The Middle Years

Our family celebrated my husband’s grandparents’ 65th wedding anniversary. Their daughters honored them with a ceremony and reception, surrounded by all of their family and friends, to fulfill their dream of getting married by the church. After sixty-five years of civil union, our grandparents stood at the altar choosing to love each other and take care of each other once again. 

Witnessing a happy old couple holding hands, giving each other a tender kiss or renewing their vows after many years of marriage is inspiring. A sign of lives well lived and two people who, together, have made it to the top of the mountain—encouraging those that follow behind them that they too can enjoy a long-lasting, meaningful relationship. 

A new marriage is also emotive. It’s beautiful to see two people who found each other and committed to building their life together. As we celebrate their nuptials, we hope that they will become the happy old couple at the top of the mountain.

These are the picture-perfect moments; the Hallmark cards of life, representing all that is good and beautiful. 

But what must the newly married do to become the happy old couple? They must endure the middle years!

As we admire old couples or encourage young ones, we gloss over the middle years—the period of raising children, pursuing careers, and trying to make ends meet while saving for retirement. Couples struggle with finding their way as a unit while preserving their identity as an individual. We grow tired of each other or our marriages become stale, giving rise to disillusion or infidelity. We get wrapped up in commitments, financial pressures, and demands of daily life. Our dreams and goals often get set aside to push our children‘s futures forward. 

It’s such a chaotic time that eventually it blends together in our memories. It‘s easy during this time for couples to stop looking at each other lovingly, holding hands or giving each other tender kisses. Getting lost in the middle years makes it difficult for the marriage to survive, not to mention that illness or death can strip couples from enjoying their relationship into old age. Like everything in life, it takes a certain level of luck and a lot of good choices during those middle years to reach the top of the marital mountain. 

That is why celebrating a 65th wedding anniversary is so meaningful. The old couple survived the middle years and lived to tell the tale. 

I once wrote an open letter to a newly married couple sharing five principles to help them along their journey. What I was offering them were the tools to overcome the challenges of the middle years. They are simple suggestions but that doesn‘t mean they‘re easy. If you are a newly married couple or wrapped up in the in-between, I encourage you to read that post by clicking here. 

With only twelve years under our belts, my husband and I are in the midst of the middle years, working together to climb our mountain. In the past I’ve written about choices we’ve made as a couple and rough patches we’ve encountered in our marriage. We’ve navigated through changes in our career and employment, the illness and death of a parent, and many other struggles that we’ve confronted along the way. But we’ve done our part to enjoy the journey, sort though the mess, and never stop holding hands. So far, our imperfectly perfect marriage is going strong. 

True commitment, good choices, and a little luck can produce magnificent results in marriage and in life. 

Watching the joy in our grandparents’ faces as they shared their special day with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren was priceless. A true success story, worthy of emulating.  As my husband, three kids and I stood by our grandparents’ side, I prayed that that would be us one day. 

A Moment of Clarity

No matter how special it is to witness a new couple tie the knot or an old couple renew their vows, never forget success happens in the middle years. 

Accepting Responsibility

In life, you must take responsibility for what happens to you. There are some events in life that we can control, and others that we cannot. We definitely cannot control other people or their behavior. But we can control ourselves. Through our example, we will be respected by others and will influence them as a result. How to Survive Among Piranhas

Last week I encountered a rough patch with my husband. He’d been in an unpleasant mood and seemed generally unhappy with me. I didn’t know why, so I pointed it out.

“Orlando you’re cranky and unpleasant lately and it’s no fun being around you,” I said, expecting him to apologize and readjust.

“Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t think you’ve been acting like a very good wife, lately,” he said matter of factly.

Immediately my brain went into defense mode: What? How could you possibly think I’m not a good wife? I live for you! 

But that’s not what I told him. Instead, I asked, “Why would you say that?”

