In just a few weeks, I'll have been married 25 years. That's 25 Christmases, the death of one parent, the deaths of friends, the birth of three kids, job transitions, six months of marriage counseling, the purchase of four homes, four transatlantic moves -- and so much more.
My husband and I have traveled a long road since January 1991, when we eloped on a whim, getting hitched in a dingy attorney's office in Antigua, Guatemala, much to my mother's dismay. I was 27 and my husband was 24 -- only four years older than our firstborn child is now. The ceremony lasted all of five minutes and was in Spanish, which meant my fluent husband had to gently poke my side every time I was supposed to say "Sí" instead of "I do." It may not have been elaborate but, to me, it was perfect. In the throes of what researchers consider the honeymoon phase, I was pretty sure I was getting the better end of the relationship stick -- and was just relieved he didn't seem to notice. My new spouse was smart, adventurous and loved writing as much as I did. We couldn't have been happier. Over the next several years, we traveled to dozens of countries as foreign correspondents, started a family, garnered many fabulous friends -- and also suffered through the loss of my mother.
Although my husband is anything but mushy, for years we never failed to celebrate our anniversary with all the romantic flair befitting a young couple very much in tune with one another. There was the year my husband surprised me with a package of six ballroom dancing lessons, a staggeringly sweet gesture from a man who, once released from the awkward rituals of dating, seemed determined never to set foot near a dance floor again. I also remember the time he gave me sexy lingerie when I was very pregnant. I hadn't said anything, but he somehow knew it was exactly what I needed to receive at that particular moment.
But as the years wore on, the stress of raising three children while holding down two full-time jobs started to take a toll, and I began to wonder how two people stay together forever, blissfully entwined. The passion-fueled honeymoon phase does, of course, have a shelf life and in time, many marriages -- mine included -- seem to take on a more business-like persona. The twice-a-year weekends away we used to enjoy as a couple have become something of a distant memory. When was the last time I surprised my husband with a special date night out? I honestly can't remember.
Looking back, I realize that somewhere along the way, that steamy kiss we used to greet each other with at the end of a long day had morphed into a chaste peck on the cheek that had -- in recent years -- morphed into barely a glance up from the computer screen. I realize I've stopped saying thank you for the little things my husband does for me each day. I've started taking my husband for granted. And that's the worst thing you can do in a longtime marriage.
In 2013, Ben Affleck famously mentioned his marriage in his acceptance speech for the best picture Oscar for "Argo." Looking out at his wife Jennifer Garner -- from whom he's now split -- he said, "I want to thank you for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases. It's good. It is work, but it's the best kind of work. And there's no one I'd rather work with!"
Affleck drew criticism from some corners for saying marriage is "work." For example, Huff/Post50 blogger Ronna Benjamin, who's been married 31 years, wrote that marriages should "just kind of flow," adding that if people have to work hard at their marriage, there must be something wrong.
I disagree. Although his marriage didn't work out, I think Affleck may have been onto something. The truth is, building a successful marriage is a lifelong challenge -- and it does take work. My husband and I -- like so many other couples I know -- have in some ways started running our lives on parallel paths instead of in concert. With the explosion of social media, we no longer have to "talk" to check in; we can simply text. And text. And that's just not good.
In 2012, a survey of counseling professionals found that it's an emotional disconnect -- not a sexual one -- that pushes most people to have an affair. One party or the other grows bored in their relationship, and seeks the attention they're not getting at home. A husband or wife no longer feels sexy and so succumbs to anyone who pays them a bit of attention. But it doesn't have to be like that.
When asked what makes her decades-long relationship with Kurt Russell work, Goldie Hawn recently said that: "You both need to want it to work. If one person does not want it to work, it isn't going to work. Intention is the key."
And that's why, on my 25th wedding anniversary, I intend to take some time to really think about the things that brought my husband and me together in the first place. I will plan a weekend away. Maybe I'll even get him ballroom dancing lessons. I'll make an effort. Will we feel butterflies? Probably not. Will we reconnect? I hope so.
The truth is, the love I have for my husband is as great today, if not even greater, than it was 25 years ago. But as I've said before, complacency can be a potent force. My vow is not to let it overpower us.