On this overblown, Hallmark-ed, commercialized day called Valentine’s Day, I like to take a moment to think seriously about the loving relationships that have shaped my life and my own marriage.
Despite Dairy Man and I being pretty awesome already (and ever so humble), we have both learned a lot about happy marriages from our parents and grandparents. All of the relationships were different, but each one taught us something important.
As you can see, Dairy Man and I come from good-looking stock. And yes, my dad (bottom right) DID have a legendary ’stache on his wedding day.
Nearly everything I know about love comes from observing my parents. Those crazy kids have a quirky, steadfast love that has stood the test of 33 years.
My parents aren’t showy, but it’s impossible not to soak up some marital goodness to apply to my own relationship. So, let’s take a stroll through Dave & Judy Marriage 101.
8 Things I’ve Learned About Love From My Parents
1: Love is not always equal
One of the wisest things I’ve ever heard about marriage came from my mom. When Dairy Man and I first got married, I had delusions of a perfectly egalitarian relationship. I envisioned a line in the sand with “my duties” on this side and “his duties” on the other. But life is a little messier than that, especially during a farm wife’s first planting season. I was crying on the phone one night to my mom about being lonely, feeling like I was doing all of the work, and she said to me: “Jess, in a marriage you can’t be so concerned about things being perfectly 50/50. You both have to give 100 percent–all of the time. Things aren’t always going to be equal. You might have to take turns carrying the other. But you should both always try to give 100 percent. That’s what love is.” (Read more about this revelation here.)
2: Show your children your love
I have absolutely no doubt that my parents love each other. They were free and easy with hugs and kisses in front of us kids (even amidst a chorus of “Eeeeeeeeewwww!!” and my mom swatting my dad away, “Dave, get off me!”) and weren’t afraid to say “I love you.” When Dairy Man and I have a family someday, I want to emulate my parents and make sure to thoroughly mortify and embarrass my children with a little Mom&Dad PDA.
3: Keep laughing
My parents are dorks. There are no two ways about it. They make up their own words and phrases (like “sugarjets” and “ookums”), tease, poke, and laugh. They don’t take life too seriously. Sometimes they even wrestle at Christmas.
It’s easy to see how my entire family ended up being so weird.
4: Money isn’t important
My parents do not express love in gifts or extravagant experiences. It’s painful for them to spend money on “frivolous” things like soda at a restaurant or new shoes when the old ones don’t have holes yet. Basically they are good upstanding Dutch folk. Not surprisingly, my mom doesn’t really like flowers: “Why spend good money on something that’s going to die? I’d rather have a puzzle.” One year my dad found a way to get around this. While he was rollerblading, he saw some flowers growing alongside the road. Being the hopeless romantic he is, he plucked a bouquet and bladed it home. My mom was thrilled. Because she got flowers on her anniversary? No. Because my dad hadn’t spent a cent on them. That’s love, people.
5: Failure is not an option
It’s inevitable that parents will fight in front of their kids at some point. Mine were no different. But I still remember what they would tell us if we witnessed an argument: “Don’t forget, your dad/mom and I might fight, but I want you to know that we love each other very much and will be together forever.” They taught me early on that marriage vows are forever. My parents will be together for better and worse, in sickness and health, for richer for poorer, as long as they live.
6: Being happy is more important than being right
Over the years, I’ve noticed that the happiest times in my parents’ marriage were often after someone said “I’m sorry.” While there is great delight in being right (my dad and I delight in it just a little too much), it is a far more beautiful, loving act to let things go. If DM and I have a fight, the quickest way to happiness is for someone to let go of the need to be right.
7: Faith sustains a marriage
My parents’ marriage is founded on more than respect and love. They’re the first to admit that #5 would be impossible without God’s help. Every step they take as a couple stems from prayer and deep faith. This faith has sustained them through the best and worst that life has to offer.
8: Happiness is found in mutual hobbies
My parents became empty-nesters a few years ago when my little brother went to college. After getting reacquainted in this post-spawn world, they found a mutual love for hiking in the dunes by Lake Michigan. On one of their hikes, my dad stuck a large branch into the sand and tied a ribbon to it. Over many months, my parents added more ribbon and string to the branch. Other hikers did the same. There’s something wonderful and symbolic about this branch.
I only hope to have a marriage as full of love and laughter as my parents. Or my in-laws (shout out to Kent and Vonnie) or grandparents (Bill and Shirley; August and Anne; Roy and Gloria; Marv and Virginia), for that matter. Dairy Man and I are surrounded by examples of steadfast, godly love.
And that’s something worth celebrating on this day of chalky candy hearts and overpriced roses!
So, dear reader, now it’s your turn to share.
What have YOU learned about love from your parents, step-parents, or grandparents?