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Happy anniversary!” she said as she threw a gift to (at) me while I laid in bed watching television. My wife had waited until midnight on our anniversary just to make absolutely certain that I had forgotten our special day.

You’ve seen it in a movie or on television- someone has forgotten their wedding anniversary (ALWAYS the husband) and at the last minute they try to save face and come up with some gift or at least a sorry excuse to get out of it. Well, my wife had obviously seen those shows, too - and she vindictively made sure I had no chance whatsoever. As the clock struck midnight, the day had come and gone and I was officially THAT husband.

Was she angry and hurt? Absolutely, and justifiably so! Did I feel awful? You bet. Was our relationship um… tense for a while? Oh, you better believe it. Listen, in over 25 years of marriage, we have hurt each other in far worse ways. We have left scars. We laugh about The Forgotten Anniversary now, but we have done some things to each other that are absolutely not funny. Heck, we have both done things that many people these days would say are easily divorce-worthy.

But we are still together and happy and closer than ever. Our relationship has been strengthened by working through those hard, sometimes heartbreaking difficulties. We’ve bent but have never broken.

You see, from Day 1, we agreed that the “D word,” divorce, was not an option. It just wasn’t ever on the table.

We know we are not alone in our struggles. Have you ever thought any of the following in your marriage?

  • This used to be fun. It isn’t fun anymore.
  • We’ve just grown apart, simple as that.
  • I just don’t feel it anymore.
  • The romance, the warm, fuzzy feeling is gone.
  • I wish my husband/wife was more like _______.
  • I fell in love but now I’ve fallen out of it.
  • Marriage just isn’t what I expected or hoped it would be.
  • Maybe we both would be happier starting over with other people.

I’ll be honest – at some point I have thought ALL of those thoughts. I’m pretty sure my wife has also. (I’m too afraid to ask and confirm it. Why stir the pot, right?) Yet we have hung in there for 25 years, sometimes just surviving, other times thriving. How do we do it? Have we cracked the "marriage code?" Are we special? Nope.

We survived because we both agreed that divorce was never going to be an option. It just wasn’t ever even a consideration. We wouldn’t let it happen.

So... that just leaves a lot of intentional, hard work:

  • Learning how to manage conflict and how to communicate.
  • Learning to say things like “Sorry” and “I forgive you.”
  • Learning that love is an action, not a feeling.
  • Having friends that are for your marriage.
  • Having older couples as mentors.
  • Not keeping score and not looking to “even” it.

So many marriages are built on a wishbone. I wish he was different, I wish our marriage was more fun, I wish she would change, I wish I still felt that romance. I wish, I wish, I wish. But there is no "marital wishbone." Wishbones won’t support you, especially during the hard times.  

Instead, you need a "marital backbone." Backbone means, I understand no marriage is perfect and no person is perfect, even me. Backbone means we will keep working at it, get help, hang in there and have the hard conversations. It remembers that we made promises to each other. Most of all, marital backbone means doing the loving thing - even when we absolutely don’t feel like it.

(Yes, even when he forgets your anniversary.)

Marriage can be hard work. But what if you put your backbone into it?

By John Daum

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