John & Nicole's Big Day

20 Lessons From 20 Years Of Marriage

A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.-Ruth Bell Graham

I have no idea how we got to 20 years of marriage.  It seems like yesterday I was knocking on her apartment door asking to borrow water, just to have a reason to see her.  I told her on our first date that I was going to marry her and she told me I probably wouldn’t get a second date.  (That was the last time I won a dispute.)  Through marriage, kids, cancer, jobs & life, we managed to keep it together in spite of overwhelming odds against us.

Here are a few pointers we picked up along the way.  This isn’t a list that has been scholarly assembled through research and focus groups.  The lessons below are hard earned strategies that we try to work into our every day life.  Anyone with less than a year in should print this out and put it on the refrigerator.

  1. Hug your spouse every day.  Physical touch is critical to maintaining intimacy in a relationship.  Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.  The definition of intimacy changes over time.  What doesn’t change is the warmth that a hug gives your spouse.
  2. Tell your spouse you love them every day.  Even when you are not near them, and even when they are not being very loveable.  Sometimes conflicting schedules keep us apart, but a text message saying you love them and are thinking about them goes a long way in getting through the day.
  3. Have a regular date night and protect it viciously.  Even when you have young children, make it happen.  Meet for lunch, get a coffee, even grocery shop together just to get some time in with each other.
  4. Marry for companionship…Don’t marry for money, don’t marry for looks, don’t even marry for love.  It’s a long journey and you want to pick someone you will enjoy the trip with.  Looks fade, money goes away, and sometimes even love waxes and wanes; but a good friend will always be there for you.
  5. Yes, opposites attract, but it is the things we have in common that bind us together.  I am spontaneous and very loud, my wife is very deliberate and quiet.  We literally could not be more opposite in personality, but we are bound by our commitment to our family and our shared values.  If you are not in sync on the big things in life, the little things will eat you alive.
  6. Make new friends as a married couple and insert space between you and your single friends.  Going out for “Boys and girls nights” is like an alcoholic who has stopped drinking, but has one every now and then just to take the edge off.  When you go out, you should go out as a couple. And if you go out without your spouse, you need to go out with other married people, not your single friends.  Your old drinking buddy from college is going out for a completely different reason than you are.  By eliminating opportunities to be distracted from your marriage, you will stay focused on your spouse and not be tempted by someone who seems to give you what might be lacking at the time.  This is counter cultural, but is a key to a successful long term marriage.  It also requires a little growing up on your part.  You don’t have to give up your pals, but you shouldn’t be out prowling with them either.
  7. Walk away from your need to always have to be right.  Even if you get your spouse to give in to your way of thinking, they are really just trying to end the discussion.  A “tie” is an acceptable outcome in any situation in your marriage.
  8. Learn to say I am sorry.  And when your spouse says they are sorry, FORGIVE them.  Bury the hatchet and walk away.  It is not always so easy to forget, but if you forgive and release yourself from carrying that burden, you will be much happier.  Bringing up old arguments time and time again erodes the pilings of your marriage and creates resentment.
  9. Do not speak harsh words to each other or lash out verbally. A bell cannot be unrung and harsh words reside in the spirit of your spouse for eternity.  Learning to pause before you say something mean and ask yourself if this is really going to help resolve the issue is an investment in your relationship.  It took me some time to learn this, as it is 100% against my nature, but there is no reason to be mean to my wife.  It may make you feel better to get it out, but it just transfers the angst.  If you find yourself continually saying you are sorry, maybe you need to swim upstream a bit and stop the words before you have to eat them.
  10. Go to bed at the same time.  This seems so trivial and in some ways impossible, but when you wind down the day together it binds you.  It is one of the best times to communicate as well.
  11. Eat dinner together every night if it is even remotely possible.  As a family we have eaten dinner at the table together 95% of the time over the last 20 years.  This takes intentionality and planning, but will reap dividends for years to come.  So much happens around the dinner table, whether it’s just the two of you or an entire family.
  12. Accept that there is a natural order in life and embrace your role as well as your spouses.  Successful marriages and families embrace this and build on their  complementary strengths and talents.  Speaking specifically to the men- you need to be a leader of, a provider for, and a protector to your family.   This might be countercultural, but our culture is not set up to honor and protect a long term relationship, so in a sense, long term marriages are countercultural by nature.
  13. Don’t look for your spouses faults; seek out their positives.  It is easy to find fault and weakness in another person, but by finding their positive traits it not only builds them up, but endears them to you more.
  14. Spend time with your spouse/family. It is important to have hobbies, but are they draining resources away from your family?  Are you using them as an excuse to hide from your life?  I have seen marriages fall apart due to fishing, golfing, etc, keeping the husband away and draining thousands of dollars from their bank account.  It’s important to have a little “me” time, but remember that you joined a team when you got married.
  15. Don’t talk down to your spouse in public.  As a personal policy, I don’t talk down to my spouse ever, but especially would never do it in public if the situation presented itself.  We have been out with couples where they just pick at each other and degrade each other, sometimes passive-aggressively, and it makes everyone uncomfortable and gets people to talking.
  16. Keep your private business private.  I can’t tell you how many people I have seen melt down and air their dirty laundry on Facebook or at a party.  What seems like a good idea in the heat of the moment will cause pain for years to come.  If you are struggling with a problem, seek a trusted friend and get their advice, but telling everyone you know the gory details of your relationship is simply destructive.
  17. Your kids are temporary residents in your home.  They will be around for 20 years or so; you will be together for the rest of your life.  Make sure they do not come between you.  Don’t call each other mommy & daddy privately.  Find moments to be intimate, even if it is just a squish up against the refrigerator.  Kids, especially young ones, have a way of pitting parents against each other, of wearing them out, and of becoming more important than the two of you.  If your marriage is failing, how can you be good parents?  Keep the marriage and parenting aspects of your lives separate and work on them both continuously.
  18. You need to be aligned on your parenting strategy because your kids will exploit any gaps in between you. This doesn’t mean you can’t play good cop/bad cop, but you need to agree on the big issues and provide a united front.
  19. Find a mentor.  One of the best things that ever happened to us was a friendship with a married couple that was a little farther down the road than we were.  They were 10 years older, with three sons (we have 3 sons as well) and really helped us learn: 1) that we aren’t alone in this journey, and 2) everything we are going through has been suffered by those that came before us.  When we found out one of our kids was smoking pot, it was them who talked us off the ledge.  They had a son that had been through the same thing and even he helped us to weather out the storm.  We were headed in a completely different direction before we talked with them and are thankful for the course correction.
  20. J-BAR-H Rule of Life #7 is “All disappointment is rooted in poorly set expectations.”  This simply states that you are pretty much the reason for your own grief most of the time.  You are not going to change your spouse and if you married them hoping they would grow into this person you had pictured in your head, you are going to be sadly disappointed. Don’t set your spouse up to let you down.  If your spouse is a bad gift buyer and every year you get your feelings hurt because they didn’t put enough thought into it or it wasn’t what you wanted, TELL THEM what you want.  I had a friend tell me that she shouldn’t HAVE to tell her husband what she likes because after 10 years he should just know.  Obviously she is setting herself up for grief year after year.  My wife finally started telling me exactly what she wanted and where to get it and even has sent me Groupons in the past to make sure she gets what she wants.  She is happy & I am happy.

