34 Lessons…34 Years, Part 1

By Anne Gagliano

It’s 1985; Ronald Reagan is president, there’s no such thing as the Internet, and big hair with big shoulder pads is all the rage. Mauve is the color of stylish design. If you want to make a call, you dial the phone attached to the wall—actually rotate a spinning dial—one long turn at a time. If it’s long distance, it will cost a fortune, but gasoline is relatively cheap, so I guess there’s a balance. I am a young, very young bride with big hair and big shoulder pads walking down the aisle of my mauve wedding to marry a young man who also has big hair. We’re 20 years old with not a college degree between us. We have no house, no money, no careers. But oh, we’re so in love, and all we can think about is how wonderful it will be to move in together and sleep in the same bed. That’s our idea of heaven. The future?  All that matters to us is the here and now.

We stand at the alter and before God, our family, and our friends, we make incredibly lofty promises to each other. The weight of the words actually makes us both swoon a bit (along with the August heat) as they sink in over our beating hearts. We mean what we say and promise to do our very best. Forever.

It’s 34 years later, and here we still are, approaching yet another anniversary. I get very sentimental each August as I contemplate all that we’ve been through, all that we’ve witnessed, and all that we’ve shared. Have we kept our promises?  That and then some. The “then some” is the stuff we didn’t realize we were committing to, as no one tells young couples such things on a wedding day. And besides, these rambling, lengthy truths wouldn’t fit neatly into the confines of a wedding ceremony.

The simpler things we’ve discovered after years of living together and shared with others are known as “tips” for a happy marriage, or little bits of wisdom imparted by the experienced to the inexperienced. I’ve given lots of those. But the more complex truths are called lessons. Lessons are something different, something a bit more and often hard learned over long periods of time or gained through shorter, intensely emotional times. We’ve learned our share; mostly good, some bad, and a few we wish we hadn’t learned at all. So, here goes 34 years’ worth of lessons learned, one for each year of our experiences, and I hope they help other couples who seek some wisdom from older folks like us. They’re in no particular order, just written precisely as they came to me:

  1. Be very careful to tread lightly; as one flesh, deeply in love, you have the power to really hurt each other as no one else can. It is a mighty power; be very careful. You stand close in all things, literally; this I learned on my wedding day as I physically nearly stabbed my husband Mike with the knife we were to cut the cake with. As I straightened my veil, I inadvertently grazed his forehead. Great start!  Funny example, but true on so many levels. The closer you are, the more your love can be used as a weapon.
  2. True love grows; it does not diminish. Mike and I love each other even more today than we did back in 1985. We never would have dreamed this was possible, but it is.
  3. Love has seasons. In other words, it changes. The older years are different than the younger years–not better, not worse, just enjoyable in whole new ways. And this is a good thing, as it keeps life interesting.
  4. We have helped each other find ourselves. We literally have discovered who we really are and all that we’re capable of as we never would have known or believed on our own. Love helps you do this; two heads are better than one.
  5. We share the love of our children. No one loves our kids quite like we do; we share it on an exactly equal level, and this is a source of immediate understanding, mutual support, and a common link like no other.
  6. Sometimes it’s really hard to comfort each other when we’re both in pain. But we try to nonetheless, always, because every little effort counts.
  7. We’re only as happy as our least happy child. Tough but true. But we share this equal pain with equal love and equal empathy.
  8. Grandchildren are as wonderful as the rumors report them to be. This was a very unexpected, delightful surprise and another love we completely share.
  9. Grandchildren are like having your kids little all over again, only minus the work, the stress, and the responsibility. And it’s oh so fun to watch each other play with them!
  10. Some things get easier—like more money and less work, and some things get harder—like sleep and sore bones.
  11. We spent our youth building a life. But as we’re aging, we’re experiencing loss after loss after loss. But this, too, we’re going through together, and it’s truly where the rubber meets the road.
  12. We’ve been there to watch each other succeed. And we’re still here after we’ve seen each other fail. And through it all, our love has never faltered, not one little bit.
  13. Money does bring happiness. But only when it’s freely shared and freely given and completely entrusted to one another.
  14. Simple days are usually the best.
  15. Firefighters are still firefighters even after they retire. It’s an identity, a character, a personality, not just a job. My “retired” firefighter is busier than ever, still in it, and still loves the fire service all the way.
  16. Firefighters can’t sleep, even after they retire. It’s been a year now, and I’m still waiting for it—to see him relax and sleep deeply through the whole night. Hasn’t happened yet. I thought it was the fire service. Maybe it’s just him?
  17. If I could go back to 1985, I would for one reason only—to experience our young bodies once again. But I like who my husband is as a person now more than ever before. He’s not the same, and neither am I. He fits who I am now, and vice versa.

That’s half my list for now. I have 17 more, which I’ll share in my next column.


 If you’re interested in my book, Challenges of the Firefighter Marriage, check it out HERE

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Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 34 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.

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