They arrive wrapped in welcome sunshine—drifting clouds, soaring kites, and cherry blossoms. All promises of spring. They bring with them a sense of growth and renewal, of rejuvenation and revival, and according to Alfred Lord Tennyson, “thoughts of love.”
Spring has traditionally been a time to celebrate our relationships, to rekindle the spark of passion and intimacy. And while the popularized example of an April Love usually focuses on the young and their quest for a new romantic interest, it’s equally important to commemorate the existing relationship we have with our spouse or significant other. For most couples, a good marriage/relationship equates to a great life. (And unfortunately, vice-versa.)
In January, I met a wonderful couple who, many years ago, took the rites of spring to heart. They told me a very poignant story about their commitment and devotion to each other, and how every year they celebrate a very personal love ritual. I hope you’ll find their example as inspiring as I did.
Married on March 21, 1961, Henry and Alice were both seniors at Arizona State University and just two months away from graduation. That summer, Henry was hired by Mountain Bell, and was looking forward to quick promotions and success in the corporate world. But within eight months, he received his draft notice, and after completing basic training, was assigned to the Campbell base in Heidelberg, Germany. He and Alice decided she would stay in Arizona—close to her parents—and visit Henry as often as possible.
Leaving Alice behind was one of the hardest things Henry had ever done, but before he deployed for overseas duty, they celebrated their first anniversary. That night, he took Alice by the hand and repeated their wedding vows, adding that if he could do it over again, he would “marry her in a New York minute.”
Two years later, Henry completed his military service and returned to his job at Mountain Bell, working rotating shifts as a central office technician while Alice struggled through her first pregnancy. Money was tight, and she did her best to help out by baking wedding cakes for one of the local reception halls.
Through the years, they experienced the predictable and the unforeseen, and yet they never forgot their first anniversary ritual. And although their second anniversary had to be shared by telephone, it was the only one they celebrated apart. Every following March 21st, after Alice had cleared away the dishes and they had opened each other’s card, they took each other’s hand and repeated their vows, words they now knew by heart.
This March, Alice and Henry recite their wedding vows for the 57th time.
During our recent visit, I asked them if they would share their secret to a happy marriage. They looked at each other and laughed.
“I suppose it’s a lot like a prescription,” Henry began. “It changes for what ails you. Sometimes, it’s an equal dose of tenacity and patience. Other times, it’s simply being there, supporting each other when life throws you a curve ball. If there’s anything we’ve learned about having a successful marriage, it’s simply deciding—each day when you wake up—there’s no other person you’d rather be with. You commit to each other because you know how important your relationship is, and how much better your life is because of it.”
We continued to chat for another hour, with Henry and Alice recalling memories of their first real vacation together, the births of their two children, and the time they were pulling a travel trailer cross-country and Henry drove away from a gas station with Alice still inside the Texaco rest room. (“I really thought she was in the trailer,” he said. “I never saw her get out.”)
Although Henry and Alice continued to good-naturedly dismiss the value of any specific advice they might share with other couples, I gained a great deal of insight from our conversation. And so from their stories, memories, and remembrances, here’s what I learned:
There are no mind readers. Your spouse needs to know your expectations. When you find yourself upset or unhappy, explain to your mate why some situations and behaviors leave you disappointed, and more important, what could have been done to prevent it. By the same token, listen to your partner when he or she needs the same consideration. Healthy relationships do not spring from movie magic and romance novels.
Support your partner with everything you’ve got. Make your spouse’s happiness and well-being a priority. Put them first in your life and see what happens. Build your life together with mutual goals. And if you sense you’re pulling ahead or away, talk about it and if necessary, readjust your priorities. Value each other as you would a priceless work of art—keeping it safe and protected for as long as it is entrusted to you.
Don’t let the intensity fade. New relationships are full of highs and lows, but over time, familiarity and the general consistency of life tend to even out our emotions. And while that means the disappointments are generally less devastating, it can also mean the feelings of excitement can become little more than a memory. Don’t take your spouse for granted. Remind yourself of the quality, companionship, and contentment they provide. Try to imagine how much you would miss them—what your life would be like without them.
Cultivate common interests. We’ve all heard that opposites attract, but sorry, it just isn’t true. For long-term happiness, it’s important to develop and cultivate common interests. Explore things you like to do together, especially if it means learning a new skill or activity both can participate in.
It’s the little things. When Henry and Alice described the best parts of their lives, they never mentioned the new car they were driving or the several homes they had bought and lived in, or even the accomplishments they achieved in their careers. They reminisced about the little things: Sitting together on a porch swing; walking in the rain; holding hands on the beach—the kind of memories that are made by spending simple times together, without worrying about the future or fretting over the past. Strive to find quiet moments you can share, without the distractions and demands of career and material accomplishments.
Until next time,