The most successful marriages in America have endured not because of some mysterious forces that are beyond our control. No, the most successful marriages have their foundations built on solid choices and values that have stood the test of time.
This account is the outcome of extensive voyages covering over 12,000 miles around the united states interviewing couples and lots of America’s finest marriages and happiest couples. The focus was on couples who had been married fortuitously for over forty years, and the secrets behind their successful marriages.
What revelations became apparent while observing these cohorts? What were some of the most impressive thoughts and insights that were discovered from them?
In this article, I’m going to reveal one concept that changed my attitude about the cardinal facets constituents of some of the most successful and long-lasting relationships. And that idea is that love isn’t just a feeling but an intentional positioning of ourselves with purpose and clarity.
How Giving Builds Long-lasting marriages
Marriage counselors portray love as a choice that we make on a daily basis, and one couple specifically stated that love is a 4-letter phrase spelled G-I-V-E. It’s all about open-hearted generosity, and it was a special marriage in which they literally gave themselves to each other.
Let me share with you a fascinating story about Ruthie and Dirk Dirksen.
They were married for forty-eight years. I still have vivid memories of this story. Ruthie narrated her story to a dear friend who was driving through the plains of Wyoming, as they watched buffalos strolling up the hills with her 85-year-old grandmother by her side.
She recounted an account of how she and Dirk, her husband, had this practice of giving to each other by concealing notes in the house.
She would write him notes, hide them in his sweaters and months would pass without him knowing. Then as winter returned with occasional windiness, he’d visit his drawer and pull out the sweaters, put it on and feel something scratchy. Curiously and methodically, he scrambles through the inner folds and pulls out a bit of paper, he opens it and reads the note that says, “thinking of you.”
Such simple display of love and affection left him awestruck as he utters, “oh guy, my spouse wrote me that note.” And so he’ll write a similar piece and conceal it among the beautiful china dinnerware and a few months will pass. While having a loving dinner together after a fun-filled outing, and while pulling out a plate from the china set, a piece of paper will flip to the ground and she’ll pick it up and find these affectionate words, “you’re stunning.”
These fun-filled affectionate exercises of little acts of love consisting of writing notes to each other continued throughout their marriage.
Learning From The School of Life Relationships
Some weeks earlier before Thanksgiving, Dirk was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis and his fitness began to decline fast to the point that he didn’t have much energy and could barely get off the bed.
So Ruthie was in the kitchen for Thanksgiving cooking some pumpkin pies, something she had done for many years, they both took out the tins’ lid and there on the floor were bits of papers. She picks them up and opens, inscribed in delicate letters were the hearty reminders, “you’re lovely.” She returns to the bedroom and finds Dirk lying on the mattress.
In learning from the school of life relationships, she curls up and snuggles behind him as she had done for many years. Their preferred sleeping posture was arm in arm, cuddling.
Three days later, Dirk passed away. On that fateful day, she changed into a fortress-like shield behind him, cuddling him the way they’d done for decades. Even as she began stroking his face and feeling his respiration diminishing, becoming softer, each cycle becoming milder. This brought on a torrent of reflections of what it felt like to have him in her hands, reminiscent of the past joyful moments, the last second she would have together with her husband before his respiration subsequently ceased.
She held him for about 15 minutes not wanting to let go just relishing the brief togetherness, devastated though, tears streaming down her face. How she feared the prospects of her life without Dirk, feeling like half of her had simply died along with him. She recalled that the ensuing months had been some of the toughest of her life.
As her hands caught a piece of paper, chills spiraled to her toes and with hands shaking, she pulls out the piece of paper, opens it up, and there, in shaky letters, are two words written that says, “love you.” With the last strength remaining in him, Dirk had struggled out of bed the previous few weeks of his existence and wrote this very last love note to Ruthie.
As her eyes filled with tears, she asserted these aren’t tears of pain, but of joy, in that those notes were like souvenirs that possessed different powers, that paved the way for a life of love and sharing. Though here she was, without the love of her life, nonetheless receiving inspiration from him via these love notes, were testimonies to his undying love and devotion.
How The School of Life Fortifies You
Though time passed so fast, the collective fifty-eight years spent with her late spouse has been a treasure of a lifetime. The fifty-eight years together were remarkable and irresistible, against the backdrop of the average lifespan of Americans being seventy-seven years.
We have an obligation hence to treasure and cherish this moment with health and longevity on our side. Since no man knows the full length of time we have to navigate through life successfully, no person is equally aware of what number of days can be given; we must realize that we have this day right here, right now, so let’s maximize the moment.
But in case you have been blessed enough to live 77 years, that would mean 77 summers, seventy-seven winters, 77 springs and falls, seventy-seven Christmas mornings and that’s it. So just cherish and maximize the moment.
Realizing the lessons learned from the school of life, it dawned on her that it’s not the massive things that matter, but way more often, it’s the little things, the small gestures of affection that make the most important difference. Whether you live up to 77 years or have been fortunate enough to have successfully navigated through the school of life relationships with an enduring marriage that lasted fifty-eight years, just be appreciative and maximize the moment with heartfelt giving with love.
Ruthie reached out and flashed an image of the “love you” note that Dirk wrote to her. And he said, “let this be a symbol of the love in your life that has become an integral part of you, to realize that you are loved and should always remember that you can make a difference in this world.” This words of encouragement to us is hinged on capturing the moment and seizing the daily opportunities and small moments in our lives to provide love to any man or woman.
So my encouragement to you is to do what’s paramount and expected of you, and even sometimes go the extra mile to let your loved ones know that you care. It might be a phone call, a letter or even just a simple touch, just let them know that they are appreciated.