First post in our series Secrets of a Happy Marriage From Couples Married 25+ Years in which I interview Lane and Sonja Strathearn.
This Interview is Part One of a 4-Part Series: Secrets of a Happy Marriage
Kicking off our interview series we have the Strathearns, a delightful couple originally from Australia who recently moved to Iowa City. A few months ago, Sonja gave an excellent talk on reconciliation during our church service in which she mentioned that she and her husband had gone through counseling together a number of years ago. I found it equally beautiful and encouraging to hear her tell about the strength they received from working on their relationship together in that way. Anyway, Rich and I made eye contact and mouthed the words, “guest post” at the same time, so it was meant to be 🙂
Also, their 15 year old son Jacob is a budding photographer and graciously took some shots of our interview (don’t get used to this caliber of photographs for the rest of the series, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment). Check him out here!
Q: How many years have you been married?
Q: How would you define a happy marriage?
Sonja: When you’re still together and enjoy being together and can work out your problems.
Lane: When you feel more in love with someone than when you were first married.
Q: Whats been the best thing you’ve done to keep a strong marriage?
Sonja: Going to counseling 10 years ago. When we were first married we had very little time, Lane was in med school, we lived an hour away from his work and we had a lot of babies, no money and it was really hard for a really long time. Things were a little rocky and counseling really helped identify things that we weren’t doing. We had to learn to communicate again. Both of us had to learn to be willing to be flexible, not be selfish, put the other first and try to communicate better.
Lane: There was a time where things became taken for granted and it really took a jolt to help me to realize what I had and what I wasn’t doing to keep that. So, I think through that experience we decided to re-invigorate our marriage by doing things together by finding a common passion we enjoy together. That’s when we started going to dance classes.[Celeste here: Lane mentioned “going to dance classes” casually, but he and Sonja became masters of Argentine Tango through these classes. I actually got to see them demonstrate it in their living room and it made me want to go sign up for classes! So awesome to get into something like that together. Ok, Celeste out.]
Q: What do you think is the quickest way to an UNHAPPY marriage?
Sonja: Selfishness. Going your own way without communicating or thinking of the well- being of the other. I certainly was guilty of being selfish and still am sometimes. But selfishness is the root of it all.
Lane: That’s exactly the word that came to my mind.
Q: If you had to give the younger version of yourself marriage advice what would you say to yourself after one year of marriage?
Sonja: If there are any little problems you nip them in the bud- do not let them fester. I was guilty of that. I internalized things until they exploded. Do the counseling if you have to- address the real problems whatever they are- address them early and work them out.
There’s a funny story where we had this little old television- black and white, teeny and we had it for the first four years of our marriage. I really wanted a real television and it wasn’t a priority for him. One day I snapped and bought one on credit – a big one and I remember his shocked face when he came home because we had a tight budget and I felt so deprived. When he came home and saw that television he said, “Haven’t I been giving you enough attention?” [laughs]
I think learning to negotiate and learning to have an argument that’s not mean so you can settle problems. I don’t think I knew how to have a fair argument. I was like a child and I put him in a parent role and was sad when I couldn’t have something I wanted. It took me a really long time to have an equal communicating relationship.
Lane : When you’re newly married and you’ve got studying and young kids and this new relationship, there are so many things pulling you in different directions and they’re all good and important, but its so important to put your priorities into what’s most important. I think I was trying to be a perfectionist in everything I did with my studies and church callings. I couldn’t step back and not give everything I had to all of those areas, and that’s good but it’s not the best. Family is. Over time if you continue down that pattern, little things become bigger things. So, letting go of some things that aren’t as important.
Q: Is your marriage now different from what you would have expected your marriage to be when you were first married?
Lane: Its more passionate.
Sonja: I think when you get married, you never quite know the person you’re marrying completely. We’d been friends for several years but not dating. When Lane came back from his mission, we had a long distance relationship and quickly got engaged. I don’t think we really knew each other that well. We had a lot of assumptions. I think our first year was wonderful, I remember being very happy, but I had no idea that it would be so hard with medical school. I had no idea it would be so hard with lots of little kids. My mother kind of did it beautifully. I kind of thought it would be easier and it wasn’t easy. The family part now is better than what I would have expected. We really have exceeded our expectations with how our teenagers have turned out because we put in the hard work early. I have a lot more joy than I would have thought, I feel really satisfied about our family as a unit and how we all enjoy each other.
Q: What’s something your spouse has done to make your marriage better?
Lane: Sonja is such a great mom. Our kids have always felt close to her and I think that’s because of her openness and willingness to be there for them when they need her and that’s something I’ve always appreciated. I appreciate her sacrifice to be home with the kids. It’s been hard having a large family and Sonja’s borne the brunt of that. I appreciate and love her for that sacrifice.
Sonja: Lane has changed a lot in the years we’ve been married. I appreciate his willingness to adapt and change. He’s become more flexible, more loving and patient. Also, he’s always been willing to help around the house and with the kids when he’s home. He was really good at helping with babies through the night. He would change their diaper, he’s been wonderful about helping. I’ve always felt supported. He’s tried to treat me like a queen.
Q: What advice do you have for couples who don’t get to see each other very often?
Sonja: Your time is very precious with your spouse, so its very important to schedule dates even if its not as regular as you would like even if its just once a month. Time together is super important. That’s probably my biggest advice. Also I think keeping your marriage spiritually healthy- always praying together before sleep if you can and just praying for help when you need it, when times are tough. Don’t forget to ask for help.
Q: Final Marriage Advice?
Lane: Service. Let the power of the atonement of Christ work itself in your marriage.
Sonja: Learn to communicate, nip arguments in the bud and date each other.