“Because you’ve watched me drowning with the move and trying to run my business and you’ve done nothing to help. You know I can’t stand things being incomplete and yet you know I have frames on the floor, I’m missing furniture, and you don’t care.”

Let me tell you the backstory:

Orlando moved offices a couple of weeks ago. You know how many moving parts go into a move. Foreseeing how stressful this was going to be and knowing that neither Orlando nor I are good at or enjoy decorating or shopping, (he’s better at it than I am, actually),  I suggested we hire our girlfriend who is an interior designer to decorate the office. Sure, it would cost us more money but it’d be done quickly and beautifully. Orlando refused.  “It’s a small office, not our home,” he said. He didn’t think it was necessary to spend additional money on an interior designer. I knew he was wrong, so I figured: Well, if that’s how you feel then you can do it yourself. 

As I suspected, I’d seen him struggling with choosing a desk and furniture, what color to paint the office,  what to hang on the walls and what to put where. But I had an I told you so attitude because this wouldn’t have happened if he’d listened to me.

And now he was angry with me.

I started to defend myself, “Orlando, I told you we needed to hire an interior decorator and all of this would’ve been avoided.”

He didn’t back down, “I needed YOU.”

The truth is that my husband does a lot for our family. He runs a very demanding criminal law practice, buys groceries for our home, cooks dinner almost every night, and helps a lot with the kids. He’s been supportive of my giving up my law practice to focus on my writing and speaking career. He needed to feel that I had his back, like he has mine.

The next day I stepped up to the plate. I put my pride aside, took responsibility, and focused on helping my husband finish his office so he could work in peace. I spent the next week doing everything I could to relieve stress and move things along. It wasn’t all smooth, but what matters is that my husband saw that I listened, I understood, and I took action.

Why am I sharing this uncomfortable story with you?

Because our argument could’ve gone another way. I could’ve been insulted and pointed out all that I do for our family. I could’ve maintained my position that I was right and he was wrong. I could’ve accused him of being unreasonable and unfair and searched through my mental rolodex for times I felt let down by him. That’s what we often do in the heat of the moment, don’t we? We search for the reasons we’re right, we stand our ground, and we aim to win the argument at whatever cost.

I was raised in a family that’s full of divorces, so logic suggests that my marriage would fail. But so far, we’ve maintained a healthy, strong marriage. I attribute my part of our success to the principles I’ve been learning my entire life.

I was grateful that my husband was honest and open about his feelings in a stressful time, instead of silently building resentment towards me. We often want our spouses to read our minds and fix their behavior without us having to tell them what’s bothering us. But that’s a recipe for disaster. I didn’t really know how much it upset my husband that I wasn’t involved in this project.  Once he told me what he felt, I stopped talking and adjusted my behavior. I accepted responsibility.

For years, I sat in the front row of my father’s seminars hearing him deliver speeches and workshops. I must’ve heard him tell his Ghandi story on accepting responsibility a thousand times. The more you listen, read, and study a set of principles, the more they are ingrained in your cells, becoming a part of who you are.

In this case, I couldn’t control how my husband felt. The only thing I could control was how I reacted to his feelings. I looked inward and changed my behavior.  The marriage thrives.

And so it goes in love and life.

A Moment of Clarity

Invest in your personal development. Read, study, listen, over and over again. Before you know it, these skills will help you thrive in your relationships, and your life.

Sliding Door Moments

Sliding Doors is a movie that highlights how life can be changed instantly by something so trivial as missing the subway.

Think about the little decisions or coincidences that led to where you are now. How I met my husband is an example.

I was a law school student having dinner with my girlfriends. As we walked down Lincoln Road toward our car, we had a chance encounter with Melissa. Melissa had recently graduated from our law school, and she said she was working at the Public Defender’s Office. Eagerly, I mentioned, “I’m interning there this summer!”

“Listen,” she said. “When you get to orientation, they’re going to ask what department you prefer. Choose Domestic Violence; that’s where I am. The supervisors are great, and you’ll get real trial experience.”

