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Lessons from 25 Years of Marriage

joe and karen

When I first met my husband-to-be, I knew within two months of dating that I wanted to marry him.

It took him a bit longer. He realized it around six months in. We were only 19 and 20 at the time, but we waited five years to tie the knot. We had to get college out of the way first.

In 2015, we took off to California to celebrate our 25th anniversary. As we watched the sun set on the beach, we looked back at the years. How quickly they flew by. There were lots of good years, but some were peppered with “Divorce Moments.”  In fact, there was a year when our kids took bets as to when we would split. It was not a pretty time in our marriage, but going through the rough times has lead me to a different level of love and understanding in our marriage.

After 25 years together, I’ve learned a few things:

Perspective is Everything

In the early years, we actually fought over parking spaces. I kid you not. I would become incredibly irritated at my husband when he circled around and around finding parking spaces. He, in turn, would criticize my parking skills, insisting that I park perfectly in a space, requiring me to back out and pull in again.  Then I read something in a book (I wish I could remember what book it was, but hey, that was quite some years ago) about changing YOUR behavior so that it causes a shift in your marriage. So the next time we went out, I clamped my mouth shut about parking. I took extra care to park the way he liked it. It took several outings before my husband realized we were no longer fighting about parking spaces. He learned to keep quiet about the parking stuff as well.

Be careful what you pour your energy into. Put things in perspective–does the trivial stuff really matter in the bigger picture? If not, learn to let it go.

Our Needs Are Different

My spouse’s needs and my needs are different. We don’t have to do everything together, nor do we have to like the same things. It took me a long time to figure that one out. It took me a long time to respect it.  I used to drag him to events that bored the heck out of him. He used to sit me through movies that bored the heck out of me. Now we’re at this place where we have Yours, Mine, and Ours time. Compromise is the secret sauce that flavors a marriage.

Life Will Get in the Way Unless You Make a Plan

When our third child was born, we were outnumbered. We could no longer juggle things evenly. It was a struggle to get through each day and before we knew it, the week would fly by. The biggest problem? We were putting our marriage on the shelf during those times. You’ve probably heard this over and over: put yourselves on the calendar. Ink in that date night. Because if you don’t, you’ll find life getting in the way and the two of you drifting apart.

Shake up your routine. Do something new together. Do something different. But for crying out loud, carve out that sacred time for just the two of you.

Gratitude, the Divorce Antidote

My spouse drives me completely up the wall when we are late for an event. It’s so, so, so easy for me to fly off the handle and berate him to change. Here’s the thing, you can’t be mad and grateful at the same time. So choose gratitude.

When the two of us went to counseling years ago, the counselor listened to me fire off a list of things that I was disgruntled with in my spouse. She looked me in the eye and asked me what I was grateful for. What was working right? What did I like/love about my spouse? I was focusing so much on what was wrong, that I couldn’t see what was going right. So I thought about what I liked best in my spouse with gratitude and the feelings shifted. What a lesson to learn. Shift the focus to what is good in your marriage. After all, the two of you really liked the heck out of each other in the beginning. Focus with gratitude on what you have together that’s going well in your lives.

karen and joe

Love, Baby, Love

Remember that excited, hot, “oh-m-gosh-I-can’t-take-my-hands-off-of-you” feeling in the beginning? I can remember it, I just can’t recreate it physically after 25 years. BUT, it has been replaced with a different kind of love, one that is just as nice. It’s a love that sustains. It’s the “I’ve married my best friend and I want this to go on ’til the end of our lives” feeling.

 

This post first appeared on Ricky Martin’s Piccolo Universe.

Want some more lessons? Outside the Wake 

Sunsets, Synchronicity, and Beaches

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The graffiti threw us for a loop as we drove closer and closer to our hotel on Venice Beach. Joe and I expressed some apprehension about the area. I had picked the Venice Beach Suites out of the blue–the ratings were good, the price was reasonable, and the hotel was on a beach known for great sunsets.  For our 25th anniversary, we wanted to watch a sunset on the beach. From a quick look around, we discovered it was also known for a “high” lifestyle.  We debated whether to move to a hotel in Santa Monica. After some discussion, we decided to stay.

“There must be a reason why we ended up here,” I said.

Why in the world had my intuition lead me to pick this hotel? I had reviewed several hotels, received recommendations for Santa Monica hotels from friends–and here we were–in an area more suited for the casual, freewheeling lifestyle.

“It’s getting late,” Joe said. “Let’s make the best of it.”

