Tips for an excellent marriage, brought to you by my real life, as we close in on 21 years.

Because of course we were BABIES when we married and here are some things that happened during our 20th year of holy matrimony.

Hold Onto Romance—It Evolves

An example of a romantic text I had to save which I received from my beloved while he was at home and I was not: “I honest to God do not know if our cat threw up so hard that she pooped or if she had to poop so bad that she threw up, but either way she just did. Both. Disgusting.”

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Keeping a Sense of Inappropriate Humor is Paramount

For example, here is real thing that happened after years of financial planning in an effort to educate our children and avoid debt: We got our first bill for the first year of college.

And we laughed and laughed and laughed.

Because I am here to tell you it apparently doesn’t matter how much you plan and save.

Figure Out How To Work Out Your Grievances

Here is a truth I can confirm after years of trial and mostly error when it comes to conflict resolution in our union:

A walk in the great big outdoors makes most things better that tacos cannot. Because I learned early in life that tacos make everything better, at least for me. He’d be fine with something inhumane like kale quinoa.

Because he is just wrong, and that is enough for me.

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You Are Safer in Pairs When Parenting Teens

I can now confirm this reality about children in their 14th year of life: At some unsuspecting point, the 14-year-old will look at you and, in that literal moment, an actual biological switch flips and they will reject you because you are a terrible human and a worse parent and a failure to our species because you asked a question or worse, accidentally touched them.

You need each other to run interference so no one dies.

Be Brutally Honest With Your Kids As They Leave the Nest

I will share the tender words that escaped our collective lips when our firstborn, upon being awarded a big military scholarship that involves jumping out of moving aircraft, and recalling how hard we laughed at the first college bill without that scholarship, thoughtfully proclaimed that he felt we might be uncomfortable with his risk appetite:

“Son, truthfully, there were times we would have pushed you out of that chopper ourselves.”

Said in a spirit of love, of course. (Ad hominem: my mother will see this one day and call me about it.)

Spontaneity Remains Key

A surprisingly tender, offhand comment on an evening stroll to calm your hound dog that has anxiety issues (that certainly have nothing to do with living in your pack) when you see some pretty jonquils and mention how you fondly remember your Dad tending to jonquils he planted in the yard of your childhood home:

“We could do that in our yard, Whitney. I can plant you some yellow jonquils. They’re happy!”

My 21-years-of-marriage heart felt that.

Deeply.

Know How To Do Business Together

An example of how high-achieving we are is best summed up by a recent 5 a.m. weekend email I received from my life partner detailing our financial picture and the helpful response I texted from bed some hours later:

“Please make 10 cups of coffee. I plan to linger this morning but not over this.”

Character and Commitment Count Now More Than Ever

Because, for example, you might wake up one Saturday morning and see in real life a hedge trimmer and leaf blower parked in your kitchen and feel sure this has nothing to do with your own plans for the day but experience deep gratitude instead of annoyance when you learn your own mom reached out to her own son-in-law, your own husband, because they needed some help at their house this weekend and that is basically his agenda for the day.

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This feels like a good place to stop.

Go plant some flowers or make a spreadsheet of your finances or linger over something that brings you joy—tacos or nature walks or 10 cups of coffee or your anxious hound dog or maybe your teenager if they’ll let you and even if you want to push them out of a helicopter (with a parachute, of course) in this season.

These are my tips for an excellent marriage at almost 21 years in, because these are all excellent things in life that we get to navigate together during our year number 20.

And also, for free, my 14-year-old “never” wants a marriage like ours. We need to “focus” on the problem, not “each other.”

Originally published on the author’s Facebook page

Whitney Westbrook

Whitney Westbrook writes about navigating midlife, mostly with grace. Because midlife is relentless and irreverent, and because we should all talk about it out loud more. Follow her for more misadventures and insights on all things midlife at So Very Whitney