1. You learn that just ‘being in love’ is not enough to make it last. You saw your parents go through moves, mortgages, the loss of parents and other family members, illnesses, stressful jobs or job losses, insecurities, financial struggles, and a million other difficult things as you were growing up. And you learned that it wasn’t just ‘being in love’ that got them through it all; it was their loyalty, their encouragement, and their undying support for one another that got them through to the other side every single time.
2. You learn that even the most stable relationships go through a lot of good phases and hard phases. Your parents weren’t always head-over-heels for each other. There were plenty of times when they were frustrated with one another, unhappy with one another, or slightly disconnected to one another. But as unsteady and uncomfortable as that may have felt, they were always focused on the same thing: working their way back to each other.
3. You learn that there’s a big difference between infatuation and lasting love. Infatuation can be thrilling, addictive, and all-consuming. But it always has an expiration date, a moment when the butterflies run out. The love between your parents, on the other hand, has always been steady, consistent, patient, and always moving forward, no matter how slowly.
4. You learn that there’s a healthy way to fight. You saw your parents get in arguments muttered under their breath in the car, and you saw your parents get in loud yelling matches in the middle of your kitchen. But no matter how uncomfortable or upsetting it was to watch, they always fought the same way: they aired out their grievances, they explained why they were angry, they refrained from bringing up irrelevant and personal attacks, they eventually admitted when they were wrong, and they always apologized and made up afterwards. It was a strange but important lesson for you to learn: that even the most happy relationships have problems, and that you can always work through them without letting things get out of control.
5. You learn that both people in the relationship are going to have to make a lot of hard, selfless choices. It was never your mom always sacrificing for your dad, or your dad always sacrificing for your mom. It was a healthy balance of both of your parents taking turns giving up things they wanted or things that would have made their lives easier, because they knew that their relationship with the other person was more important than their total and complete comfort.
6. You learn that you should never stop laughing. Even when your parents were stressed, cranky, or arguing, they never let it stop them from making each other laugh or from seeing the humor in a situation. As hard and as much as they worked, you learned how important it also was for them to put in the effort to cultivate a relationship that celebrated laughter, lightness, and joy.
7. You learn the importance of maintaining a mindset of “what’s best for us” rather than “what’s best for me.” Whenever you asked your mom or dad a question about something you wanted to do or somewhere you wanted to go, they always said “Let me talk to your mother/father first.” They were so focused on maintaining a relationship where they communicated and worked together on everything, that it became second nature for them to always want to talk to the other before they made any big decisions. It was always about “is this good for the family?” rather than “is this good for me?”
8. You learn the importance of taking care of your body, so you can be around for the other person. My parents were always keen on exercising when I was a kid (and still are) and whenever I would ask them why they were running on the treadmill, they said they wanted to be healthy so they could stick around for a long time for each other. Watching your parents make the effort to drink (a little) less, or eat (a little) better, or just keep their bodies moving so they can be healthy for one another instills incredible values within you about the importance of treating your body with love and care.
9. You learn the importance of doing small things for the other person. Your parents were always doing things that took barely any effort and still made a world of a difference to one another. Writing cute notes, sending flowers, making an unexpected call in the middle of the day to say hello, getting home from a work trip early, picking up each other’s favorite ice cream at the grocery store – seeing them do such little things with so much love taught you that there’s so many easy and effective ways to make your partner feel appreciated, happy, and cherished.
10. You learn that it’s okay if you have no clue what you’re doing, as long as you are muddling through it together. As a kid, your parents seemed to have it in the bag. They seemed all-knowing, totally confident, and completely sure of themselves in everything they did – raising kids, buying a house, moving across the country, whatever. But the beautiful thing about being adult is that you begin to understand (and your parents confirm) that nobody has any clue what they’re doing. You didn’t, and your parents certainly didn’t either. They didn’t know what they were doing, but they were doing it together, and nothing brings you closer than stumbling blindly through your life next to your best friend.