Here comes a unique and perfect love letter with specific after specific; memories, promises and, most of all, commitment to a marriage for the sake of the love that holds it together. Judy Columbus, master of multi-duty love letters, has graciously agreed to share the letter she wrote as a way of speaking to herself about what it takes to make a marriage survive 50 years. It is a love letter to herself, to her husband, and to generations of her descendants who may see it and know that love and determination are both a part of their genetic legacy. Documenting our own successes and giving ourselves well-deserved credit is an emotionally important thing to do. Taking responsibility for one’s own mistakes is a most elegant gift to everyone. And, taking the time to think about all these details is creating a real work of heart. Thank you, Judy.
“On Fifty… I can only speak for myself… to myself.
Marriage doesn’t come in fifty-year chunks; rather as 18,250 individual days. On some of these days I was a terrific wife: I thought of Richard’s needs first: made sloppy joes for dinner when I preferred a vegetarian entree; didn’t comment on the opera booming through all rooms when I was thinking; shortened some business phone calls; played tennis with him, went to the gym with him; tried not to scratch the sink as I tossed the ladle from two feet away. Once or twice I was a really great wife. I am sure of once: On his 30th birthday I surprised him with a sports car, a red Alfa Romeo Spider…his fantasy after viewing “The Graduate.”
These are not big (except for the car) items in a “give” list. There may in fact be no big things in a half-century of togetherness. What turns out to make a day very bad or very good between a couple are teeny things, quarter-inches on the yardstick of a long marriage. True, many things loom large at the time but as calendar pages turn, some incidents blur, others erase, ink turns to white out.
I was flip earlier when stating that there are no big things. Weighty topics for marriages include religion, money, ethics. Blessed from the start, we had no differences here, and therein lies a core truth. We shared values. Interestingly, our parents also had common values. Richard and I wanted the same kind of life, had the same dreams for our daughters, enjoyed the same friends. We liked exploring the same countries and picnicking in the same villages.
My two biggest faults over the years probably were (1) not saying what I meant and (2) saying what I meant. I was guilty of errors of commission: accepting one too many social engagements for our hectic life which blended child raising, professional and volunteer activities, putting a strain on us, on our “relationship.” I was guilty of errors of omission: I did not articulate sincere “thank yous” when Richard bought the groceries, cleaned up the dishes, guarded and like the best husband of a Realtor® entertained our children when I went to show one home, showed six, then wrote and negotiated an offer. I too often prioritized time for clients over time for my husband. AND, I flunked retirement after my non-compete ran out. Thus the swing swung. Good wife. Less so good wife.
We had no assigned roles during our fifty years. More, picking up the slack or the pieces. When a hole arose, one of us filled it. We both had careers. We were both parents. Equal members of religious, social and philanthropic communities. We bit off more than we could chew, oh so often, and then we masticated together. We “handled” it.
We went to bed angry some nights. We woke up disappointed some days. In a word, we kept going. We kept trying. We knew our marriage, our love for one another, was strong at its roots while realizing there were times sans blossoms. I won’t complete the metaphor with the cultivating and watering thing, because it not metaphorical when something goes wrong in a day, in a marriage. In time we realized that more important than each slight was how quickly we forgot it. Moved on. If we are role models of something, it may be “getting on with it.” Aware that others sought deeper understandings, in sum we tried, as in the tune I sang before an audience in fourth grade, to “accentuate the positive.”
We had no families to blend, just processes, the way we do things. I move quicker, make more mistakes. We are not equally introspective. Our levels of patience differ. Richard learned more of “careful consideration” in an engineering curriculum than I in journalism school. Dreaming of aging gracefully, I thought I would become a more patient person, yet find to the contrary that in general the shortening of (life’s) time has encouraged my speed in judging and deciding.
About ten years ago I had an epiphany that I could improve outcomes if I brought the same level of creative energy to my home and husband as I did to my professional endeavors Now when patterns repeat themselves, I make an effort to recognize them so that I can work to bring about a best-case solution…like I did at the office.
My “advice” to others for their first fifty years together will be that I give myself for our next fifty:
Take responsibility for your own happiness. Complete yourself.
Act more out of love than out of anger.
Strive to create and honor joy.
Add up your blessings. Subtract silly differences.
Value each other’s priorities even if you can’t act on them.
Sense. Grow a lot of it. Common sense and a sense of humor.
Try a “do better” before a “do over,” and again
Act more out of love than out of anger.”
From me to you with love via Judy Columbus.
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