I Figured Out The Secret To My Parents' 40-Year Marriage

by Angela Principe
Originally Published: 
Couple in a 40-Year Marriage holding hands
Kelvin Murray/Getty

Pizza it is!” I exclaimed.

I was driving home from picking up the kids, my husband was on his way home from work and there was a miscommunication about who pulled the meat to thaw for dinner. Before either of us could apologize, I had changed our dinner plans and he energetically responded, “On it.”

It was a regular Tuesday night. As we sat around as a family, I remember looking across the table at my husband, who was laughing at an awful knock knock joke that my oldest had just shared, when a memory from long ago came back to me:

I was in high school and my mother had a job that required a lot of her time and attention. Sometimes, as much as she tried, it was hard not to bring work home with her. One night, my dad was just starting to cook dinner when my mom walked through the door. I was sitting at the table working on some homework. I remember glancing at her and she looked miserable. Tired, sad, defeated. By the time she plopped her purse and keys on the counter, my dad had already turned off the stovetop. He had seen her, too. He said, “Who’s ordering pizza? Your mom and I are going for a walk. Here’s $20.”

We had pizza for dinner and it was an otherwise regular, unmemorable night. Until it wasn’t. Until I was sitting at my own kitchen table, eating pizza with my family, after my husband and I both needed a little grace, that I realized that unmemorable night helped shape me.

We are molded and defined by the relationships that we see growing up. Most of the time, it is the big, tangible things that we can point out and say, “I want to be that, I want to do that,” or even, “I will absolutely never have that kind of relationship.” Some people respond to the relationships that they see by becoming the exact opposite, and some people strive to have the kind of love that they grew up watching.

Those big moments become an outline for us, but what about the little moments that don’t even seem memorable? Those tiny blips that become a significant part of who we are and what we want, and we don’t realize it until much later, if we realize it at all. Our lives are made up of these moments.

My parents have been married for over 40 years. It would be easy to say I want that kind of relationship, because of the longevity of it, but I also know couples who stayed together just as long who were unhappy, lonely, sad. Length doesn’t always equate with happiness. So instead of looking at my parents’ relationship and saying, “I want a marriage that lasts 40+ years,” I started to look at the little things. The hot cups of coffee they shared in the mornings. The bleacher cheering they did side by side at all of our games. The way my dad would hand my mom the cartoon section of the Sunday paper every week because it was her favorite. The chef and sous chef roles they jokingly took on when hosting parties. The way they would take walks or reach for a hand to hold when the other needed it.

So when this memory came rushing back to me at my own dinner table, I couldn’t help but smile. Because there in front of me were the intangibles that I didn’t even realize I wanted and needed. They had made their way into my marriage, and I felt happy and proud. A full circle moment.

It truly made me realize how important it is in the little moments to show my own children self-love and respect, and model the kind of love I know they deserve in future relationships. And, of course, I want them to be respectful and kind partners too.

Those moments between my parents also unknowingly showed me that I needed a partner who could see me, but also make me feel seen. Of course I wanted a partner who could look at me and tell that I had a rough day, but I also needed a partner who could help me put that rough day behind me. Someone who would give me grace and understanding. I needed someone who could look at me and know that I needed a break. Someone who could scrap dinner and order a pizza.

That night, our solution was simple — “Pizza it is” — but it actually meant so much more.

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