It has been sixty-five years since my parents’ wedding, a ceremony celebrating their commitment to love each other forever. Many years of dedication and shared experiences after they wed, Alzheimer’s disease stole the memories of this promise. After their diagnoses, I watched in amazement as my parents newly discovered each admirable trait which brought them together decades before.
 
Now refined through trials and seasoned with life’s experiences, their attraction was magnetic. My parents’ shared disease made me wonder: what keeps marriages strong despite the challenges of life we all face? I believe it is more than sheer grit and determination. Experiencing my parents’ love on autopilot led me to believe the key to lasting love is in developing basic traits which become the essence of who we are.
 
1.     Be kind. It sounds simple, but careless words and inconsiderate actions become commonplace if not guarded against. It is human nature to offer the best version of ourselves to strangers, while tossing the worn out remnants to those closest to us. Our words should be sifted through the sieve of kindness and thoughtful, consistent gestures woven into our marriages.
 
2.     Celebrate humor. We cannot escape the challenges of life, but stress does flee at the sound of laughter. The most successful couples learn to not take everything, especially themselves, so seriously. A joyous symphony of laughter is found by incorporating humor into daily life.
 
3.     Speak encouragement. Life throws plenty of curveballs which can easily breed discouragement. When our spouse looks to the audience of life for inspiration, they should find their biggest cheerleader in us. Knowing we believe in them breathes life into their efforts.
 
4.     Live honestly. Our spouse deserves the most authentic, transparent version of us. Trust is built on honesty, which flows freely in an atmosphere of acceptance. This environment is created by listening with understanding and having the freedom to share our most candid thoughts without fear of rejection.
 
5.     Prioritize intentionally. If the one we promised to love forever is to receive the best of who we are, conscious effort and careful planning is necessary. We must guard our time and resources. Schedule marriage with a sharpie and pencil other engagements around this priority.
 
6.     Be flexible. Those with the most successful marriages freely grant each other grace. Mistakes will be made, plans unavoidably changed, and details overlooked. The goal is not a standard of perfection, but rather an environment of understanding and encouragement for the potential found in each of us.
 
7.     Understand the unseen. A perceptive spouse seeks to understand the essence of their loved one. This goes beyond the obvious traits others easily recognize. Keen intuition takes the time to peel back the layers in order to discover the reason behind unique personality traits.
 
8.     Love endlessly. Above all, cherish the one your heart chose. Marriage is a process, not a destination. A healthy relationship consistently has life breathed into it with an unceasing commitment born of a loving heart.  
 
By the time my parents were stripped of the ability to consciously choose love, these attributes had been practiced and perfected for many decades. I believe these daily decisions became the essence of their being and allowed them to love without ceasing. May we all be so fortunate.
 

Judith Ingalsbe is passionate about bringing understanding to those experiencing the effects of dementia. She recently joined other advocates in Washington D.C. to secure funding for research and HOPE for those affected. Judith has gleaned over a decade of caregiving experience with her parents, who were both diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and shares these insights in Stone Benches: Understanding the Invisible Footprints of Dementia. For more information, visit StoneBenchesJourney.com