31 things I’ve learned from 31 years of marriage

Wedding day photo

My husband Doug and I mark 31 years of married life today.

This, less than 24 hours after hearing about the split of one of Hollywood’s power couples. Social media has, apparently, been filled with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over the demise of #Brangelina. So for those who might be tempted to give up on the idea of love and marriage because of that demise, I’d like to offer hope in the way of sharing some lessons I’ve learned from married life. One lesson per year.

  1. No one really knows what goes on in a marriage except the two people involved.
  2. In marriage, character counts. Honesty, integrity, humility, loyalty, faithfulness, respect, good humour, the ability to forgive, and to persevere all matter. A lot.
  3. Character matters in both partners.
  4. No one is perfect. No one. But together, two imperfect – but committed people – can build something perfectly wonderful and deeply satisfying.
  5. Physical attraction never goes away. If the sound of his voice, or the look in his eyes, or the feel of his hand in yours makes your heart beat faster in your 20s, there’s a good chance it always will. (Providing that all of those other qualities I mentioned in point #2 above are also there.)
  6. Sacred vows are important: but only if you’re a person who believes in the inviolability of a sacred vow. Otherwise, I suppose they’re not worth much at all. (See point #2.)
  7. There are times in marriage when the ONLY thing that keeps you committed is your commitment to your vows. When you get through those times, you’ll be so very glad you stuck it out. (See point #5.)
  8. Prayer – alone and together – can be a lifeline. When you feel like you’re at the end of your rope and don’t know where else to turn, getting on your knees can bring help, hope and healing in a way that nothing else can. Getting on your knees together can bring about a level of intimacy that nothing else does.
  9. If you make each other laugh – and if you love each other’s company when you’re dating, chances are good that you always will. But it’s important to build in opportunities for fun and togetherness, to intentionally nurture the laughter. Otherwise, life can become dreary.
  10. If dancing together brings you joy, then dance! Dance in the kitchen or in the living room or the bedroom. Dance to music, or make your own.
  11. Love is a feeling, an emotion. But it is also an act of the will. When the intensity of the feeling diminishes – as it does – choosing to continue to love, and to act with love, ensures the feelings transform into something deeper, more resilient and satisfying.
  12. Trifling habits can make you make each other crazy. (He brushes his teeth in the shower. I perpetually use his hairbrush.) Some things just have to be forgiven – again and again …
  13. At a certain point you realize that some of the things that once seemed so important to do battle over, really aren’t that important after all. You learn to overlook those things, and find you’re both happier for it.
  14. There were times – in the early years of marriage – when I know we both wondered what we’d gotten ourselves into.  What got us through those times? See points #2, #5, #6, and #8 above.
  15. When children come along, marriage can take on a whole new depth and purpose. Suddenly there are wonderful, incredible, amazing human beings on the planet, born as a result of the love you share. It’s astonishing, and you realize you would do anything for these little people, which is good because the extent to which they need you is almost overwhelming. Having a partner who is truly a partner in the midst of all that neediness can be the difference between deep satisfaction and despair.
  16. Seeing your partner love your children well can make you prouder and more in love than you ever thought possible.
  17. There are years of sheer exhaustion when the demands of work and family life can take a tremendous toll. But things get better. And when you get through those years, it’s a gift to be able to look at each other and say, “We did it together.”
  18. Children grow. And leave. They make their own choices and build their own lives. The leaving can be excruciating. But if you and your partner are there for each other, it can make all the difference.
  19. Having a friend who’s been at your side – through thick and thin – for 31 years, who loves you in spite of all your failings and weaknesses is like winning the lottery. Only better.
  20. It’s important to have each other’s back. If you don’t, who will?
  21. It’s important to be each other’s greatest fan, loudest cheer-leader and strongest supporter. If you don’t, who will?
  22. While character is important going into marriage (see point #2), marriage is also one of the best character-builders around.
  23. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of loving, willing self-sacrifice in marriage. On both sides. (See point #22).
  24. Marriage brings more than just two people together; it brings two families together, which also yields challenges and joys. How to get through the challenges? See points #20, #22 and #23.
  25. At times, marriage can be harder than you ever thought possible. At other times, it can be pure bliss. If you’re lucky – if you’ve chosen a partner of good character, who shares your values and goals – then you’ll find that most of the time it’s better than you could have imagined.
  26. If you’re both completely committed to your marriage – even during times when you might not feel completely committed to each other – you’ll find there is no such thing as “irreconcilable differences.”
  27. I truly believe that in my marriage to Doug, I got the better end of the deal. The thing that astonishes me, is that he says he feels the same way. I’m not sure what lesson to take from that – but I know there’s one in there somewhere.
  28. If I had it to do all over again, I would.
  29. Becoming “Patti Paddey” – a name I’ve had to explain and justify, again and again since the day I said “I do,” has been worth it.
  30. Bodies change. Hair grows grey. Parts sag. Passion matures. And it’s all good.
  31. Over the course of 31 years, you build a lot of shared memories. Some are wonderful, some are painful. But the fact that you’ve shared them has a way of making you grateful for each one – and of intensifying your gratitude for each other.

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“Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

                                                             — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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Preparing for more surprises

A shelf of textbooks

I’ve long believed “All truth is God’s truth.” The statement may have become a cliché but it accurately summarizes my thoughts. I believe truth resides in God and originates with God. Jesus claimed to be truth personified and said that truth would set people free.

Holding this conviction has been freeing. At times, when I’ve sensed others feeling defensive – particularly in situations where long-held beliefs, admired leaders or cherished institutions were challenged, I’ve felt emboldened by the certainty that we need not be afraid of questioning “sacred cows” because it’s better to know any truth, no matter how uncomfortable or difficult, than to believe, live with, or perpetuate a lie.

But as a seminary student, I’ve been in for a few surprises. I’ve learned that questioning my own entrenched beliefs can be difficult; even more so when those beliefs are so deeply rooted that they have simply become a subconscious part of who I am. Learning something that challenges heartfelt convictions can be shocking, uncomfortable, even painful. First, is the awareness that I may have put my faith in something as being true, which may not be, and then there is the realization that an alternative – which I might have once dismissed or even never considered – could be closer to the truth.

As a person who likes boundaries, rules and definite answers, it can be discomfiting to confront the reality that my search for definite answers seems often to yield only further questions.

What we believe matters, for the content of our beliefs shapes and determines how we live. The Christian way presents itself as being both the right way of being human and as being revealed truth. I’ve built my life on my understanding of that truth as it’s been revealed to me. Having my understandings challenged and corrected can feel like the very foundations of my life are being shaken.

For almost five years, I’ve been studying part-time at seminary. As I prepare to begin another academic year I am reminded that I must approach Scripture and my studies in a spirit of humility and open-mindedness, being careful to put my faith not in my interpretation, nor even in anyone else’s interpretation – but in God alone.

And I must prepare for more surprises.

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“All great spirituality is about letting go. I say this as an absolute statement. … Spiritual wisdom reveals that less is more. Jesus taught this, and the holy ones live it.”

– Richard Rohr

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