I remember the day Barbie and Ken got married. It was a rainy day outside, and all of the invited stuffed animals, dolls, and even my brother’s action figures were in attendance. It was an eclectic group, but Barbie and Ken were popular so everyone came to celebrate their marriage. At the end of the day, they set up house in their Barbie dream home and lived happily ever after. It was as simple as that. 

Growing up, I wanted nothing more than to live that dream. Yes, I wanted to be the first female president and a country music singer too, but those were both secondary to wanting a strong and happy home life. When my parents, who had always been my ideal “I want to be like them”-couple got divorced, my dream of domestic happiness shattered into a million pieces. I was a teenager full of anger, frustration, and cynicism. I decided that true forever love just didn’t exist, and I was willing to settle for something less.
Enter Grandma and Grandpa.
Well, I say enter, but they had been there all along. As my anger cooled off, I was able to see them more clearly, analyze their relationship, and find new hope for love everlasting. These are the secrets to building a happy marriage that my grandparents taught me – mostly by example, and sometimes through words. (If you’d like to learn more about my grandparents, you can read the poem I wrote for my grandma when she got sick, the letter I wrote her when I found out she was dying, and my Q&A about family with Miranda.)
 
6 Keys to a Loving Marriage I Learned from my Grandparents. They were married just a few months shy of 50 years before my grandma passed away. This is what they taught me about love.

1) Laugh together.

Grandma and Grandpa were always laughing. You couldn’t really hear Grandpa, but you could see him chuckling, and Grandma had a robust laugh that filled the entire house. They were not afraid to laugh at themselves when they did something stupid which meant that there were no hurt feelings when the other person laughed along. They realized that having a happy home requires a little levity – and they were not afraid of finding it in any situation.

2) Take care of each other.

Grandma was primarily a homemaker, and Grandpa spent his whole life providing for her and their children. Now I’m not saying that a family has to be set up like this in order to be happy, but there are important lessons to be learned from how they lived their lives. Grandma didn’t make dinner and clean the house because she wanted to impress her neighbors; she did it because she loved her family and wanted her husband to be comfortable when he came home. Grandpa didn’t work long hours because he wanted to buy the next fancy thing; he did it because he loved his family and wanted his wife to be able to have the things she needed and some of the things she wanted. It’s all about motives. And when Grandpa retired, he had no qualms about helping out with the housework – taking over doing the dishes entirely, even though he really didn’t like doing them. Grandma and Grandpa were always more concerned about each other than anything else – and that’s the only way a marriage can work.

3) Give 110%.

I think this is one of the hardest, and it goes along with #2, but Grandma and Grandpa always placed the needs of one another above their own needs. Because they both did this, both of their needs were always met. It is absolutely necessary that both people in a relationship give 110% to make it work. It doesn’t work if both people give less, and it doesn’t even work if only one person gives less. Both people have to be entirely invested.

4) Learn about each other. 

People are incredibly complex and as they age, they continue to change and grow. It takes more than a lifetime to get to know someone completely, and in a happy marriage, both partners continue to learn about each other as time goes by. Grandma was so good at remembering the things she had learned over the years about Grandpa. She knew exactly how he liked his foods down to the brand of Cranberry juice. And Grandpa is continuing to learn about Grandma even now that she has passed away because of some of her writings that he has come across.

5)Make and share traditions, inside jokes, and memories.

Fifty years is a long time to spend together, and Grandma and Grandpa spent it building a complex web of memories, traditions, jokes, and to a certain extent, even a language. These traditions, jokes, and memories help fortify a marriage during hard times. When life slows down and bodies age, having happy memories to look back on and traditions to continue helps a marriage continue to grow.

6)Don’t abandon one another.

When Grandma was in her last week of this life, the hospice nurse told us it was so nice to see Grandpa being so attentive and loving to Grandma. She said she didn’t see that much. I asked her what she meant, and she said that usually the spouse gets angry at the person who is dying and that it is rare to see a spouse who unselfishly helps the dying person let go in those last hours of life. Grandpa held Grandma’s hand as she gradually passed from this life into the next, whispering that he loved her continually. I can understand why some people might begin distancing themselves as someone dies, but in that situation as in all others, my Grandpa was more concerned about my Grandma than he was about himself. Marriages are full of opportunities to walk away, but making a marriage work means not abandoning one another. The security that comes from knowing your spouse is in it for the long haul – no matter what – is the best gift you can give to your husband or wife.
My grandparents helped me overcome my cynicism about love, and their example taught me innumerable lessons about commitment, compassion, and compromise in a marriage. As a newlywed, I strive to have the type of marriage they had, and I believe everyone can benefit from their example.

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