How do you protect your marriage?

My friend Lucy and her husband have been married 40 years, and they still have this banter that reminds me of newlyweds. It’s not that bickering that sometimes comes after years of marriage, but genuine enjoyment of each other. They not only love each other, but they like each other, too.

One day I mentioned how much I admired their relationship, and what she said next has stuck with me all these years. “You’ve got to protect your marriage,” she said, “from the inside ‘and’ the outside.”

My husband and I’ve been married for 14 years, which is chump change compared to Lucy and Ted, but still … not a small feat. There are the little things that, when added up, make or break a marriage from the inside —and I mess up. I cancel date night because I’m exhausted. I leave the gas tank on empty because it’s really cold outside. I buy the Happy Planner even though it’s not in that week’s budget. But I also take the trash can to the road when I know he’s had a long day. I leave a Coke and a Reese’s Cup in his car because I know he loves little surprises. I keep the Christmas music to a minimum when he’s around. I keep our date night even though I’m exhausted. He messes up sometimes, too, but we work hard to keep a positive account balance.

Then there’s those incidences ‘from the outside,’ and … whew. Those are trickier. For some, it’s money issues. For others, it’s the ‘girls’ weekends’ (or guys’). For my husband and me — and many others, judging from my conversations — it’s social media and all ‘the blah’ that can come with it. At separate times in our marriage, he and I’ve both let ‘the blah’ get out of hand. It’s hard to admit when I’m wrong, although I was quick to throw blame at him — but the truth is, I’d been there, too. We didn’t protect our marriage from the outside. Luckily, we were both willing to work for it and he and I came out stronger. 

I know couples who only travel if they’re together. I know couples who share their passcodes and passwords and social media accounts. I know couples who use ‘Find My Friends.’ But none of these couples talk about it in a sense of “surveillance;” it’s more of a reassurance. It’s a ‘they know where I am and I know where they are’ situation — just more metaphorically than literally.

This may sound ridiculous to some, and it’s been my experience that people have strong opinions on the topic — like … really strong opinions. Which is understandable, and somewhat comforting — marriage should invoke strong opinions and thus promote conversation, right? Meanwhile, my husband and I have found our place, although I know the idea of ‘protection’ will evolve as the years go by … and it’s my hope that many, many years go by. ‘Cause I love him, and I kind of like him, too.

* This column first appeared in The Walton Tribune on December 19, 2020 *

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