The 100-year old hotel was charming. The staff was friendly and welcoming. After we unloaded our luggage, we took off to explore the ocean walk. The energy was high (pun intended, as it truly was high, based on the marihuana we smelled here and there.) and color and movement were everywhere. A young man came bounding up, complimented me on how “fine” I looked and attempted to sell me a CD. The sun was beginning to lower, so Joe and I grabbed some beach chairs from the hotel and took off to watch the sunset.

It was beautiful.

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Just as the last of the light began to fade, a man walked up to us.

“Hi! I’m sorry to bother you but I saw you taking pictures and I don’t have my phone with me. I wonder if you could send me some?”

We were happy to share the photos. Francis was a psychotherapist from Boston. He was out visiting friends. Spirituality, theology, and yoga came up in conversation. We told him we were celebrating our upcoming 25th anniversary.

When we arrived back at the hotel, we returned the beach chairs and struck up a conversation with Matt, the hotel manager. He gave us some history and showed us pictures of the renovation. Just as we were about to head up to our room, a woman breezed in. As she put down her luggage, I spied a bright blue bag with the words, “I Can Do It.”

“Were you at the Wayne Dyer event in Pasadena Friday night?” I asked.

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“I was! I think I saw you there!” she said.

Beverly came from London to attend the weekend event to explore her purpose and future. It was the perfect time for her, as she was no longer working and she was seeking clarity and meaning for her next step. We laughed at the synchronicity that brought us all to the same place. After all, what are the chances of three people among 3000 attendees ending up at the same hotel miles away from the event, at the exact same moment, with one arriving and the other leaving?

Wayne Dyer talks about moments of synchronicity in his new book, which is part memoir, “I Can See Clearly Now:”

“If it excites you, the very presence of that inner excitement is all the evidence you need to remind you that you’re aligned with your true essence. When you are following your bliss, you are most amenable to receiving guidance from the spiritual realm. This is called synchronicity a state in which you almost feel as if you are in a collaborative arrangement with fate.”

When we arrived back into our room, a text from Francis popped up. As I read his text, suddenly all the dots of the journey connected. He sent us a beautiful poem about marriage:

A Blessing For Marriage

As spring unfolds the dream of the earth,

May you bring each other’s hearts to birth.

As the ocean finds calm in view of land,

May you love the gaze of each other’s mind.

As the wind arises free and wild,

May nothing negative control your lives.

As kindly as moonlight might search the dark,

So gentle may you be when light grows scarce.

As surprised as the silence that music opens,

May your words for each other be touched with reverence.

As warmly as the air draws in the light,

May you welcome each other’s every gift.

As elegant as dream absorbing the night,

May sleep find you clear of anger and hurt.

As twilight harvests all the day’s color,

May love bring you home to each other.

– John O’Donohue

Every day, I’m learning to trust God on this journey of life and to believe that each step of the path is exactly where I’m supposed to be.

sailboat in sunset on venice beach

Authors Counsel Parents with Special Needs Children.

The author, Tina Calabro shared her own journey of handling the bumps in marriage after son was born. She also highlighted an excellent book: Married with Special Needs Children written by Laura E. Marshak and Fran P. Prezant.

Tina and her husband were married six years when their son Mark was born. Her uterus ruptured during the birth and Mark had APGAR scores of 0,2 and 4 and was put on a breathing machine. Mark had an injury to the basal ganglia of his brain and was diagnosed with athetoid cerebral palsy.

"My husband and I were very much in sync around the time of Mark's birth," said Tina. "We were stunned and overwhelmed by what had happened. We cried together and even found ways to laugh together from time to time, even though our situation was unbelievably serious."

Tina shared more:

But we started to have conflict when Mark's situation had stabilized and I began to shift into gear to get him every early intervention support possible. I was driven to do as much as I can to mitigate Mark's serious developmental delays. My husband had a more wait-and-see attitude. "Maybe he won't need all this," he used to tell me. I would just think "are you crazy?" and keep rounding up services. It was so obvious to me that Mark was going to have serious impairment. I felt that I was doing the right thing by plunging ahead, even though my drive to do so was creating a rift between me and Dave.

After about two or three years, the rift had become bigger. Over time, I had become the "expert" on Mark's condition. Dave was a loving father to Mark, but I had assumed this managerial role in regard to the condition. So I guess you could say that I placed myself as a sort of supervisor of my husband's care of our son. Not that I enjoyed that position. I used to wish that Dave could be as driven as I about Mark's therapies. etc.