Weeks later I wrote “DV” on my intake sheet. My request was granted.

On my first day on the job, I was standing in the hallway when Orlando walked through the door. He was one of the attorneys in that very small division. I didn’t like him right away. He didn’t like me either. But we spent several months working together, became friends, and on the last day of my internship, he asked me out.

We’d been dating casually for a couple of weeks when one day we stopped by his mom’s house. She’d asked him to pick up some of his things. He poked around inside the box and took out a children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. His mom had bought it for him after he took a children’s literature class in college. He flipped through the pages of the book, reading some of the passages aloud, and discussing its beauty with his mom. As I watched Orlando’s interaction with his mom and his love of that book, I thought: “This guy is going to be a great dad one day.” I visualized him reading to my future children and teaching them about literature, which is ironic because I wasn’t even thinking about having kids at that time. Just like that, I saw him with new eyes. He was no longer a friend I enjoyed spending time with; he was the kind of man I wanted to marry.

Eleven years and three children later, I still remember that moment and how wise I was for choosing him to be my life partner. But I couldn’t have made that choice had I not run into Melissa on the street that random day; or taken her advice to request that department; or spent enough time with Orlando to develop our friendship.  Each detail, seemingly unimportant, was significant in its own right and led us to create this imperfectly perfect life together.

A Moment of Clarity: 

Opportunities pop up. If you pay attention, you will find they fall into your life like chains of dominoes. Life doesn’t happen to you by chance. Notice, take advantage of, and be grateful for those sliding door moments.  Life is richer for them.

meaningful relationships

When the Party Ends

I recently officiated a wedding ceremony for the very first time. When I heard the news that my husband’s cousin had asked me to preside over her ceremony, I was honored. I told my husband I would need to become a notary public, to which he responded “I’ve been meaning to become one as well. I might as well get it done.” That gave me an idea.

“What if we both married her?”

After all, my husband adores his cousin. It felt so symbolic for the two of us—who have an extraordinary marriage—to pass the torch to this young couple.

We completed the requirements to become notary publics and prepared for the ceremony. As the day approached, there was so much we wanted to say—so much advice to impart, but the couple was clear about what they wanted at their wedding: “Keep it short, sweet, and fun.” The ceremony was being held outdoors and the wedding day was cold and windy by Florida standards. The bridesmaids’ dresses were sleeveless and the couple wanted to be considerate of them and all the guests.We obeyed. The ceremony was short, sweet, and funny.

One of my favorite moments was the sand tradition. The bride and groom each took a vase with a different colored sand. They poured the sand from each of their individual vases into one vase as a symbol of their union.

Even though the ceremony and reception were beautiful, the real marriage begins when the party ends. It is in the years to come that the words “I do” actually mean something. Though I am not a marriage expert, I felt compelled to share what little I know about it with the newlyweds. This is my open letter to them:

Dear Amanda & AJ,

Thank you for trusting Orlando and me to lead your wedding ceremony and participate in the exchange of your vows. We are thrilled to see how much you love each other and how excited you were about tying the knot. As I said at the ceremony, it takes two extraordinary people to make an extraordinary marriage, and you both have that foundation. But even the happiest couples face challenges. Please accept these unconventional nuggets of wisdom I have gained over the years from a person who was raised through lots of divorces and who’s maintained a special marriage for over a decade.

