My parents, Cindy and Leigh, have that uncommon, hard-to-believe, amazing marriage that, sadly, is the exception rather than the rule these days. Today, they celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary (!??!), and I can tell they’re still completely head-over-heels in love with each other. I know. It’s weird. I observe a lot of what has kept them together and happy all these years, but I defer to them on the “keys to a long-lasting relationship.” They probably know what they’re talking about.
Cindy: You have to have love with commitment. When we went to counseling with the minister who was going to marry us, he kept talking about commitment, and I was like, ‘What the heck—I love this person and that’s enough.’ But I realized couples who don’t truly have commitment end up failing. You need to know someone isn’t going to walk out on you when the going gets tough. When you have fights, you know they will do whatever it takes to work through it.
Leigh: You have to commit to compromising and being flexible. Things are always going to change. Your partner will change—they may get new friends, new hobbies. You have to accept that and keep your commitment to them.
Leigh: I think it helps to come from similar backgrounds—family, economic, social. If you have a big difference there, it can be hard to overcome because your background has programmed the way you think. Cindy and I are both from hard-working, conservative, middle-class families.
(Editors/Daughter’s note: these two are the most UN-conservative parents around, so I’m not sure what happened.)
Cindy: Sense of humor is so important. We make fun of each other all the time. And if things get too heavy, we can make a joke. That’s the number one thing I was trying to find in someone—someone with the same sense of humor as me. I had almost given up. I remember telling my mother that I couldn’t find anyone and two weeks later, I met Leigh.
Leigh: You have to have genuine respect for the person, their profession and the way they live their life. Sometimes when men are the breadwinners, they don’t fully respect their partner’s profession because they think theirs is more important. That leads to problems.
Cindy: It’s so cliché, but communication is so important. Share when you’re upset about something right away. Don’t let it fester. And once you really get to know someone, you’ll know when something is bothering them. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Common Goals/Individual Interests
Leigh: Whether they’re about finances or raising children or even just travel, your goals need to be in line. Cindy and I don’t do some things together, like skiing, but we still enjoy a lot of the same things, too, like traveling. And we’ve almost always been in agreement about how we wanted to raise our kids and manage money.
Cindy: Leigh started skiing and I wasn’t into it, and that’s fine. I have a lot of other hobbies and activities that he wants nothing to do with. [Laughs]. If he wants to go skiing out West, he goes with his friends. If I want to go on a weeklong vacation with my girlfriends, I go. Some people fear if they have all these separate things, the marriage has problems, but it’s healthy. You’re a couple, but you still need to be an individual. Plus you have more to talk about if you do things outside of your marriage. If you do everything together, what do you talk about? You were both there.
Don’t Rush Babies
Leigh: Couples need to have stability before they have kids. Yes, financially, but also a stable relationship. Some people have kids thinking it’s going to solve their problems.
Cindy: You really need to become a couple before you put kids in the mix. Marriage is work—you have to learn how you work together as a couple. Leigh and I were married five years before we had kids. I don’t know that we would have worked had we had kids right away. [Laughs] You need to have fun together, take trips just the two of you. Once you have kids, you’re committed to them.
Keep The Flame Burnin’
Cindy: It’s hard to make time for romance when you have children. Or even for two people that work a lot. But you have to make time. Leigh and I would schedule dates—people at work would make fun of me for it. We’d drop the kids off at grandparents’ and sometimes even just have dinner at home if we didn’t want to spend money. I see young couples today that just don’t make the time.
Cindy: Keep yourself in good shape, not only for you, but for the other person. You don’t want to get all content and fat and happy. So many people say they stray because they’re not attracted to their partner anymore.
Leigh: I don’t know what would happen if Cindy wasn’t still attractive. Things did get a little weird when she chopped all her hair off in the ‘80s. [Laughs]
Cindy: You have to realize how someone expresses love. Leigh isn’t as verbal as me, so sometimes at the beginning, I would think that he didn’t love me or care that much because he wouldn’t say it. But I realized that he shows it by taking care of everything, taking care of the family. But the other day, we had this really intense conversation about something that had been bothering him. He left the house and when he came back, he just came up to me and said, ‘I love you.’ It meant the world to me, even after all these years.
This article was originally published on DateNightMag.com in August 2011.