Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Twenty Years

Twenty years ago today, I woke in a hotel room I was sharing with my parents in Manti, Utah. My mom helped me curl my hair and lent me a pair of pearl earrings. We drove to the temple, where we met Mark McGee. I changed into the beautiful dress my mom had sewn for me. Mark and I climbed a spiral staircase to a tower sealing room. The huge chandeliers shook as my Grandpa Benac performed the ceremony.

This morning I woke in bed next to my husband. I read the Book of Mormon with our six children. I sent our two teenagers out the door to school, then ushered out our two elementary schoolers. I kissed Mark good-bye as headed out to his job as a historian, a job that for many years we didn't know if he could get. I ran to the gym with our two little ones and came home to bustle around the house staunching at least a bit of the mess and chaos. One the fridge door, the fridge containing six gallons of milk, I found this:

Our marriage is far from perfect, definitely still a work in progress. Here are the lessons I've learned in our first twenty years:

Go to bed angry.
Who on earth keeps telling couples to never let the sun set on their anger? That person should be muzzled. Late at night when tempers flare and patience wane is the worst time to hash out problems. Suddenly people are saying things they don't even really mean, hurt feelings from eons past are being trotted out, and the issue at hand has gotten into a huge tangle. For heaven's sake, go to bed. In the morning, you'll wake with more humility and perspective. You'll say something like, "Hey, sorry things got tense last night. I just was trying to say..." And your spouse will say something like, "I can see what you're saying. I'm just concerned that..." And everything will be fine.

Deal with your spouse as they are, not as you wish them to be. 
You don't have to be married long to know all the sub-par elements of your souse's personality. But don't kick against the pricks, don't always be pushing your spouse to be what they are not. For example, Mark's pace is slower than mine. He talks slower, walks slower, gets out of the car slower. I've learned not to waste energy wishing him to be faster. It's futile, it's unkind, it leads to frustration--and it's ridiculous, since slowness is an integral part of the man I chose to marry.

Be loyal.
It seems to Mark and me that some couples split because they had been operating with a little escape hatch in the corner of their minds. Don't have even the shadow of an escape hatch. Of course, if things become dire, it'll appear. But until then, be totally committed to your marriage. Make it beyond question that you and your spouse will work out whatever challenges may come your way. Don't bad-mouth your spouse. Don't choose anyone else over your spouse, even in small matters.

Have a unified vision of the big picture...
Share a vision of the purpose of life and family and work together to build that vision. This big-picture vision is what holds you together through the slog of housework, money trouble, sickness, etc.

...but be okay with disagreeing on the little stuff. 
If you agree on the big stuff, you can let your spouse do their own thing on everything else. Don't worry about disagreeing on how to care for the lawn, how to administer time-outs, how to succeed at work. Part of being loyal to your spouse is trusting them to handle their own part of working toward your shared vision.

Go on dates.
We think it's invaluable to make time (and set aside the money) to leave the house together every week or so, to do something fun and indulgent and uninterrupted together. The older our kids get, the harder it is to have private conversations. The quality of our conversations on date is totally different than at home.

Take turns losing it.
Everyone has moments of impatience, pettiness, self-absorption, and freak-out. Things go so much better if you and your spouse don't have those moments at the same time. When you see your spouse losing it, give them space and support, then be the one to walk the high road for a spell. You can have your moment of weakness later.
On our anniversary trip to NYC last spring.

So here's the final installment in my series of 6-word love poems:

 Twenty years together. Eternity to come.


  1. Oh, this was invaluable to me. ESP the "slow" part. Ty is a sloth, I'm a cheetah. I can exhale now.

    Happy anniversary!

  2. so beautiful, Angela. Thank you so much for this.

  3. Happy Anniversary! This is a really lovely post. much love to you all from abu dhabi, xx steph

  4. Well congratulations to you two! You're a great example to me. I shall work on the one of those points that I struggle with the most.

  5. Thank you! Since we share your special day, I'm going to think of this post as an anniversary gift to mike and me. Here's to twenty more! And then twenty thousand more!

  6. This is fantastic. And so true. I especially agree about the going to bed angry part. "That person should be muzzled." Ha ha ha ha ha! Agreed!!!