Marriage Advice from Strangers
Life isn’t picture perfect, so why would anyone think that marriage would be? You know what else life, or marriage, isn’t? It isn’t predictable. It isn’t a fairytale. Marriage, just like life, is full of a lot of ups, a lot of downs, and a whole bunch of curves and bumps in between. No one can escape them either, so don’t bother trying. The hubs and I have had our fair share of ups, downs, curves, and bumps, but at the end of the day, we are still here – fighting for each other and loving each other even when the other feels as if they do not deserve it. Sometimes it is during the lows that you find out what you are made of, what your marriage is made of. Everyone wants the good times, but I can tell you from experience that without the lows you do not know what you have in each other. Without the tough times, you do not know how to thoroughly treasure and enjoy the good times. Now, let me tell you a little story…
Last year, for our 14th Wedding Anniversary, my husband and I took a long weekend trip to New Orleans. It was a trip that we desperately needed and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. We left on a cold and rainy morning. Great way to start a trip, huh? I guess you shouldn’t complain when you landed in 70° weather with the sun shining as bright as it could. It was decent trade I guess. The magic of our trip set in as we drove away from the airport. Something about that city just felt right. The first thing we did after getting to the hotel was head out to explore. Bourbon Street was about a mile away and that is exactly where we headed. Walking through the French Quarter was like walking through another world – at least to me. The things you will see! The things you will smell! As strange as it seemed to me, all together these added up to equal the NOLA charm. After spending the afternoon exploring we decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner. We settled on the Bourbon House which had some pretty great reviews. The reviews were on point. If you are ever in NOLA go there. You won’t be disappointed. The food was delicious, but the dessert was even better. In fact, the dessert was so good it drew us back a few times. The point of me telling you this is that had it not been for that night, with that restaurant and those desserts, we wouldn’t have had the interaction that would happen a few days later that I STILL think about over a year later. So, here it goes…
Since we were celebrating we made reservations at Emerils for Sunday night. Our thought was that we would spend an evening celebrating us with amazing food, good wine, nice attire – the whole shebang. The universe stepped in at this point. We spent all day playing tourist – wandering around, eating whatever looked appetizing, and drinking whatever our little hearts desired. When dinner time rolled around neither of us felt like going back to the hotel and getting dressed up for our romantic dinner, nor were we super hungry. So, instead, we cancelled the reservation and went back to the Bourbon House for drinks and desserts. (Seriously, the desserts are just that good.) We head in, go straight to the back bar, and found a small open table. Appetizers, drinks, and great conversation had us completely content letting time tick by while we enjoyed our adult time. A little later we were ready to order the desserts that had brought us back. As we sat there talking about what desserts to order we noticed the couple next to us and apparently they had noticed us as well. It seems that our conversation about dessert was a bit more serious than we realized because the woman leaned toward us and told us to order two different desserts and share them. Her simple advice sparked a quick conversation. It was a typical conversation that one might have with someone they just met. You know, the where are you from, what brought you to NOLA, do you have kids, kind of questions; the ones with simple answers. Like I said, it was a quick conversation, but it was one that got my husband and I talking about an entirely different topic. Seeing this couple, who I assume are in their 70s, still thriving and enjoying each other’s company got us reflecting on the 19 ½ years we had shared together. We’d come a long way from two kids who had crushes on each other, but never made a move. Two kids that went out of their way to make sure their paths crossed, but never spoke a word to each other. Two kids that had a bus stop in common. Back in ’96, I was a freshman in high school and he was a junior in high school, fate finally stepped in and brought us together after a year of crushing on each other. I was head over heels for him before I ever knew his name. Fast forward to almost 20 years later and teenage love grew into a marriage with two kids. Like I said, we were not immune to the hard times and as we sat there the conversation turned to where we started, places we’d gone wrong, moments when we got it perfectly right, and where we were right then and there. I started to cry. I loved this man with all of my heart and he loved me. Just a short conversation with the woman at the table next to us brought so much to the surface. It’s the stuff that gets pushed aside when life gets in the way.
A few moments later the waitress brought our desserts. When they came to the table the woman again leaned over and said something. To be honest, I cannot remember what she said to us, but I remember very vividly what happened next. She noticed that I had been crying after she had turned to talk to us again. Her hand came up to my cheek and whipped away a remaining tear as she told me I was too pretty to cry. That made me smile. She was such a sweet woman and even more than that she was exactly what I needed in my life at that time. She’ll never know how much she touched my heart that day. Back to the story – without really thinking I threw out a question I had been wanting to ask her. I said something along the lines of this – You’ve been married a long time. If you could give me one piece of marriage advice what would it be? It didn’t take her long to reply. She said “never stop communicating.” BOOM! There it is and if she isn’t right I don’t know what is. Too many times communication stops and marriages lose their foundation. Her husband sat across from her shaking his head in agreement. With that little tid bit she told us to enjoy our dessert and turned back around to her table.
After finishing our desserts we asked for the check and the waitress replied with “It’s already been taken care of.” This may not seem like a big deal to most, but to us it was huge. We asked her who had taken care of it and she just shook her head in the direction of the couple at the next table. Overwhelmed with gratitude we turned to thank them, but instead of thanking them and moving on with our night we were invited to join them at their table and have another drink. That drink turned into two and we spent some time talking about them; their lives together, their kids, their time spent apart due to his work, their hard times, their road that drifted apart and finally their journey back to each other. We sat there soaking up their stories and their advice. How could we not? This couple was just like us. Our story was so much like theirs and here they were together, loving each other so much that it was visible to strangers.
So what did we take from them? Here’s the scaled-down version:
Communicate. Communication takes each person being willing to listen and to consider the other’s feelings. When listening do not just listen to respond, listen to understand. There is a difference, trust me.
Remember you are two individual people and that’s OKAY! In fact, it’s more than okay. Being individuals who are different balances you both as a couple.
Showing gratitude for each other is always a great idea. Sometimes we neglect to tell the other person how thankful we are for them or that we noticed the extra mile they went to do something for us. None of us are mind readers so let’s not pretend that our other half is either. Say what’s on your mind. Tell him or her that you appreciated that love note in your lunch or say thank you for the empty dishwasher that you were not looking forward to emptying.
Be friends. Laugh with each other, cry with each other, support each other, go on adventures with each other. One day, when the kids are grown and it’s just you and your love, you’ll be thankful that you took the time to take care of your friendship. Not only will you have a life time of memories to reflect on, but you’ll also have your best friend right beside you building new memories.
So, yeah, marriage can be great, but it can also be hard. That’s NORMAL. Just like anything else you want in your life, you have to work to get it AND you have to work to keep it. That beach body doesn’t happen over night, right? It also doesn’t last if you don’t continue to put in the work and take care of it. Treat your marriage the same way. Nurture it. Love it. Protect it.