10 Lessons Learned From Climbing The Marriage Mountain

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Last month, my husband and I celebrated 30 years of marriage by hiking the Dolomites in Italy with Backroads. It was the most spectacular trip I have ever taken. While both mentally and physically challenging, it also helped mend my soul after a year of heartbreak. We were led by two young Italian guides who not only taught me to enjoy the beauty and history of the mountains, but gave me the greatest lesson of all – living in the moment and enjoying the journey is far better than waiting for the destination.

Our guides, along with my fellow travelers, inspired me to examine my marriage and think about where I have been and where I am going. My guy and I have climbed the marriage mountain, been bruised and battered. We have fallen and gotten back up again…together. Life lessons. Love lessons. Here are some of mine:

  1. Take a chance. I fell in love with my husband because he could play the guitar and sing. I was young and he was cute. Silly reasons to get married, I concur, but my heart must have known there was more. He still plays the guitar and I would like to think that we fell in love over music. Sometimes we need to shut down our expectations and just go with our hearts.
  2. Don’t be an asshole. There is no better way to say it. Sometimes being a jerk just happens. Work, life, hormones — things get in the way. On the first night of our trip, I introduced us as “celebrating 30 years, 25 of which were great.”  While meant to be funny, it also has great truth. Even though it isn’t always rosy, it’s important to try and be a better person to your person.

  3. Respect your partner’s family. We were young when we got married. We spent a lot of time with our friends. I thought I had all the time in the world to be with my in-laws and all of my husband’s cousins and sibling. We lived far away and they came second to my social life. Years and many losses later, his family’s love saved me and made me feel like I belong. You can never get back lost time.
  4. Make the most of your own family, if you can. I didn’t get the opportunity of endless time with my own family because my father died young, and my brother’s mental illness prevented any normal relationship. My nuclear family exploded. Luckily, I have a do-over with my own children. And it’s all because of a husband whose priority has always been family over everything.
  5. Invite people into your home and your life. “I like coffee and maybe three people,” is on a t-shirt somewhere. That could have been written by me before taking my vows. Growing up in a complicated family meant I was either over-trusting of the wrong kind of people or very distrustful. Being in a solid relationship has allowed me to open my home and my heart to good people who are appreciative, loving and now my extended family.  Hosting dinners, holidays or even just a stop over for a “drink and take-out” kind of night can fill a home with expansive love.

  6. Setbacks are part of the package. Marriage and life can be difficult. If you are together long enough, there will be tough times. Sometimes it can be financial, other times emotional. Raising children can be hard and growing old brings new challenges. I came from a “bury my head in the sand, walk away and not make things work” environment. Marriage to a good person has taught me to be the opposite. Facing challenges together is a powerful combatant to the darkest of times.
  7. Lean on me, when you’re not strong. Growing up in a house with a sibling who took up all the space, I assumed that it was me against the world. There is a newspaper clipping from when I was ten years old in which I am lacing up ice skates in a corner alone. The caption read something like this “a group of girls get ready for their lesson while Mary Goldstein struggles on her own.” I have learned that not hiding in the corner, but sharing, discussing and solving problems together is a much better way to live.
  8. Make children a priority. There is no greater gift to a marriage than children. I was lucky enough to have two beautiful girls who have grown into independent and successful young adults. Just because the nest is empty now, doesn’t stop my husband and me from spending time with them on a regular basis. I believe that our immense love for these humans has strengthened our marriage bond over the years.
  9. Don’t try to be better than anyone else. Some will say their marriage is perfect. Others will tell you they have sex every day. Many imply that they are better parents, cooks, soccer coaches, etc. One thing that a long-term relationship with my husband has taught me is that they are all lying. Everyone has their own struggles. I can’t be better than another couple because I don’t want to be. Make peace with where you are.

  10. Love over everything. In the end it is simply about how much you loved and how much you were loved. No amount of material crap can equal the power of being loved by someone else. After my father died, my mother remarried a man whom I have become close to after her death. His heart is broken because he said they were perfect together. That perfection came out of only one place – his love for her.

Huey Lewis says it best, “Don’t need a credit card to ride this train. It’s strong and it’s sudden and it’s cruel sometimes, but it might just save your life. That’s the power of love.”

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