You know I love, respect, and am blessed to have in my life the man I’m married to, right? Have I ever told either of you how much you have to do with that?
As a young girl, you would not allow me to allow myself to be disrespected. There wasn’t enough eye-rolling in my head to lessen the requirement about a visiting guy coming up to the door. No horn honking, running out to his car when he pulled up, waiting outside for him. I was worth his time to come up to the door to get me. I was worth his time to walk me back to the door and make sure I got in the house safely. When as an insecure teenager I was willing to settle for someone – anyone – who liked me, you were not willing to let me settle for someone who did not hold me in high esteem. You caused me to have certain expectations about how one should be treated in a relationship. It took me years to realize you were not just being controlling, judgmental, and generally uncool.
How you treated each other has had a major impact on my marriage. I’m not glamorizing your relationship – I know you had more than your share of tough times, losses, marital discord, and strife. I also know that there is probably plenty that I don’t know about your relationship. But here are lessons that I learned about marriage just from watching you – when I didn’t even know I was watching:
You start out with just the two of you, and end up with just the two of you, so that relationship has to be prioritized to be sustained throughout what comes in between.
The only thing better than receiving a surprise from your spouse is giving one to them and the happy anticipation of their reaction.
Surprises don’t have to be parties where people are waiting to jump out – they are things like the funny note on the mirror, shrimp cocktail in the work lunch, bringing juice to the other in bed.
Having pet names for each other keeps things tender.
Making each other laugh is a worthy goal.
Having a secret code (also known as French) allows you to connect know matter how many are present.
Presenting a unified front to others, no matter what you are going through behind the scenes, can lead to unification.
Having each other’s back is a priority.
Household chores don’t have a gender classification – they just need to be done.
Cooking isn’t tied to gender, either.
Trying new things together keeps it fun.
Socializing with other couples widens your horizons and deliberately brings into your world different points of view.
Refusing to join in when others are complaining about their spouses and staying positive about your own can totally change the conversation.
No matter how hot the argument gets, name-calling has no place in it.
If the day is so difficult you can’t make the other laugh, make the other smile.
Embrace the adventure of the unknown. Or be static.
Keep learning. Watching the news, reading, asking questions. You stop learning, you stop growing – which would be boring.
Mutual respect can overcome some major differences of opinion.
Laughing at each other’s jokes – no matter how many times you’ve heard them – is its own gift.
There’s a lot of ways to publicly declare your love without anyone ever hearing you utter the words “I love you” to each other. And actually, it’s less your declaration than an outsider’s observation based on the evident mutual respect and enjoyment of each other.
Supporting each other doesn’t always mean being physically there for them – sometimes it means letting them go take care of their business and supporting their decision to do so.
And sometimes supporting each other means being physically there for them – even when there’s nothing you can do.
When you each prioritize putting the other first, you are both content.
These are just a few of the lessons I learned about marriage from you. I know as soon as my letter is sent, I’ll think of one I forgot to write down. An important one. And they’ll keep coming to me as long as I’m married. Know that I am grateful for those, also.
When I do something kind for my husband, or make him laugh, and he says to me: “I sure see your parents in you,” I know I have received the ultimate compliment. Because you gave to me the ultimate gift: a real life demonstration of living out the wedding vows of sticking it out and being there for the other “in good times and in bad times.” You have blessed me with this legacy.
With an abundance of love and admiration, Daughter #2
P.S. If I’d known in my early years what I know now, I would have spoken much kinder about you both in my diary. I’ll forgive you for reading it, if you’ll forgive me for the words you read!
This is lovely. Your bulleted list is wonderful advice for all couples to follow. It’s often the little things that keep a happy marriage humming. Looks like your parents got it right and passed those traits onto you.
Thanks, Carrie – it’s a gift I don’t take for granted! And you’re so right abut the little things that keep a marriage humming. Sure, the big things make us sing – but nobody can go full throttle all the time. So humming is where the beauty lies, the respect is built and special moments abound!
