Throwback Month

3 Valuable Relationship Lessons I Borrowed from My Parents’ Marriage (That Totally Changed My Own)

published Apr 12, 2022
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Credit: Charli Penn

Recipes and antiques aren’t the only gems that can be cherished and passed down through generations. Growing up, I learned most of what I know about what it takes to navigate and nurture a romance from the relationships that were happening all around me. Some of the best and most useful marriage advice I’ve ever received, I stole right from the pages of my parents’ love story, which has always been one of my favorites.

They were college sweethearts turned soulmates in the ‘60s who shared a passion for poetry, good books, and campus strolls. They successfully made the transition from good friends to great partners, and after graduation, my mom and dad married in a small ceremony on a military base. They were married for 14 years before they welcomed me, their only child, into the world. Then life took an unexpected turn. When I was 9 years old, my mother passed away, leaving my dad and I behind to keep her memory alive. My dad did so by regularly sharing detailed memories from their life together with me whenever I’d ask “what she was like”.

As I began to navigate my own romantic relationships as an adult, I appreciated hearing these stories on repeat and I absorbed many of the valuable love lessons embedded within them. When I got married in 2010, I decided to borrow some of my parent’s best philosophies on love, which centered around communication and connection. Many of the relationship habits that worked best for them, in both good and bad times, have also served our marriage well over the years. (We’re celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary this fall.)

While every day brings a new challenge with any marriage, practicing these powerful habits has helped us appreciate each other more and make the most of our time together. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

Take a communication vacation.

When my parents needed to work through a difficult or complicated time in their marriage, they didn’t let the moment build up on the back burner. Instead, they paused their busy schedules to make time to get away and address it head on — no phone calls or outside distractions. The only voices they allowed in the conversation were their own. Sometimes they escaped to nearby motels for the weekend, and when that wasn’t possible (financially or otherwise) they chose to take a very long drive and “just talk.” My dad told me they always returned home a lot lighter and clear on what their next steps would be.

My husband and I now call these little necessary relationship retreats “communication vacations.” In the earlier days of our marriage, we found that taking a Saturday drive was easiest to pull off without making any excuses. Since then, when we need to work through something, we’ve graduated to going on nearby weekend getaway or “staycation” where we focus solely on unplugging, reconnecting, and as we like to say, “feeling our feelings.” Most recently, we went on a winter weekend mindfulness retreat where we learned how to meditate and mapped out new marriage goals by the fire. We both still speak fondly about how magical and important that trip was, and we traveled less than two hours from home.

Turn mundane moments into magical ones.

When my parents were newlyweds, they had very little money to spare, so romantic vacations and fancy date nights were out of the question. But they were exuberant romantics who made lemonade out of lemons every chance they got to spend some quality time together. They would instead transform their tiny apartment kitchen into a private couple’s cooking class or their living room into a poetry night at the speakeasy. They did so simply by letting their love, laughter and a little creativity take center stage.

Now, my husband and I like to “camp out” in our living room with our favorite takeout, s’mores and a “double feature” of our favorite horror flicks. Now that we’re new homeowners, with a handy projector and string lights, we “go to the movies” under the stars in our backyard. Not only does this practice keep us thinking creatively about how we spend our time together — when we’re not both busy or exhausted — but it’s also a great way to avoid blowing our monthly entertainment budget on too many impromptu splurges.

Share regrets before they turn into resentment.

No relationship is perfect, and neither are the two people in it. Even with each partner giving it their very best, there will inevitably be moments where someone has regrets about something. My parents always left space to have those uncomfortable conversations in their marriage, because they believed that lingering regrets would morph into resentment over time if they weren’t allowed to be heard or felt. For us, being intentional about starting more conversations with the words “I regret…” has helped us to uncover and share our true feelings in the moment much faster than we had in the past.

This piece is part of Throwback Month, where we’re revisiting vintage styles, homes, and all kinds of groovy, retro home ideas. Boogie on over here to read more!