I walked through the empty rooms that had been home for twenty years. The walls were dotted with nail holes and tattooed with marks here and there. There were hash marks on a door frame that chronicled a child’s life one inch at a time. It all told a story, like primitive paintings on a cave wall. The rooms were empty, but they were full of memories.
It’s funny how an empty room echoes when you walk through it. Each footstep reverberated with sounds from the past. The sound of kids whispering upstairs. The sound of little girls playing with a dog. The sound of teenage daughters fighting over a bathroom and slamming doors in anger. The sound of laughter. The sound of tears. Twenty years of sounds. As I prepared to leave, I was struck by how empty the place looked and yet how full the place felt.
But it was time to go. So we walked out, locked the door, and drove away. As I pulled away, I remember thinking, “So much of our life is in that house, and I’ll never be in that house again.” (If you’ve not figured it out yet, I’m the sentimental one in the marriage.)
It was then I had another “what I’ve learned about marriage from buying a house” moment. I realized marriage is constantly evolving and changing. It never stays the same. Despite the memories, marriage continues to move forward toward something new, and different, and hopefully better.
Every marriage has it’s own history. Your marriage history may be good or bad, or a mixture of both, but your history is just that…history. Like life, marriage is always moving forward into new and different things. You can’t go back. You can only go forwards. You go from meeting to marriage. From establishing a family to growing a family. From a full house to an empty nest. From starting a job to planning a retirement.
And as life moves forward, you are stockpiling memories. But what do you do with all the memories? I have some suggestions…
- Love the good memories. Just like a house, every marriage has some good memories. (Hopefully lots of them.) Take those memories out and look at them often. Regularly go through old photo albums. Photo albums tend to hold the best of our memories, and you’ll be surprised how revisiting these good memories can renew your feelings and your perspective on your marriage.
- Learn from the bad memories. Just like a house, every marriage has some memories that are not so pleasant. Harsh words. Insensitivities. Thoughtlessness. Selfishness. Betrayal. We would rather not remember such things, but they are part of our history and can’t be erased. Rather than trying to ignore the bad memories, we’re better off learning from them. As Winston Churchill said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
- Lean into making new memories. Don’t get so enmeshed in your memories that you’re not making new and better ones. Too many people get stuck in either the “glory day” or the “gory days” and never build something new. Always remember that what you’re doing now will be the memories you have tomorrow. What are you doing in your marriage now to make good memories for the future?
When I closed the door on the old house, I didn’t close the door on the memories or the experiences. Good and bad, I will always have them to love and to learn from.
But now it’s time to make some new memories. This felt a little traitorous at first, but then I sat in the closing with the couple who would be moving into our old house. They were a young couple, just starting out. As I watched how excited they were, it struck me. They are going to create their own family history and memories in that house, just as we did. And someday they would be passing that house on to another young couple to make memories in. Suddenly I realized there’s a continuous story going on here. A continuous story for us. A continuous story for them. A continuous story for the house. Suddenly I felt better about passing the house on. (Roll the credits and pass the tissues.)
Spend some time this week (1) thinking about the changes you’ve been through in your marriage, and (2) thinking about how you can lean into making some great experiences now that will be great memories in the future.
Copyright © 2015 Bret Legg