 

Tina began to fear that her marriage was headed for divorce. Frustration was escalating between them and they couldn't see eye-to-eye on Mark's care. She sought out counseling with Dr. Laura Marshak and began to explore the reasons why the marriage was unraveling.

"At the time, I felt that Dave and I were headed for divorce because we couldn't get on the same page," Tina recalled. "I was frustrated with him, and I'm sure he was frustrated with me. That's when Laura (Dr. Marshak) said something that turned me completely around. She said, instead of essentially getting rid of Dave (not really 'Dave,' but really the frustration), how about trying to teach him WHY I do the things I do. Teach him the reasoning behind it, etc. Laura told me that from what she was hearing about Dave that he could be trained, so to speak."

At first, Tina recoiled at the suggestion. "I had enough to do without also teaching my husband on the intricacies of our son's condition," she said. "But, upon further thought, I realized that Laura was right. If Dave learned the 'why' of what I was doing, he might come on board."

Counseling helped Tina to communicate with Dave and the two of them began to shift their perspectives and division of care for their son. Dave became fully involved with his son's care and began to specialize in taking care of Mark's technological needs.

Today, Mark is an honor roll student who attends his local elementary school powering along in his wheelchair and using a communication device to connect with the students and teachers.

As for Tina and Dave, they're still together.

Says Tina, "We're celebrating our 20th anniversary this year!"

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One Family Beats the Divorce Odds


While I was doing research for my Disaboom article on marriage, I came across Tina Calabro’s story in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

Authors Counsel Parents with Special Needs Children.

The author, Tina Calabro shared her own journey of handling the bumps in marriage after son was born. She also highlighted an excellent book: Married with Special Needs Children written by Laura E. Marshak and Fran P. Prezant.

Tina and her husband were married six years when their son Mark was born. Her uterus ruptured during the birth and Mark had APGAR scores of 0,2 and 4 and was put on a breathing machine. Mark had an injury to the basal ganglia of his brain and was diagnosed with athetoid cerebral palsy.

“My husband and I were very much in sync around the time of Mark’s birth,” said Tina. “We were stunned and overwhelmed by what had happened. We cried together and even found ways to laugh together from time to time, even though our situation was unbelievably serious.”

Tina shared more:

But we started to have conflict when Mark’s situation had stabilized and I began to shift into gear to get him every early intervention support possible. I was driven to do as much as I can to mitigate Mark’s serious developmental delays. My husband had a more wait-and-see attitude. “Maybe he won’t need all this,” he used to tell me. I would just think “are you crazy?” and keep rounding up services. It was so obvious to me that Mark was going to have serious impairment. I felt that I was doing the right thing by plunging ahead, even though my drive to do so was creating a rift between me and Dave.

After about two or three years, the rift had become bigger. Over time, I had become the “expert” on Mark’s condition. Dave was a loving father to Mark, but I had assumed this managerial role in regard to the condition. So I guess you could say that I placed myself as a sort of supervisor of my husband’s care of our son. Not that I enjoyed that position. I used to wish that Dave could be as driven as I about Mark’s therapies. etc.

 

Tina began to fear that her marriage was headed for divorce. Frustration was escalating between them and they couldn’t see eye-to-eye on Mark’s care. She sought out counseling with Dr. Laura Marshak and began to explore the reasons why the marriage was unraveling.

“At the time, I felt that Dave and I were headed for divorce because we couldn’t get on the same page,” Tina recalled. “I was frustrated with him, and I’m sure he was frustrated with me. That’s when Laura (Dr. Marshak) said something that turned me completely around. She said, instead of essentially getting rid of Dave (not really ‘Dave,’ but really the frustration), how about trying to teach him WHY I do the things I do. Teach him the reasoning behind it, etc. Laura told me that from what she was hearing about Dave that he could be trained, so to speak.”

At first, Tina recoiled at the suggestion. “I had enough to do without also teaching my husband on the intricacies of our son’s condition,” she said. “But, upon further thought, I realized that Laura was right. If Dave learned the ‘why’ of what I was doing, he might come on board.”

Counseling helped Tina to communicate with Dave and the two of them began to shift their perspectives and division of care for their son. Dave became fully involved with his son’s care and began to specialize in taking care of Mark’s technological needs.

Today, Mark is an honor roll student who attends his local elementary school powering along in his wheelchair and using a communication device to connect with the students and teachers.

As for Tina and Dave, they’re still together.

Says Tina, “We’re celebrating our 20th anniversary this year!”