Seek Therapy. When Orlando and I were newlyweds, we had an argument and I told him we needed to go to therapy. He didn’t understand why. Couples argue and they get over it. But I insisted, and he acquiesced. After our first therapy session, we got into our car and I started crying. Looking at me like I was crazy, Orlando asked “Why are you crying? The therapist just told us there is nothing wrong with our marriage and we don’t have to go back to see her!” It may sound crazy to you, also, but that was why I was crying. My parents divorced and so did my husband’s. I knew that the odds of us divorcing were high. And I understood that little problems become big problems when you don’t have the tools to handle them adequately. I wasn’t looking for a therapist to tell me my marriage was “fine.” I was looking for a therapist who would give us the tools to handle conflicts and differences. If you wait until your marriage is broken and then try to fix it, all you’re doing is making the climb steeper. Orlando and I didn’t go back to that therapist, but we tried others over the years until we found one who understood why we were there and what we needed. We don’t go to therapy often, but whenever we need help communicating, we make an appointment. Our therapist gives us a neutral space to discuss our feelings and find solutions, and we are stronger for it. Preventative therapy is a powerful tool that helps us stick together—keep your therapist on speed dial.

Be Friends; Have Friends. It’s wonderful to know that your relationship began as a friendship. It is important to share common interests with your spouse, laugh together, and enjoy each other’s company. It is equally important, however, to have other friends. One of things that has helped me in my relationship is the knowledge that no one person can fill your every need. Different people in your life fill different needs, and that’s ok. Why put unrealistic expectations on your partner? You may love to run, but what if your spouse is a tennis player, or a couch potato? Asking your spouse to be your accountability partner as you train for a marathon will be unduly burdensome. Having a running friend or group will help you fill that need without forcing your spouse to do something they don’t want to do. There are certain needs that only a spouse should fill (you know what those are), but outside friends make your life fuller and happier. Embrace this and enjoy it by building your marriage on trust. This will allow you to be grateful for the things your spouse does to enrich your life, instead of focusing on the things they don’t.

Marry the family. When you marry your spouse, you marry their family—their parents, siblings, and family members. Treat them with the same love and respect you do your spouse, and do your best to unite your families. When you treat your spouse’s family this way, you create a loving environment where everyone can thrive. But when they feel torn between you and their own family, everyone loses. In the case of blended families like yours, you marry the children from your spouse’s first marriage and it even means you marry their ex.  Why? Because coordinating events, pickups, drop-offs, holidays, and decisions about the children will always involve their other parent. You can’t control how the other parent will behave toward you, but you can control your actions. Be kind. Be inclusive. Be accommodating. Be respectful—even when its’ hard. Likewise, set boundaries, establish clear expectations, and demand respect as you do with your spouse. Ideally, all relationships should function this way.

Love Yourself. You already know you have to love your spouse; that’s a given. It’s easy for us to get lost in loving our partner and our kids; we want to make sure our family is cared for and protected. But it is much harder to love ourselves. You may find that you don’t have time to exercise or get a massage or take a dance class that you love. Life’s no longer just about you so you’ll make sacrifices for your family. But the biggest gift you can give your spouse and kids is to love yourself, also. You’ll be happier, healthier, and more fun. Eat well, exercise, nurture your mind and soul, do things you love. If you have an issue like anger management or addiction or anything else that can be destructive to you or your family, get help. When you love yourself, you allow the best of you to show up for everyone else—and they deserve the best of you as much as you do.

Be There. Living in the same house does not mean you are present. And yet you can be there even when you’re not physically there. Maybe one or both of you work long hours or travel often. You’ll have the kids half the time and the other half you won’t. Whether it’s with the kids or with each other, you will deal with the complications of being separated. Decide that every day you will communicate love to each other and to the kids. When you are together, be together. Spend time with each other. Talk about your day. Kiss often. Hug. Eat dinner together. Say, “I love you.” When you are apart, call each other. Surprise each other. Send postcards. Say, “I love you” again. These daily promises create unbreakable family bonds—and that will make all the difference.

As time goes by, you will evolve and change and go through different phases. Like the sand from your ceremony, your marriage will be messy and a combination of both of you. But the key is that you always keep the vase intact.  Keep it safe and the sand will always be together, like you two. Wishing you a lifetime of blessings and love.

With love, Caroline

What about you? What advice would you give these newlyweds? Please post your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any couples you think would benefit from this post, please click share!