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Two decades of love and learning

I wish you could have seen my mother's face when I mentioned to her the other day that Matt and I were celebrating our 20th (dating) anniversary this week.

So perplexed, her forehead crinkled as she tried to do the math in her head to see if that was possible.

"Yeah, mom. You were there, remember? July 28, 2000, Atlanta airport," I said.

I had just arrived back home in Georgia after living in Tacoma, Washington, for a year with my mom and little sister. I came back to live with my dad, reconnect with my friends, get in-state tuition for college when I graduated — but mostly, I came back because Matt was there.

That long-haired, guitar-playing boy was crazy about me before I left and he was still crazy about me when I came back a year later, though he'd finally cut off all that hair.

It just didn't make any damn sense to me. Me? Why? Surely he just didn't know me yet. Honestly, his certainty about us being together just scared the shit out of me. I pushed him away, hurt is feelings, broke his heart and moved to the other side of the country and there he was waiting with fucking flowers at the airport as I got off the plane.

We had been talking on the phone every other weekend for the last six months, emailing occasionally and sending a few love letters back and forth. Long distance calls were expensive back then my friends. I finally felt like I knew him and he knew me, even though we were 1,000 miles apart.

Teenage love isn't something you expect to last 20 years, but here we are in 2020 still together. Living the dream, as my dad likes to tell me. That's mostly true, though I think our idea of "living the dream" has probably changed over the years — and that's OK. Our idea of living good 10 years ago is not our idea of living good today.

25-year-old Jessi and 26-year-old Matt liked to drink all the time. 35-year-old Jessi and 36-year-old Matt like to cook a meal together on a Friday night and watch a movie! We still love to go to concerts and take road trips but we also like to cuddle with our dogs and fall asleep on the couch at 9 p.m.

Life changes, people change and you just have to let it happen. I think I fought it for a long time. Maybe I was resentful about it. We all have unrealistic expectations of marriage and relationships. We expect people to behave the way we want them to and expect them to change in the same ways we have changed. That's not realistic. It's unreasonable.

Unconditional love — one that lasts 20 years — is about trust, respect, communication and acceptance. We make the choice every day to love each other, even when we're mad, even when we're feeling neglected or disconnected and even when every word the other says echoes like nails on a chalkboard.

One of the most important things I've learned in the last year is that I can't change or control others. I've tried to — at work, at home, in my relationships and in my marriage — and I would get so frustrated. If you've ever thought, "If he/she would just do this one thing, I'd be happy" then you probably need to let go of some unrealistic expectations you've also been holding on to in your relationship.

Your partner's behavior doesn't make you feel a certain way — your thoughts about their behavior make you feel a certain way. If you are constantly replaying negative thoughts about your partner in your head, guess what? You're going to think and act negatively toward your loved one.

If you tell yourself that your partner must not love/respect/care about you because they forgot to make the dinner reservation for your anniversary, guess what? You're probably going to start a fight with them over it because you think it means something more than they just forgot.

Just because you think something, DOESN'T MAKE IT TRUE! Read that again.

It's a mind blower for sure. My marriage is far from perfect, but I can tell you that since I started practicing managing my thoughts, it's made all the difference. When Matt falls asleep on the couch at night, I don't make it mean he doesn't love me. When he doesn't want to go hiking with me, I don't make it mean he doesn't enjoy spending time with me. When he forgets to do something I asked him to do, I don't make it mean that he NEVER listens to me!

Do you know how many fights we've been able to avoid? I still have thoughts about his behavior and I let him know how I feel when he does certain things, but communication is so much easier when you're not just hurling accusations at one another.

Life is so much easier when we just let each other be who we are while also striving to make each other better. He reminds me not to put too much on my plate, but he will also listen to me vent about having too much on my plate. He let's me be mad and ornery because he knows I'm really just frustrated and overwhelmed.

I remind him not to take life so seriously, but I also listen to him vent about his day dealing with people at work. I let him be angry because I know he's just anxious. I let him sleep because I know he's mentally exhausted and needs a break. I let him play that damn guitar riff over and over again because I know it's important to him to get it right.

There are no guarantees in life. None of us know what tomorrow might bring. I know 50 percent of marriages end in divorce and we still have a long and windy road ahead of us, but I also know that many marriages aren't built on a sturdy foundation like the one Matt and I have built.

And the house don't fall when the bones are good.

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