“So, what is the secret to a long, happy marriage?”

For the first time in my life, I am the receiver of the very question I’ve asked countless couples over the years.

My wife and I are sitting in a small restaurant in the hills of central Texas. Sharing a table with strangers, as we are doing with a young couple, is normal in this small town. They are, the young girl mentions, celebrating their first anniversary.

“So,” she asks again, “really. We want to know.”

My mind rewinds to over a decade ago when I asked the very same question to a couple sitting on a park bench and holding hands on an Arizona morning. Both in their eighth decade of life, they both smiled and generously shared a few words of wisdom.

“Don’t try and change the other person,” she said. “Learn to understand you are different and respect that fact.”

The man, somewhat stoic, revealed a tiny crack of emotion around his eyes as if to agree.

The sun continued to rise, now breaking over the mountain range in the distance.

“And don’t be afraid to argue,” she said. “Learning to disagree, without getting personal, is very important.”

Again, I could see his silent agreement.

My wife and I are far from a perfect couple — but maybe that is why we seem to find people asking us about our relationship. We sometimes joke we are an 80/20 balance at best. I love sunrises; she loves sunsets. My idea of relaxing might be riding my bike along a newly discovered country road. For her, a couple hours of peace and quiet alone with a good book is of equal value. I even like my coffee neat; her version is something I’m convinced is a not too distant relative to hot chocolate.

But in the end, we are solidly committed to the 80 percent — and that starts with each other. Our values, our commitment to our children and our commitment to each other are the rock-solid foundation of our relationship.

That, and we’ve learned that marriage is a long, fluid process.

Back at the wooden table, I see a young couple asking the very questions my wife and I have asked others for years in hope of discovering the “secret” to a happy marriage. But the truth is, there are no shortcuts, no easy ways to bliss.

As other couples have told us over the years, there will be better days than others. There will also be times you are, so they say, “spitting mad” at the other person. Life — with the demands of raising a family, working to put food on the table and remembering to pay attention to each other — has a way of pushing your marriage to the limits.

But, just like forged steel, many times it is the result of the intense pressure found inside a marriage that creates such a strong relationship in the end. The phrase “for better or worse,” you one day recognize, is not just a string of meaningless words — they actually are a precursor to the building of a long-term relationship.

My wife and I look at each other across the table while the younger couple awaits our “pearls of wisdom.” We smile at each other knowing there is no way to ever fully describe what awaits them and where this journey will lead. We only hope that someday they, too, will be on the receiving end of this very conversation.

Leonard Woolsey: 409-683-5207; leonard.woolsey@galvnews.com

President & Publisher of The Galveston County Daily News.

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