38 years ago, we said “I do.” It was a hot summer day. I wore my mother’s wedding dress and the tux Mark wore was made of wool (what were we thinking?).

We knew so little about marriage.

Every anniversary we celebrate is huge because they are hard-won celebrations. I am so proud of us. I’m proud of what we’ve overcome. We walk into year 39 excited about what we’ll continue to see God do both in us and through us.

Recently, Mark and I brainstormed 38 lessons we’ve learned in our 38 years of marriage. If one of these lessons sparks something for you, it would be the best anniversary gift we could ever receive!

Here are 38 things we’ve learned in 38 years of marriage:

1) Marriage takes work.

2) You have to learn to accept and enjoy the differences.

3) It’s important to be marriage-centered, not child-centered.

4) Gratitude increases contentment. When you are thinking critical thoughts, move your thinking to grateful thoughts!

5) It’s important to continue having fun together.

6) Keep flirting. (This requires more intentional thought the longer you’ve been together!)

7) Intentionally connect everyday—even if it’s just for 5 minutes.

8) Praying together can be done while walking or driving somewhere.

9) Feelings of being “in love” will come and go—that’s normal.

10) When you feel distance, it’s time to get intentional again.

11) It’s important to audit your thought life and clean out the head trash when it’s not helpful relationally.

12) Forgive. Forgive some more.

13) Give grace for the harmless human habits you each have.

14) Assumptions have no place in marriage—stop assuming.

15) It’s okay to seek marriage counseling or marriage coaching to stay healthy or to navigate something difficult.

16) Criticizing and complaining are not communicating. Neither are hinting, sarcasm, or passive-aggressive comments.

17) Scheduling sex is one of the best things a couple can do for their marriage.

18) See your doctor regularly so you’re doing what you can to stay physically healthy for the long-haul.

19) It takes time and consistent changed behavior to rebuild trust.

20) Your past, including your childhood, does affect your present.

21) Unrealistic expectations breed discontentment. If you’re always disappointed in your spouse, you probably have unrealistic expectations.

22) Listening to understand is a gift to your spouse and your marriage (rather than listening to reply, disagree, or debate).

23) Being too busy robs a relationship of connection.

24) “Lord, change me” is the most powerful prayer you can pray.

25) Sometimes what we don’t say is far more important than what we do say.

26) Keep learning about marriage—reading books, blog posts, listening to podcasts, going to seminars, getting coaching, doing an intensive, and more!

27) Do an overnight for your anniversary every year.

28) Decide in advance your date schedule, put it on the calendar, protect those dates, and make sure they happen.

29) If your spouse is an introvert, don’t take their need to be alone as a personal rejection. It’s not about you. It’s about them needing to emotionally refuel.

30) If your spouse is an extrovert, understand their need to be with others in order for them to refuel.

31) Sex begins in the kitchen. Yes, emptying the dishwasher is foreplay!

32) Good communication is rarely efficient. Slow down and really hear each other.

33) Be careful about how much you tackle in one conversation. This is usually where conflict goes off the rails.

34) Deal with one person’s hurt at a time.

35) Ask yourself, “Are my words giving life to our relationship?” If not, change how you are speaking or determine the words just might not be needed.

36) Love isn’t a feeling. It’s a decision. A choice. You have to choose to love every day.

37) Forgive every time you bump into your spouse’s imperfections.

38) A real marriage isn’t perfect. A real marriage is two people being perfected. (This became the theme of our No More Perfect Marriages book!)

So there you have it! Consider sharing that list with your spouse and talking through it! A lot of those learnings are some great conversation-starters.

Ultimately, my friend, I want you to know that we believe in you. We believe in marriage. We believe a lifetime of love requires a whole lot of hard work. We believe that it’s possible to get through the darkest seasons even stronger. And we want you to know that you are not alone.

We’d love to know… which of these 38 things stand out most to you?

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