My husband, Randy, loves road trips. I prefer getting to a destination as quickly as possible and search online for flights. Most often, his choice of travel prevails and once again we load the car with luggage, plenty of snacks, and good reading material.
A few months ago, we packed the car for a three-day trip across the country. I wondered what I could bring to help pass the endless hours. I remembered the packet of love letters we wrote during our courtship–letters we hadn’t read for years. Rummaging through my cedar chest, I found the bulging notebook of correspondence sent during the months we attended different universities. Giddy with excitement at the thought of revisiting our past together, I placed them in the car by my feet.
The miles flew by as I read each letter. A lengthy conversation ensued as we recalled precious memories, smiled at our passionate longings, and laughed at our lofty, youthful dreams. We talked about how our love has deepened and matured over the forty-four years we’ve been married. And to think we thought we were in love then!
This experience caused me to reflect on the elements that make a love grow and last. Eternal love evolves over time from the exhilarating first attraction to the all-encompassing emotion that permeates the soul. Becoming one doesn’t happen overnight. It takes patience, trust, forgiveness, and a lot of hard work. Both partners must be equally invested in the project. Here are five tools that help construct a love that stands the test of time.
1. Lay a Firm Foundation
Just as a sturdy building begins with a good foundation, so must a lasting relationship. Both individuals should share similar beliefs in the things that really matter. We all come from different backgrounds, yet even couples from diverse cultures can build a strong foundation if they share core values. We need to be on the same path traveling to the same destination. Life is bumpy enough without trying to stay together while going in opposite directions. When deciding on a companion for life, it is a lot easier to build on a foundation of mutual goals.
Religion, education, and raising a family are some of the cornerstones that should be discussed before making a commitment to begin construction. When we married, Randy had two years of college left, with the goal of applying to dental school. I had graduated with a degree in Elementary Education and knew from the beginning I would be called upon to be the main source of income until he finished his schooling. It would have been a rocky six years if I hadn’t been willing to cheer him on in his goal to further his education.
While dating, Randy and I both believed it was important to have children. We had to compromise, however, when it came to the number of children we wanted. I remember the shock on his face when I announced I wanted twelve. (What was I thinking!) Growing up as an only child, I dreamed of mothering a large family. I was surprised that he thought four was a good number. We were blessed with six beautiful children, and I was satisfied and fulfilled with the task of being a mother to half a flock. Give and take are necessary elements, as long as neither are sacrificing what is most important to them.
2. Let Go of What Doesn’t Matter
Framing the building consists of various unique and individual designs. No two rooms are alike just as each individual comes with his own experiences and opinions. This can either strengthen the building or cause it to tumble.
In many ways, Randy and I are opposites. He is very calculating, precise, and organized. I remember opening his sock drawer after doing our wash for the first time. I saw immediately I was in trouble. All of his socks were arranged by color and smiling at me, the folds neatly placed in the same direction. I throw my hastily folded socks in a drawer. Since I will never have the patience to measure up to his level of proficiency in folding clothes, I leave that task to him, for which he happily complies.
I am a driven person, very aware of filling each measure of time with purpose. I eat quickly, I multi-task, and I hate being late. Randy can’t dress and talk at the same time. If I want to be on time to a function, I leave the room so he can concentrate on the task of getting ready, while I pace the floor.
Randy has the talent to fully enjoy the moment. I envy his ability to slow down and notice the world while I am focused on moving on to the next project on my checklist.
These differences could drive each other crazy, but instead of shoving a wedge between us, we have learned to embrace each other’s unique personalities. I have found that these little things don’t matter in the broad scheme of life. With a dose of tolerance and unconditional love, small annoyances can actually become endearing.
3. Keep the Flame Alive
Adding fuel to that initial flame is vital. It is easy for it to dwindle or become extinguished when the daily challenges of life come along. This takes conscious effort, work, and creativity.
A hug speaks volumes. I came from a family that rarely demonstrated or spoke their feelings. I married into a family passionate about hugging, and I happily adjusted. A hug can mend a misunderstanding, speak forgiveness, and show you care. Words are necessary too. I don’t let a day go by without telling Randy that I love him. Every phone conversation ends with the words, “I love you!” Our actions show love, but those three little words need to be heard often.
