Written by Chris Gersten
When my mother was eighty-five years old, long into her extended battle with Alzheimer’s, she shared some wonderful advice about what made her 52-year marriage to my dad so successful. On our ride from Denver through the Rockies, she told me that it was the “little things” that had made her marriage so rewarding. As we passed a seedy little roadside motel called the BlueBird outside Grand Lake Colorado, Mom recalled proudly that my Dad had taken her there twenty years earlier on their thirtieth anniversary. My parents never missed an opportunity to celebrate their marriage. Every month they went out to dinner for the monthly celebration of their marriage. My dad was a doctor and whenever he had a research paper published in a scholarly journal they went out for a cocktail. I recall my dad would save the martini olives and bring them home to me as I was the only one in the family of five kids who liked olives.
Mom was not known for her cooking. She would combine Campbell’s tomato soup with mushroom soup and think she had created a new culinary masterpiece. But my father would compliment her on every meal she cooked. He expressed special appreciation when she would burn a meal, which happened all too frequently. After dinner he would always clean up the dishes. I would help, but he did most of the cleaning.
As they aged, my parents always helped each other continue to feel good about their physical appearance. That was easy for my Dad as Mom was a beauty, even as she aged. My Dad was a slightly overweight little guy with a funny goatee. But every day when Dad came home for lunch Mom greeted him with “Hi Handsome.” I recall thinking that must have made him feel like a million dollars.
In recent years, I have tried hard to incorporate my mother’s thoughts into my own marriage. My 50th anniversary is coming up in June of 2017. An equally important day in my life was the day I met my future bride, Linda Chavez, on January 29, 1966. Next January 29 will be the 50th anniversary of our first meeting. My mother had served as a matchmaker and brought Linda to our home in Denver, ostensibly to get her to volunteer in a War on Poverty program that Mom was running. But the real reason was to introduce Linda to her 18 year-old son and insist that I drive her home.
So instead of waiting another year and a half to celebrate our 50th anniversary, I told my wife I was taking her on a second honeymoon on the 50th anniversary of our meeting. She was thrilled and thanked me for letting her know five months in advance so she could have something exciting to look forward to.
We don’t celebrate monthly as my folks did, but I remember every Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, birthday and Christmas. I am retired, but my wife continues to work over 50 hours every week so I have struggled to find little ways to make her life easier. I take her car to be washed and serviced. I find kitchen work dreary so I haven’t always cleaned up after dinner during my marriage. But, after many years I am finally almost there. I now understand that cleaning up means getting the dishes all the way into the dishwasher and leaving the kitchen counters clean. I have forced myself to layer on these responsibilities over time as I have come to realize that my wife has much more work and responsibility than I do. Sometimes an even division of labor in a marriage comes naturally and other times it must be worked on.
My wife is also focused on many little things that I need. She buys me fruit for my breakfast a few times a week. She makes all our travel arrangements from air fare to hotels to car rentals. She watches more TV than she wants to because she knows it is important to me. I don’t like to shop for clothes so Linda even buys me clothes when I start to look a little too much like Boulder’s homeless population.
Marriage is a marathon and not a sprint. When both partners understand the need to focus on the little things, the good will and caring that result become a central part of the relationship. It is easy and natural to be a loving spouse and still let your partner do a disproportionate amount of the work needed to run a household. It took me the better part of four decades to understand this. Now that I get it, the payoff in the quality of my relationship is immeasurable.