Sally and I have just completed our Christmas holiday and in our time together we have never had a more exciting or “richer” experience. Today 5th January 2018 is our wedding anniversary so it is fitting that I should continue the tradition of a Blog to celebrate our marriage. 42 years is a serious achievement!
Our four children, their spouses and their children came together on the Gold Coast for 10 days (separate apartments in the one building). From the United States, Canberra, Sydney, and Brisbane, they committed 12 months ago to the holiday. It is an achievement in its own right. 10 adults and 11 children in one place to celebrate Christmas and the New year. It was a wonderful celebration. To watch them all having fun together was a very special time for us. I can confirm there are few greater joys in the world than having a grandchild give you a hug and say, “I love you.” It is so good for the soul.
Each of our children are making their way in the world – living their lives as adults with their husbands/wives struggling with the issues we struggled with and more. It is a very different world with new and different challenges than the ones we faced but many of the questions are the same:
- How to live with your husband/wife happily?
- How to make time for each other when the world is a never-ending blur of work, children, the daily grind of family maintenance?
- How to manage the chaos of children whether it is your first, or three or four?
- How to manage the life issues we all face at some stage in our lives?
- Who am I in the world?
- What do I stand for?
- Why am I here?
- Where are we going? What are we trying to achieve?
- How can we do it together?
These are only some of the questions.
The real challenge is to answer them together!
Stephen Covey (Seven Habits) articulated it well when he summarised the journey as:
- To Live
- To Love
- To learn and
- To leave a legacy.
There is no one way! Every individual is unique and every marriage is unique! Wouldn’t it be great if there was a simple solution or a prescription – a set of easy steps? We both were lucky enough to come from families where both sets of parents were married for over 50 years! It was a solid foundation.
In our very early marriage, it occurred to Sally and I that we were ill prepared for this journey. So because of some career issues, I was facing and our life issues, we decided to embark on a program of marriage education and development! Not that we would have called it that then. It was a voyage of discovery and there are a number of elements.
- A marriage support group
We joined a group of married couples who met on a regular basis to conduct Marriage preparation programs. It was a great experience and in so many ways we were naive and inexperienced. As it turned out, some of the other couples were more experienced and together we were able to “lead” these programs. Being with these couples on a regular basis was a wonderful support.We learned so much – mostly about ourselves and our marriage. Sally and I learned to work together. It was a serious challenge!
- A Marriage Encounter Week-end (two in fact!)
We were lucky enough to experience this weekend in our first two years. It was a revelation. Again, it was married couples who led the program. It created the space to answer many of the questions mentioned above – TOGETHER. Just Sally and I without children talking to each other. In this program, there were many highlights and the learnings have remained with us for our whole married life. Some the insights which have sustained us include:
- Love is a decision
- Marriage is a cycle of Romance, Disillusionment, and Joy
- Dialogue is important. The skill of sharing feelings without judgment.
- Making every decision in the best interest of the relationship (the third person) is central.
- The greatest thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.
These concepts have underpinned what was already a strong commitment and we have been able to make it stronger.
During this period, we made a decision that many in our generation made. This meant I was to be the main breadwinner and Sally would be a full-time mum and work in a part-time capacity. This made some decision-making easier.
- Continuing Education
Because of our involvement in the above two programs we had lots of other opportunities. There were Couple communication skills programs, Transactional Analysis programs, and Family Education programs. All of this provided a platform for the 42 years we are now celebrating. We believe even without this we would have made it but there is no doubt it made a big difference. In this period we together designed and executed a Marriage Enrichment program over a 12-month period. It may have been the first time anything like this had been done in Brisbane. This learning project gave us shared focus outside of our relationship which was not children.
Additionally, we continued a reading program. We subscribed to a Journal called Marriage Encounter which arrived monthly. It was a timely reminder to take the time to reflect on how we were going. There was always something which promoted a conversation for us – resolving conflict – dealing with the daily grind – parenting. Always an article to challenge us.
- Extended support systems
In this early stage, some colleagues of mine with whom I attended University (and who got married in January) invited us to join them for dinner to celebrate our respective wedding anniversaries. They had been married for all of three and four years. This group has extended in number to 7 couples and 42 years down the track, we still meet with them every January to celebrate our wedding anniversaries.
Over 42 years there were many couples and families on the journey with us. We entertained, our children played, we had fun, we looked after other families’ children and they looked after ours. It does take a tribe!.
In the final analysis, it was these systems of support some formal, most informal which give us the encouragement, inspiration and the model to continue. We are grateful to them all.
As bizarre as this might be I will finish this blog with three stories about US Presidents. All of which highlights that successful marriages are possible in what could only be described in the most arduous of careers.
George Bush (43)
Recently I watched an interview with Bush and Clinton and they were asked what were there great achievements in office. Bush in a very understated way said: “My daughters still love me”. Then went on speak very highly of the work his wife had done in parenting his daughters.
It is my understanding that each night when he was in the White House he and Michelle agreed he would be “home for dinner with the family” by 7.30. All the staff knew and everything was structured for that to happen. In one of his final addresses, he actually said “Michelle, you are my rock” and he spoke generously of her and her contribution to his life and his work.
I had the privilege of visiting the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. Close to the end of the visit, there is a video of Reagan thanking a group he had worked with. In that speech, he said towards the end that he really had to single out his wife Nancy because: “he had been happier than any man was entitled to be because he had married Nancy”
I certainly did not have the stresses or pressures the above men had to live with but each of them has in their own way made their marriages work. What an achievement!
My own reflection after my most memorable holiday is twofold:
- To unashamedly steal President Reagan’s line:
“I have been happier than any man is entitled to be because I married Sally” and
- In the perspective of my life my greatest achievements are:
- I am still married to Sally and it is wonderful
- My children still talk to me
It seems to me nothing else matters much.
Previous Blogs on Marriage: