As the date to our vow renewal quickly approaches, I look back over the 23 years of our relationship and all the things we have accomplished together. My emotions overwhelm me! It is now that I truly understand why the length of our marriage amazes both singles and married couples alike. They’re always fascinated and want to know our secret.

My husband and I met in 1995, while we were both attending at Newton Co. High School. After dating for a little over two years, we were married May 16, 1997. Many people felt we were too young but we didn’t care. We set out to conquer the Navy, societal and ancestral curses, and most importantly, love. Despite the overwhelming odds, we both subscribed to the same concept of “love was all we needed to succeed” because we both knew true love could endure all!

1. We learned all too quickly, that a good marriage just doesn’t happen overnight.

To have a blossoming marriage you have to work in it just like a garden. And like a garden, which requires time, attention, patience, nurturing and love, your marriage requires these basic fundamentals and so much more to produce a valley of tulips.

We are definitely not relationship experts. However, we will share a few things we have learned over the years (sometimes the hard way) and wish someone would have shared with us prior to and during our union.

2. Never Stop Dating.

Keep your relationship alive, fun and spontaneous. This is very important since you never know when you will be apart from one another and for how long. So you have to take advantage of every moment together. With things as simple as a cup of coffee, a card game, working out together, to take trip on a four day.

3. Fights Don’t Equal Deal Breakers.

Arguing is normal couple behavior; no one is perfect. Today’s couples are too quick to throw in the towel when things don’t go their way. You have to learn to fight fair. Agree that walking away is OK or decide on a code word. So when you can’t come to an agreement this method will allow you to put the discussion on hold and return to it later at an agreed upon time.

4. Be Supportive.

Non-active spouse: Do not argue about the military’s day-to-day order. I can promise, your spouse does not want to be deployed from family, work crazy hours and have special collateral assignments. Active duty spouse: Understanding and compassion goes a long way. Remember your spouse has changed his/her life every two to four years to follow you as you serve because he/she loves you.

5. Know Your Branch.

Be educated about the military community your spouse service. This knowledge will provide you with the tools to be a successful military family. You will understand the rules and regulations required of your family. You will know how to assist, be supportive, be understanding and have compassion during times of stress.

6. Get Involved.

Everyday there is a new person. You are a part of this big military community now. Whenever possible participate in command events, join different spousal groups, mentor a young or new spouse, and if you find yourself at a duty station where jobs are few, volunteer your skills with one or many of the organizations on base. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.

7. Take Full Accountability for Your Own Emotions and Actions.

No one can push your buttons like the people you love. So when your spouse makes you mad or hurts your feeling don’t be so quick to blame them because you are sensitive to certain triggers. Search to understand your triggers and work on controlling your emotions.

8. Forgive Immediately.

I know this is easier said, but don’t carry around old weight. When your spouse does something wrong whether on purpose or by accident, say how their action made you feel and forgive them. Forgiveness is essential to a healthy marriage. Never let the sun go down on you holding negative feeling toward your spouse.

9. Be ready and willing to make sacrifices to the marriage you dedicated yourselves to on your wedding day.

Marriage is like a roller coaster ride, there will be some peaks and some valleys, some fast drops and some unexpected flips. But if you both are “in it to win it” hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

10. It’s simple. Your marriage consists of two people becoming one.

No one else is to break the covenant of marriage.

11. This should have been No. 1: Realizing that everyone has their own communication style.

The sooner you understand your spouse the better. Create a mission statement or a vision for your marriage. This way you can be on the same page about your goals, values and plans for your life together. Have an open dialog with your spouse. Assume nothing, always give detailed instruction. Be aware of the best time to have a deep conversation. If something your spouse does that bother you for example leaving the toilet seat up, discuss it right away. Also remember to always answer each other’s calls and texts, even if it is with “can’t talk right now” but make it a priority to call back.

12. Share Errands/Household Chores.

Avoid taking each other for granted. When a mate feels grateful, and appreciated, there will naturally be peace in the house. Create a plan where all family members can help the home to run smoothly. Where there is balance and organization there is less stress and more time to enjoy each other.

13. Be in Sync.

Sharing calendar with your family will avoid scheduling conflicts. Your husband will remember the kid’s games, and you will not schedule a family event the morning after duty. Being in sync can even cover the small things like: Your spouse is in a meeting so I won’t call right now, or you can see that he/she will be home late for dinner.

14. Keep It Sexy.

Nagging and complaining isn’t sexy. Do not get so wrapped up in the day to day that you forget the importance of sexual chemistry. Remember a time when you couldn’t keep you’re your hands off each other, live in that space. Ladies, men are visual creatures so keep him interested in the fantasy of you. Men, women are emotional creatures so we take a little be more work, so kiss daily, more compliments, show some gratitude and don’t forget the foreplay; it keeps the passion alive.

15. Have Your Own Thing.

Is OK to go solo. A little “Me Time” not only allows you to grow as an individual but it will improve the quality of your marriage. Having your own space allows you to take responsibility for your own happiness.

16. Don’t Be Afraid of Marital Counseling.

Counseling can be a beneficial to your marriage. When you notice that your relationship is not growing or it has become negative, then you should seek counseling sooner than later. Cars need tune-ups; so do marriages.

17. Don’t Be Afraid to Reinvent Yourself.

We all had dreams and goals before we got married to our spouse. Unfortunately, sometime our dreams have to take a back seat to the mission. That doesn’t mean that you cannot achieve them, the path taken to get to there might be a little different than what you had planned. So, when the mission is front and center, find another way to better yourself and your family until you can move forward with your goals.

18. Be Ready for Homecoming.

Deployments are a major event in military families. Everyone are so excited when their service member is returning home to us. The house is all clean, favorite meal is prepared, you have made banners, balloons and flowers.  And all is right upon their reunion with family. And then it happens. The transition period occurs, the excitement wears off and home life becomes uneasy. Patience will be important during this time. Allow a few weeks for a re-adjustment period. Continue with daily routines and allow your service member to ease back into their roles. Don’t over-schedule during this time and ensure that you plan family time together, this will help everyone get back into the rhythm of things.

Finances are an important part of a marriage. An understanding of your finances and a budget will go a long way. As a military household, income will fluctuate between dual and single income. Planning your household expenses according to only the service member’s income may reduce financial stress.  And during the times when your household has a dual income, treat it as a bonus.

19. Parenting as a Team.

Keep open lines of communication. Discuss how you will raise your kids so you will be on the same page. Always keep a united front. Make sure that your kids understand the military and how it will affect your family. Plan ahead, and be very involved when on the home front. Once you know a deployment or a PCS date is approaching, pre-plan and involve the kids. The sooner the better.

20. Love Unconditionally

In my opinion unconditional love is not a feeing but is an action. It is a choice to love one another as who they truly are. The choice to love like this is done daily and you should always be striving for the well-being of another before yourself.

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