Thirty-five Things I’ve Learned In Thirty-five Years Of Marriage

iStock_000010401448XSmallLike most newlyweds, my husband and I stepped into marriage bright-eyed, optimistic and flat-out unprepared. We’d had terrible family role models and possessed virtually no tools, yet — let’s hear it for young love — we assumed that our marriage would be a rousing success.

Unfortunately, marriage turned out to be far more challenging than we had imagined. By the time we’d been married five years, many of our friends were already divorced.

Sometimes I feared we were the next ones in line.

This week, we will celebrate our 35th anniversary. Does that mean we discovered the “secret”?


Have we learned something?


And thank goodness for that.

People often ask long-married couples “What’s the key to success?” as if there’s a magic ingredient to having a marriage that lasts. When they ask me, I’m inclined to say “stubbornness” and I don’t mean that in jest.

Despite flaring tempers, pouting and a mutual tendency to blame, our saving grace may well have been that, come hell or high water, we both kept two feet in.

For some couples, hanging in despite difficulties is not a good thing. In our case, it was.

We learned a lot, grew a lot and, as a result of our efforts, we have much to celebrate.

While this is by no means a definitive list, here are some of the important lessons we learned the hard way:

1. Marriage will teach you more about yourself than you bargained for. Consider this a gift.

2. Don’t complain about the cooking when your spouse is the cook.

3. Never decide to get a divorce when you have PMS. (Same principle applies when you have the flu, jet-lag, or you’re chronically under-slept.)

4. When people say marriage is hard, believe them.

5. Never start the day off nagging or complaining.

6. An unwillingness to quarrel about something doesn’t mean you agree with it.

7. Establish early on whether the question “do these pants make me look fat?” is a true yes or no question.

8. Clean is a relative term.

9. Generosity may be the key to all happiness.

10. Most of your fights are living proof of your immaturity. The sooner you grow up, the happier you’ll be.Two quarreling children

11. When you think you’ve tried everything, know that you haven’t.

12. Admit your shortcomings. They’re obvious anyway.

13. Express gratitude often.

14. Give up all hope of being perfectly understood.

15. Being right will eventually lose its appeal.

16. Many of the things you fight hard for will turn out not to have been worth the fight.

17. Be the first to apologize. Really. It’s not as painful as it sounds.

18. It’s idiotic to stay up late arguing about being too tired to have sex.

19. Pay more attention to what you’re doing to make things go badly and pay less attention to what your spouse is doing.

20. When your spouse’s behavior is open to interpretation, ascribe the higher motive.

21. If you’re going to complain about something, come to the table with a suggested alternative.

22. Hatred is perfectly normal under the circumstances. Don’t freak out about it or take it too seriously.

23. Your definition of sexy will change over time. New definition: husband going out in the pouring rain to latch the slamming back gate.

24. Do not underestimate how irritating your spouse’s slightly irritating behaviors will become over time.

25. If you want something, recognize and accept that it’s your job to ask for it.

26. The louder your spouse yells, the quieter and calmer you need to be.

27. Disappointment is inevitable. Life gets a lot easier once you accept this.

28. Sometimes you’re going to do your unfair share. It’s not worth whining about.

29. Forget the nonsense about not going to bed angry. Get some sleep. Chances are things will look different in the morning.

30.  There’s no end to how much you can love someone if you let yourself.

iStock_000004568176XSmall31. Accept apologies graciously.

32. Being happily married is not the same as living happily ever after.

33. There are no guaranteed divorce-proofing moves. All any of us can do is be a husband or wife our spouse would be foolish to leave.

34. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you have all the time in the world.

35. “In love” pales in comparison to love.

Do you have a favorite or something to add to the list?
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48 thoughts on “Thirty-five Things I’ve Learned In Thirty-five Years Of Marriage

  1. @Navigator, we must really be from same planet you and me 🙂
    18, oh yes! 29 my savior and 35, I’ve always sworn on this but many laugh me to scorn.
    I too love this woman’s take on marriage :), what a refreshingly honest post, speaking from my perception of course.


  2. Hi Winifred, I like your write up and probably do agree with everything except may be number 18, and 35. We very might share the same opinion but I will explain…

    I believe there is a big difference between when someone loves you and when they are in love with you. This difference only arises when an imbalance exists in the dynamics of the relationship. Every good relationship should be about give and take. Love is a two-way street. The moment the traffic is one-way, disaster looms around the corner.

    I’m not saying everything should or can be 50/50. The most important thing is for one partner not feel shortchanged. You will know, because most of the time you’ll be the one doing most of the giving.

    One good way of knowing is to ask yourself, 1. how do I add value to my partner’s life? 2. What are the things I do for my partner, that he/she cherishes about me? Similarly, what does my partner do for me that I cherish?

