A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person. ~Mignon McLaughlin

Twenty years ago I vowed that I would love and honor Tom Muench every day for the rest of my life.

We had no idea what we were getting into.  Let’s face it, those of us who have gotten married (Tom and I were 23 and 25 respectively), had little, if any, concept with regards to what it would take to live with another human being for the “rest of our life.” Similar to becoming parents, there is just no way to prepare for that kind of mental and emotional commitment.  I’d say attending the required 4-hour “engagement retreat” and a few sessions with an elder church couple in their home conversing about such issues as how the church views birth control, sex, and finances is in no way a thorough preparation for how the daily grind of life impacts your relationship.

So here we are, 4 kids/9 moves/5 title changes and 20 years older…more in love than we were back when Guess jeans were “in”, Basic Instinct was released, Bill Clinton became president and Ren & Stimpy was on the television screen.  And I ask myself, how did we manage to get here?

I’d like to say it was simple, I’d like to say it’s been a breeze, I’d like to say Tom would agree completely.  But that would be a lie.  There is nothing simple about marriage, although admittedly, some days are easier than others.

In order to love and respect your spouse MORE with each passing year, first and foremost, I believe you need a sense of humor.  Take, for example, when your 9-year-old vomits at the side of your bed at 3 a.m. (and you just fell into bed after a wild night of bowling at 2:30…) someone has to clean up the mess, someone has to stay up the rest of the night with a sick kiddo and you decide to flip a coin to see who gets what job, that’s having a sense of humor.  Or, when you have sold one house, you are moving across the country, and you don’t have another house to move into so you decide to temporarily move 7 people into a 1-bedroom/1-bathroom apartment (including a large walk-in closet which doubled as a nursery), that’s having a sense of humor. Although these are only two examples off the top of my head, the bottom line is, an ability to laugh at life with one another when it is stress-filled is a key ingredient to a successful marriage.

The second skill is choosing to look at your marriage as a team effort.  Included in that is being able to talk through and listen to the other person’s thoughts with respect.  Disagreements will happen, but do so with regard for the other person.  It isn’t about what is in it for you or for me, but rather, it is a joint decision based on what is best for the family.

Having, as well as sharing, one’s goals and dreams with one another is elemental to a healthy marriage.  There have been many times in the course of our 20-year relationship when we have taken the time to sit down and assess where we are, where we’d like to be, and how to best achieve those personal and family goals.

A solid marriage is built on companionship which includes spending quality time together.  There are a million little things (like laundry) and big things (like work and kids) that can eat up your time.  But, guess what, eventually work ends, kids grow up, and then you end up looking at each other like “what now?”  Time together during the busy years of raising a family is non-negotiable.

I think our relationship, and my own personal journey, took an introspective turn when my parents divorced after 39 years of marriage in 2006.  Even though I was well into adulthood at the time, that split had a fairly profound impact on my life.  It caused me to pause and think “if my parents can’t do this, what makes me think we can?”  Looking at other marriages (including my parents) helps Tom and I realize what we want for ourselves.

We just returned from spending our anniversary in Arizona, a vacation LONG overdue.  We climbed a number of mountains, we enjoyed delicious food and drink, but most of all we enjoyed the time completely to ourselves.  We are fully invested in this marriage for the long haul and we realize it’s not a sprint, but a marathon.  The course is rocky and has its ups and downs, but in the end, I know we have the ability to make it to the peak.

The importance of our having a rock solid relationship is what’s best for our children.  Marriage, (hell, life in general) is a journey best travelled with faith, calm, courage, patience and grace.