What I’ve learned from my parents’ 40 years of marriage

By: 
CHARLIE DENISON
Reporter

The writer’s mother and father enjoy the Chokecherry Festival last September. On June 5, they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.

Photo by Charlie Denison

On Monday, June 5, my parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.

This major milestone has particular significance for me, as I approach my own very first wedding anniversary.

Although Kari and I dated nearly five years, we didn’t live together until saying “I do.” We had a lot to learn.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been with someone: marriage changes things. It hits you with a weight you can’t anticipate, and it’s a weight you carry together, one of great significance and great power. The ring is always a reminder, and so are the vows.

When my parents married, they were much younger than Kari and me. My mom turned 21 on her honeymoon.

“I can’t believe how young we were,” my dad said recently. “We were practically kids.”

By the time I came into the mix, my parents were six years in, fast approaching the seven-year itch, making it through, continuing to strengthen their relationship and their individual characters.

“In those early years of marriage, I learned you can’t change your spouse,” my dad said. “You must accept them for who they are.”

It’s that acceptance, that love, that makes a marriage wholesome and keeps a marriage going, and that’s one of the greatest things I learned from my parents.

One thing I really admire about my parents’ relationship is how well they know each other and how well they know their strengths and weaknesses as a couple. They always look out for each other and always work to make each other better. They do this through reflection, meditation and open and honest communication. They also spend a lot of time traveling and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. They put much focus on family. As a result, my sister and I had the good fortunate of going on many trips with them.

Another aspect of their relationship I’ve always enjoyed is their playfulness. When I was a senior in high school, they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, and I was in love for the first time. I was in love with love. They went out to dinner that night. I actually got home before them, and, when they walked in the door, my dad teased me by being overly affectionate with my mom and loudly proclaiming his love for her.

I admit I was ridiculous with my high school sweetheart, but who wasn’t? We’ve all been there. But now, at 33, I look at my dad’s antics on that 25th anniversary and celebrate it. It’s stayed with me because of how much it says about his joy of being with my mom, and his sometimes over-the-top sense of humor, which I also feel is essential to a successful marriage. Don’t be afraid to be silly. Don’t be afraid to be sappy. Embrace love. Pour it out. Don’t hide your feelings.

Through the years, my parents had their share of trials, especially recently, as my dad’s health suffered and he almost died in a horrifying car wreck in Yellowstone last fall, but, as a result of their strong bond, they overcame. Seeing their devotion demonstrated countless times has helped me appreciate the beauty of true love.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. I’m not perfect. Sometimes I feel like Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor from “Home Improvement.”

I told Kari recently that wives should expect men to do at least 10-15 really stupid things a year. We can be ridiculous. Usually, though, it’s small things. If there is conflict, it’s often a result of ineffective communication. As long as we are direct with each other, we are pretty good at finding resolution, and I know that’s something that will only improve.

It will take work, but it’s work we’re not only willing, but are excited to do together. It’s work I’m proud of. As American writer/journalist Katherine Anne Porter once observed, “Love must be learned, and learned again and again,” and I’m glad my parents never quit learning.

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