When a couple has been married for 20 years or more, people often ask: What’s your secret? So we polled three couples to find out what they’ve learned about marriage, and how they keep the spark alive. They offered solid advice — from maintaining a sense of humor, to knowing when to bite your tongue, to showing mutual respect, and striving to talk through problems carefully. (Though no one is perfect!) They also said that despite the “peaks and valleys” that exist in marriage and in life, they’ve stayed committed to each other. For them, that’s proven to be the biggest payoff.
JEN & MARC MURPHY – married 20 years
— What are the three things that make you a strong couple?
Marc: 1. Humor. 2. Similar sense of adventure. 3. Work to be respectful of each other — most of the time :).
Jen: 1. Being friends. 2. Being able to laugh at things. 3. Being able to communicate.
— How do you keep the spark alive?
Marc: We have a constant affection for each other: holding hands in church, quick smooches in the kitchen, big hugs throughout the day, and lots of “I love yous.” Even if the kids think it’s gross.
Jen: Absolutely on the affection thing! He’ll rub my feet, I’ll rub his shoulders. Little things like that. And I love holding hands. Lots of times, though, Marc is better tuned into this one than I am. It’s easy to let life get in the way and the day-in, day-out things take over. He’ll be the one to say, “Hey, we haven’t had a date in a while, ” or “We need some couple time.”
— How important is humor?
Marc: Vital. We would have divorced years ago.
Jen: Super important. Little things can seem so important until you put them in perspective. Things like who is doing what chore around the house or who is correcting the kids and helping them with homework can build up into huge issues until you realize those are details. No big deal. And then being able to laugh at yourself or a particular situation. It just diffuses the whole thing that would cause stress in the first place. So, yes, humor is important. It also makes life a whole lot more fun!
— How do you guys handle life’s road bumps — and stress in general?
Marc: Lots of prayer, and talking it out. We keep things positive rather than getting dragged down by negativity.
Jen: Talking through things and leaning on each other. Marc is my best friend. We talk about everything, so usually we’re in tune with what stresses and bumps the other person is going through on a daily basis. And, if something comes up out of the blue, we can put our heads together and solve the problem.
— When you begin to feel disconnected, how do you re-connect as a couple?
Marc: We talk, and a lot of times we realize we just need to make more “couple time.” So we make plans to go out to eat, take a hike, or see a movie. With school-aged kids, it’s easy to forget we are a couple first. What I always say is, “We married each other. Not our kids, not our family members, not anyone else.” So, we make time to celebrate that.
Jen: Well, recognizing there’s a disconnect is the most important thing. Lots of times you just feel frustrated with the other person and you don’t know why. Then all of a sudden you’re not interacting in super-positive ways. That’s the point where you just need to bite the bullet and make yourself sit down and talk with the other person about what’s really going on. Not blaming them for the little thing that just bugged you about what they were doing, but communicating about the root cause of what’s going on. And that’s not always easy. Sometimes I catch myself getting really upset about something little, but that’s not the real issue. I have to sit down and reflect on my own first sometimes to figure out what it is that’s really bothering me, and once we can communicate on that level, things move forward and the connection is there again.
— What was the biggest challenge you faced as a couple and how did you work through it?
Marc: I can’t think of any one single challenge. An overriding challenge has been just affording life. We work hard to provide for the family, and that is probably always on our minds. We work through that by talking and always being open to course correction. Flexibility is key.
Jen: I don’t remember one challenge in particular, either, but I do remember one situation that really stuck with me and taught me an important lesson. Early in our marriage, maybe around year 3 or 4, we were arguing about something and whatever I said was hurtful. It really upset Marc, and seeing the reaction on his face made such an impression on me that I swore to myself that I wouldn’t ever “go there” again. And, I don’t think I have. Some things you just can’t take back, and you wish they didn’t come spewing out of your mouth the way they did. I guess that time helped me to see the importance of taking just half a second to think before words come flying out.
— Sometimes it is better to bite your tongue, right? Sometimes it’s better to speak up: How do you determine when to let something slide and when it’s worth mentioning?
Marc: Ask my wife. I should probably bite my tongue for this one.
Jen: If it’s not nit-picking, then it’s probably worth bringing up.Otherwise, small things can grow into monsters! Similar to my answer to that last question, though. For me it’s a matter of taking a second to think first about how what I’m going to say is going to affect the other person. By no means do I mean to say that everything that comes out of my mouth is kind… I’ve got a long way to go on that! But just making sure that what’s coming out isn’t personal, isn’t offensive, isn’t hurtful. It’s one thing to bring something up and work through your differences, but something else entirely if it’s a personal attack.
— What do you love most about your marriage?
Marc: Everything. I’ve got a great wife, we have a great family. Overall, I love our sense of fun and adventure.
Jen: That I’m married to my best friend. We laugh and have fun together.
— Advice for newlyweds?
Marc: Two words: “Yes, dear.” But seriously, talk a lot and laugh a lot. The ratio is very important. For us, there’s a direct relationship between the amount of time you spend talking and laughing and the happiness of a marriage.
Jen: Talk and laugh, and take time to enjoy each other.
KATIE & PAUL – married 46 years
“OK 46 years later, what do I think? I think that talking things over when the going gets tough is key. We have always both tried to be respectful and never say anything disrespectful or embarrassing in front of others.
Often it is not so much the words as much as it is the tone in a person’s voice that is disrespectful. Frankly, we learned that early on. One of the best things you can do is to talk things through together with a third party who is trained and objective and can help you to work things out. That was hard for both of us to do, but there are always times when you need a third party.”
RONNIE & STEFAN – married 47 years
After 47 years of marriage, this is what we have learned:
- Treat each other equally.
- Share responsibilities – cooking, cleaning, child rearing, etc.
- Be committed to each other.
- Pick your issues.
- Make choices based on the best interest of the whole.
- Be aware of the peaks and valleys. It’s not always going to be great, but be willing to work through it and stick together.
What makes your marriage work? We’d love to hear your secrets!
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