    Nobody is an endless reservoir of giving. Sooner or later you will need replenishing and the replenishing comes from the actual giving and taking from each other. It does not matter if at one time or the other, one person gives more, so long as there is reciprocation somewhere down the line.

    When you are in love or you love someone, there is an urge, a feeling of wanting to do something or anything for that significant person in your life. You think about how you can add value to them, how you can bring a smile to their face. I have been married twenty-one years and this is how I feel.

    There is something unique about the spirit of giving that makes you happy to give; be it a smile, comfort or doing something pleasurable to that significant person in your life. Now, if you have to start asking for those things (time, companionship, pleasure, love) which should be freely given, again there is a problem.

    Yes, it’s okay to ask for certain things, once in a while, the thing is after a while, the partner who is being asked should hopefully, now know that this need or request been made, is something important or something my partner likes, loves or enjoys. Assuming you do pay attention to your partners needs, and I would think there is something wrong if partners are not aware of their partner’s needs.

    Excluding situations when something is wrong, the only time you won’t be aware of your partner’s needs (persistently unaware or could not care less) is when you are self-absorbed or you are really not in love or love the partner you have, in my opinion.

    Therefore, loving someone or being in love with them is one and the same for me, if the feelings and actions of love prevail. It’s no good talking the talk, without walking the walk. You can walk and not talk, but you cannot talk and not walk.


    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I bet you and I could have a lively discussion were we to sit down together over tea!

      The business of generosity is complex, often troublesome and sometimes misunderstood to mean endless giving.

      I believe generosity creates an environment of kindness in which reciprocal generosity can grow. Of course the kindness, warmth, and generosity we offer does not guarantee that our spouse will give back.

      Stinginess and withholding make for guaranteed unhappiness.

      Positive change starts with one person. Hopefully the other person rises to the good example.

      As we all know, sometimes they do not.


  3. Ok, this is the best blog yet, in my opinion. I would post a response but it looks like I need to be a blogger to do that. So, I’ll just say to you that most of these lessons apply to friendships and family relations (well, let’s skip the arguing about sex one), and if I could have these surgically imprinted on the insides of my eyelids I would. I particularly like the generosity one.

    Congratulations on making it to 35 years with what sounds like hard-won grace and wisdom.



  4. As someone that has been married for seven years (international marriage no less, both very busy careers, with no children), it’s been incredibly difficult not to just drift apart after the romance wore off. I think that within my generation, so many of us have this affliction that we’re so “special” and that we deserve outrageous happiness ALL the time. Being in a relationship that’s been tattered, burned and dragged through the mud has taught me more than I could have ever imagined about love. I am humbled by its realness.


  5. I wish I were as articulate as you are. When someone asks me what is the success of a long marriage, (I give my advice, even if not asked for–to my kids) I only come up with you have to be able to communicate, and neither of you are mind readers, so be clear when you speak. I love your lessons! Number 14 is one I should repeat over and over.


    • I agree with the no mindreader advice. My original list had 45 lessons, that being one of them.
      #14- yes, a hard one. Haven’t we all thought “if I explain this ONE MORE TIME, surely he or she will understand?”

      Thanks for joining the discussion.


  6. What a giving writer and communicator you are – love the mix of common sense caring and savvy wisdom from a couples counselor who has been there and seen maybe not all but far more than most – this blog forum is a superb forum and I can’t wait to read your book!


  7. Great advice, Winifred! A corollary to your #’s 26 and 28 might be: When s/he’s acting the most unlovable is when he needs the most love. Also, one you taught me: take risks- open up even when your spouse is shutting down. That’s when the real intimacy can happen if we’re willing to take the chance.


      • I can’t think of anything to add at the moment. I’m tempted just to steal them one by one and use them as the topics of my own blog posts. Regarding #4 – It’s true that marriage is hard, but so is anything else that is worth doing. We aren’t surprised that it’s hard to get an education, to build a career, to raise children, to deal with our aging parents. Heck, sometimes it’s hard just to get out of bed in the morning. And yet many people seem genuinely surprised that marriage requires hard work, and are tempted to give up when they make this discovery. The good news — It isn’t hard all the time.


      • I agree. People somehow think they should have a high-level marriage with low-level input.
        And yes, it’s definitely not hard all the time. Sometimes we get to simply enjoy the fruits of our labor.

        Thanks for stopping by and adding your voice.


  8. #8 ‘clean is a relative term’ puts it in perspective for me around one of my favorite ways to hook into my spiral of “I’m rightly upset about this obvious/objective dirtiness”. Thank you for letting me know that also this one is subjective and relative – what a relief!


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