Be creative. Once I secretly reserved a cabin in the mountains for the weekend and took Randy on a treasure hunt to get there. His workload had been heavy and I could see he needed time away. On another occasion, I secured a local hotel room for the evening of Valentine’s Day. I checked in early and decorated the room with streamers, hearts, and balloons. One anniversary he woke up to a banner that weaved through the dining room. Each flag represented a year of our marriage stating significant milestones or memories from that year.
Randy has his individual way of adding spark to my life. I will come home to a beautiful arrangement of flowers or a love poem written from his heart. Once I told him I wanted a certain charm for a bracelet and he filled the bracelet with charms. People often comment on how he still opens the car door for me and holds my hand as we walk.
It doesn’t require money to let your partner know you are thinking of them. It does require planning and time. Time well spent.
4. Embrace Life’s Trials
Inevitably, storms come along to challenge the carefully structured building. Trials are a threat that can send love spiraling downward or soaring upward.
When Randy retired from his job as an Air Force Dentist, we moved our family to Arizona. At times, work was scarce as he endeavored to establish his own practice. This was a trying time for our family of eight who had always had a steady, secure income and free medical care.
While trying to build his practice, Randy recruited me to be his dental assistant during the evening hours. This was a field I knew nothing about. Once, while assisting him during a wisdom tooth removal, he remarked, “Claudia, you can’t suction blood, if you don’t look.” My eyes were focused on the floor to ease my queasy stomach–my reaction to needles and blood. Despite my resistance to our new circumstances, I strived to be a good sport and it wasn’t long until he had his own thriving business. I was never more happy to return to my duties at home.
A few years down the road, Randy had his turn to offer support and assistance when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. He dug deep to learn how to fix meals, do the laundry, and take care of the things I usually handle. More importantly, he was there to hold my hand during the difficult days of surgery and chemotherapy.
From the windy days to the hurricanes, it is much easier to walk through the storm hand in hand. As I look back, it is during the times we leaned on each other for support that our love blossomed far beyond what we ever thought possible.
5. Live for the Other’s Happiness
One of the biggest problems in a relationship is selfishness. If I begin to think Randy isn’t fulfilling my needs or is oblivious to my feelings, I change my focus. “What can I do to make him happy?”
I’m not sure how it works, but as I endeavor to remove the emphasis from myself and concentrate on the needs of my husband, I find fulfillment, joy, and peace.
Camping is not one of my favorite pastimes, but because I love my husband I found myself on a one-week backpacking trip in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming one summer. Raised a city girl, I attempted to cheerfully hike miles each day carrying everything I needed on my back. We ate what we caught in the streams, supplemented with MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat). Upon reaching the mountaintop, we discovered the only way to continue was to walk across a glacier. As we gingerly inched our way across the icy slope, I wondered if our children were going to end up being orphans. We each walked away from this experience with different levels of enthusiasm, but being by my husband’s side enjoying nature is something I’ll always remember.
There are evenings I long to stay home and read a book instead of attending a sporting event with Randy. Knowing how important a baseball game is to him, I go along. He loves sharing the excitement of a good game, and in return, he is always willing to attend the theater, concert, or a ballet with me.
We live in a world where the tendency is to feel entitled to happiness. If we aren’t happy, then it’s someone else’s fault. It doesn’t work that way. Joy in life comes from forgetting ourselves and thinking of others. This is the highest kind of love.
Happily Ever After is Now
Too often we compare our relationships to the romantic stories we read or see on the screen. “Happily Ever After” is not an ending, but a beginning. We must GIVE all we have to make it continue. GIVING UP is not an option. Randy and I have had our disagreements and heartaches, yet we have kept the promises we made forty-four years ago. We have turned each challenge into a learning experience and have grown together until our thoughts have become one.
We have added a few pounds, wrinkles, and some gray hairs over the years yet our love has grown past the outside layers. Lifting each other, we’ve reached heights far beyond our ability to realize alone. Within the walls of our home we find harmony, laughter, respect, and joy, all carefully created, one brick at a time. And the result? A love that will last forever.