desire to get home to us at the end of each intense day. It helped me also prepare for the extra-long days as a work-at-home-mom (WAHM) when I'd be running completely solo.
6. Complement each other's weaknesses.
Since I'm the product of an indecisive home, I've appreciated your dad's convincing and unapologetic direction. When I've been ambivalent and he felt strongly, I appreciated your dad showing decisiveness. It's a relief. He's offering something I don't have and helping us to be whole.
Of course, there are ways I solely contribute to our marriage partnership, but I humbly acknowledge that this isn't one of them. As you grow into manhood, you're learning from observing men in your life.
We both know that your dad hasn't been perfect. But when he's messed up, he's been able to readily apologize and make fun of himself. He doesn't take himself that seriously. As your mom, I've been delighted to watch you two hang out together.
Ultimately, these notes I've written down today are to help you know your dad more fully and recognize habits that have contributed to our marriage. This letter isn't to be confused with marriage insurance, as if such an equation existed to achieve a long, happy marriage.
You're your own man. You'll be great just as you are.
This article was originally published at Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.