In just over a week, my husband and I will celebrate 25 years of marriage. The length of my marriage was illuminated for me a few weekends ago after we dressed up to go to an event in Lexington where couples could have their pictures taken. As I walked through the living room a few days later, holding the new picture and trying to decide if it was frame worthy, a similarly posed photo of us caught my eye. I stood and compared the pictures taken so many years apart and it was clear that a whole lot of living had taken place between these snapshots.

We were innocent and expectant in the earlier shot. The most recent one found us with less and grayer hair, more pounds, and of course the inevitable wrinkle or two. Friends and especially young people often ask us to share the secret to a long relationship. I find myself unable to pinpoint a secret but, I do have some insight.

Most people I know who have managed a good number of years as partners point to trust as an integral part of a long-term relationship. I cringe as I listen to folks in my daily life recount looking through the phones of those they love to see if they are having conversations with other potential partners. I also observe people who seem over focused on their appearance or how much money they make in order to make themselves attractive mates.

While working on yourself or having ambition is good, I am sure it will not make you worthy of love. If someone wants to leave a relationship there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop them. You may be able to extend the length of the relationship for a while, but ultimately the old cliché about setting what you love free is rooted in some deep truth. The fire of new love is fleeting. Enjoy it and if it endures, let it be enhanced by the joy of truly knowing and being known by a long-term partner. Trying to make love happen only chokes it. In my experience, being loved is a gift, but it ceases to be a gift when you buy it and attempt to make someone else give it to you.

I have found that  we talk about our partners in our head and out loud is predictive of whether love will last. Thinking or saying “He’s late for supper again because he’s married to his job” is a much different account of reality than, “He’s late for supper again because he is working hard for our family.” What we repeatedly tell ourselves about our partners can make a real difference in how we perceive them. Negative self-talk eventually turns into resentment and hurtful words. The practice of giving one another the benefit of the doubt is a deposit in the relational bank of grace. If you make frequent deposits, chances are withdrawals will be available when you need them and we all need them.

And then there is fun. Couples don’t always agree on what activities constitute fun. It is OK and often necessary to have fun separately as well as together. We fell in love with a person who was separate from us and continuing to be individuals enhances the time we spend together. Sometimes laughing to keep from crying is the only thing that gets us through difficult times. Being fun to be around and engaging in playful behavior keeps our primary connection just as alive as it was so many years ago when it was just a joy to be in one another’s presence.

Once children are in the mix it becomes challenging to find time alone, but the season of co-parenting can be fun as we see the world through our children’s eyes. Watching our children grow and become adults has caused us, like many couples, to rediscover the fun of exploring, laughing and just being a couple once again.

And last but not least, there is the matter of reciprocity. We should love our children unconditionally, but marriages are based on give and take between grown-ups. The checkbooks of our relationships cannot be balanced daily. Many days of the last 25 years I have given more than I have gotten and most days I get more than I give. Sometimes an perpetually unbalanced checkbook means that one needs to move on to a more fulfilling relationship, but oftentimes in my marriage it has meant that my husband and I need to practice more trust, work harder to give one another the benefit of the doubt, and be more intentional about just having fun.

The only thing I am absolutely sure of is that marriage, even though it requires work, is a worthwhile process. I have a partner who I can count on to weather life’s storms and share life’s joys. No secrets to share, only insights from the journey. I bought a new frame and decided that 25 years looks good on us.

Jo DeLosSantos is an amateur gardener, people watcher, and community college professor who lives in Davidson County. Contact her at