Years ago, I sat across a table from my new husband as we enjoyed a night out on our honeymoon. As we waited for our food to arrive, the wait staff appeared, singing Happy Anniversary, and delivered a cake with a single flaming candle to the couple at the next table.
Michael and I looked at each other with wide-eyed awe and said, almost in unison, “Wow. A whole year.”
It was hard to fathom being married for a year. Now, it’s been 35.
We were so young when we got married; I was 23 and Michael was 25. In 1982, two years out of college where we met, many of our peers were getting married as well. It wasn’t unusual at that time, but now we look back and realize that we were practically babies.
In many ways now, we’re each a totally different individual than we were then.
Before getting married, I was Karen M. Rampolla, as I was reminded recently when I came across some pre-printed notecards, presumably from my wedding showers.
I also found a notecard printed with Mr. and Mrs. Michael P. DeBonis, Jr. What a mouthful! And talk about a loss of identity. I never went by that name; I didn’t even want to be called Mrs. DeBonis, who was Michael’s mom as far as I was concerned.
Aside from my name change, we’ve had many opportunities to grow in 35 years, and sometimes I’m amazed and always grateful that we grew together, rather than apart.
We’ve had it easier than some. We had good role models in our parents, similar values, and a shared religious faith. We also agreed from the get-go which way to hang the toilet paper. Plus, Michael was already in the habit of putting down the toilet seat and we were both closer to the slob end of the cleanliness spectrum than neat-freak.
But like most (all?) couples, we’ve had plenty of worse with the better. Personal and relationship growth is usually tough and marriage is no exception. Marriage takes a lot of boring, relentless, soul-searching, sometimes ego-crushing work.
But it shouldn’t be thankless.
I won’t presume that I know the secret to a successful marriage, as if there was a package hidden away in a closet ready to be unwrapped and passed around. But if I were to choose one take-away from my 35 years of experience that I think has some universal relevance to long-term relationships, it’s this:
You can not say thank you too often.
Thank you comes easily for the out-of-the-ordinary things, like when Michael surprised me with a pearl ring to celebrate the completion of my master’s degree. Or when I took his mom to her hair appointments when she wasn’t able to get around on her own.
But often, thank you isn’t even a blip on a couple’s radar for the little things like grinding the coffee, taking out the compost, or changing the batteries in the smoke detectors. The maintenance stuff. The stuff we take for granted.
That’s where resentment grows, I believe. When all the little, boring, mundane details that make up the grind of a day go unrecognized.
So we practice, Michael and I.
I thank him for putting the shed key back in the drawer so I don’t have to dig through his pockets to find it. And for knowing so much about computers and what to do when our Dish network goes down. And for draining the radiators and remembering to take my work-out clothes out before tossing the load in the dryer.
He thanks me for remembering to button his clean shirts at the collar when I hang them up, and for grilling extra vegetables for his lunches. He thanks me for my gardens and landscaping that beautify our yard, and for running the dishwasher. And for checking over his suitcase before a trip to be sure he hasn’t missed anything.
All those little things, for us, totaled a big number. No cake or candles needed, just wide open eyes and two simple words.
As we look ahead now, we say “Wow, can you imagine being married for 50 years, or 60 or 70?” I hope when we get there, we’ll look back and remember to say thanks for it all.