I’ve been happily married for almost 20 years, but by no means am I an expert on relationships, love, or even marriage for that matter. Rather, it just makes me ridiculously lucky, grateful, and honored to be in a marriage that I am proud my kids will grow up seeing, and one that is very worthy of possibly being replicated by those same kids in the future.
How have we made it successfully work this long? Well, by working at it. For us, it’s the simple fact that we realize marriage needs a constant tending (like that pesky rose bush that grows the most fragrant and velvety blossoms but needs daily attention). We know we need to treat our marriage like the most important machine running in the world. It’s a highly coveted and well-oiled machine, and although it may sometimes need service (and on occasion, it goes out of commission completely), it will never, ever be broken enough to need replacing. Our marriage machine just runs well, and it’s those little things that make it run so well that I hope my children are seeing, noticing, and remembering for the day they have to keep their marriage machine running smoothly too.
1. Fighting is more than okay, even if you do it in front of the kids.
We fight; we make up. Lather, rinse, repeat. And we don’t hide away and do it in private. There are ways to argue respectfully and with intelligence, and to show your kids that knock-down-drag-out disagreements don’t mean you don’t fundamentally love each other.
And yes, we go to bed mad sometimes (gasp!) and the kids have seen us do that too. By being mature and showing our kids that, we’re basically saying that “Let’s sleep on it and wake up tomorrow with a new attitude” is better than hashing shit out all night just because you once heard someone say, “Never go to bed mad.” Nobody’s marriage remains argument-free, and to act like it does in front of your kids provides an unrealistic and sterile version of how healthy relationships function.
2. You have money talks in front of them.
Like how much things cost, why we spend, why we save, why we don’t use credit, why we can’t afford things, and why other people can. Talk about all of it openly and in front of them, because keeping financial stuff secret will only ensure your kids grow up financially clueless.
3. You talk politics together.
You are continually engaged, actively educating yourself, and challenging each other. It’s easy to get down about our country right now and disengage, but to do so with your kids watching is a giant no-no. Talk about the hard issues and candidates together and let them hear you doing so. It’s those same kids who will be building the country you’re retiring in, so it’s important for them to know you most certainly care how it ends up.
4. Show affection, and lots of it.
Show it to each other all the time — every single day, in fact — and make sure your kids see it. It shows them marriage isn’t just about love. It’s also about “like,” and physical intimacy plays a huge role in keeping the “like” part strong. And yes, even when you think they’re not watching, they are. Like when you reach over and grab your spouse’s hand in the car? They notice. When you rub up against them in the kitchen while making dinner — they notice that, too. And when you hug each other before you walk out the door, they most certainly notice. Plus, acting like horny teenagers in front of the kids makes them shriek with horror and go hide in their rooms. More private time for you two!
5. You each do what you’re best at and what makes you the happiest, with no apologies.
Holding traditional gender roles in our marriage has been the best choice for each of us, and it makes our marriage machine hum with efficiency. I quit working full-time years ago and never looked back because taking care of my home is what brings me the most joy. And quite frankly, I just do it better than my husband would.
Whatever each of you excels at and brings you both the most joy, then do those things. If it’s both of you working — Amen! If it’s taking turns staying home and swapping careers for a while, awesome!
Choosing and knowing your part, doing it well, respecting your partner’s worth, and complimenting each other makes for one damn happy marriage machine, and it is one of the most important things you can model to your children.
Your marriage is the first (and maybe the only) example of real love your kids may ever see. Bottom line: Love your spouse fiercely and without contempt or regret, and do it boldly and in your kids’ faces.
They will need to have those powerful positive memories in their minds when they head out on their own love journey.