This is wonderfully beautiful, Shel, and now I’m crying a bit. Sounds so much like my Grandparents it’s crazy. So much. And I miss them both…so much.
The way you write about your grandparents has often reminded me of my parents as well, Lisa. It sounds like they were quite a role-modeling blessing in your life – I can only imagine how much you miss them – such folk are irreplaceable.
Shel, what a beautiful tribute to your parents and their togetherness. Both of my parents are gone, so I look up and tell them what I now appreciate that I couldn’t grasp while they were still here. There’s something to this aging, softening, wising up process, isn’t there? I love your post! As always, it made me reflect.
Thanks, Kim. I agree, this aging/softening/wising up process is a gift – one not only to be shared but to behold in others who have received it.
Beautiful letter! I wish I was able to write that kind of letter to my parents, but sadly the more I learn as I get older, the more I realize that their relationship was more damaging than anything else. It’s a rough spot to be in sometimes when I’m still trying to figure out my own marriage, and realizing how much I need to unlearn.
That is sad, Rebekah. It sounds like, however unintended, they have taught you things NOT to do in your marriage – also valuable knowledge. If you don’t already have a couple with a healthy marriage to socialize and interact regularly with in your life, you might seek that out. Often a couple with a few more married years under their belts can serve as a type of “marriage mentor” as well as friends. Maybe there’s a couple in your community or church that you enjoy or would like to get to know better? You may find a previous post How to Get Couple Friends – and Why You Need To helpful: https://shelharrington.com/how-to-get-couple-friends-and-why-you-need-to/
Absolutely beautiful tribute to what a marriage should be, not only to one another but also in the gfit parents give to their children as your wonderful parents have given to you. Love the photos. Oh Shel, what a great blessing and thank you so much for sharing and restoring my faith in true love and commitment.
Thanks, Sherri. As a divorce lawyer, I don’t take for granted the longevity I have been privileged to witness and benefit from!
love your love letter and ideas-try something new together particularly impressed me as a retired couple it’s necessary…
I agree, Lin. It’s so easy to get in our routines and it seems like such effort to search out a new activity or invite someone over we don’t know well – but those efforts usually pay off!
What a sweet letter, Shel. And they are such cuties!!!
This made my day! Thank you, Shel. Loved the photos, too.
Thanks, Sonia! They are kind of cute, aren’t they?
Beautiful, heart felt tribute, Shel. And one I can relate to…my parents set those standards for me too. Thanks for expressing this in eloquent words.
I almost said it was about when we were raised, DiAne – but then I remembered how how oppressed I felt growing up with so many expectations and requirements compared to peers in my neighborhood. My parents had the audacity to have a list of chores for us daily and severely limited TV time while friends had moms who made their beds for them and negotiable bedtimes. Poor me, right? How grateful I am that they really didn’t care if “we were the only ones that . . . ” or we were mad at them. As they made clear, they had enough friends – their relationship to us was plain ‘ol parent!
Poignant and beautiful letter, Shel. And I especially love that your wonderful parents are still living well and laughing often.
Thanks, Marylin. I know that there was a time for you when parental laughter was a big part of your life. I love how you continue to celebrate your mother’s wisdom and humor on her behalf – it’s a gift to us all!
A beautiful tribute to your parents, Shel. They taught you some valuable lessons, and apparently you were an astute student.
Thanks, Dee Dee – I suspect you can relate to much of it!
You brought tears to my eyes! This is beautiful! What a gift to everyone xoxo
Thank you, Pauline. I know many may not relate to this family dynamic, but it’s my hope that it makes people think of that special person in their own lives who they learned life lessons from – in spite of themselves!
Great photos! 🙂
What a beautiful letter, Shel. Your parent’s relationship sounds so much like my parents.
We are indeed fortunate, Jill. Unfortunately, I know that many cannot relate to this type of role modeling. It was my hope that those whose parents did not play this part in their lives have somebody special who did.