BONUS LESSON: The secret to staying together is to stay together.  Marriage is hard, and takes work.  These days it’s easy to leave, and there is no stigma attached.  If one of the possible outcomes to every situation is that you just leave, then your behavior will be different than if it is not an option.  If you have no chance of leaving at the end of an argument, you are less likely to go “scorched earth” or nuclear and more likely to work things out knowing that you are going to have to see this person in the morning.  It truly is the secret to long term relationships.

I don’t know if any of this is helpful, and it certainly is a pitifuly incomplete list.  But at the end of the day a successful marriage takes intentionality.  You have to intentionally CHOOSE to do things a certain way, even if it isn’t the easiest way.  Marriage isn’t easy, but it is worth it.

tomb of unknown

Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier

Interesting facts about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Sentinels of the Third United States Infantry Regiment “Old Guard”

Q: How many steps does the guard take during his walk across the tomb of the Unknowns and why?

A: 21 steps. It alludes to the twenty-one gun salute, which is the highest honor given any military or foreign dignitary.

Q: How long does he hesitate after his about face to begin his return walk and why?

A: 21 seconds, for the same reason as answer number 1.

Q: Why are his gloves wet?

A: His gloves are moistened to prevent his losing his grip on the rifle.

Q: Does he carry his rifle on the same shoulder all the time, and if not, why not?

A: No, he carries the rifle on the shoulder away from the tomb. After his march across the path, he executes an about face and moves the rifle to the outside shoulder.

Q: How often are the guards changed?

A: Guards are changed every thirty minutes, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.

Q: What are the physical traits of the guard limited to?

A: For a person to apply for guard duty at the tomb, he must be between 5′ 10″ and 6′ 2″ tall and his waist size cannot exceed 30″.

Other requirements of the Guard:

They must commit 2 years of life to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. They cannot swear in public FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES and cannot disgrace the uniform {fighting} or the tomb in any way.

After TWO YEARS, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel signifying they served as guard of the tomb. There are only 400 presently worn. The guard must obey these rules for the rest of their lives or give up the wreath pin.

The shoes are specially made with very thick soles to keep the heat and cold from their feet. There are metal heel plates that extend to the top of the shoe in order to make the loud click as they come to a halt. There are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform. Guards dress for duty in front of a full-length mirror.

The first SIX MONTHS of duty a guard cannot talk to anyone, nor watch TV. All off duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. A guard must memorize who they are and where they are interred. Among the notables are: President Taft, Joe E. Lewis {the boxer} and Medal of Honor winner Audie Murphy, {the most decorated soldier of WWII} of Hollywood fame. Every guard spends FIVE HOURS A DAY getting his uniforms ready for guard duty.

The Sentinels Creed:

My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted. In the responsibility bestowed on me never will I falter. And with dignity and perseverance my standard will remain perfection. Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements, I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability. It is he who commands the respect I protect. His bravery that made us so proud. Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day alone in the thoughtful peace of night, this soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.

More Interesting facts about the Tomb of the Unknowns itself:

The marble for the Tomb of the Unknowns was furnished by the Vermont Marble Company of Danby, Vt. The marble is the finest and whitest of American marble, quarried from the Yule Marble Quarry located near Marble, Colorado and is called Yule Marble. The Marble for the Lincoln memorial and other famous buildings was also quarried there.

The Tomb consists of seven pieces of rectangular marble: Four pieces in sub base; weight 15 tons;

One piece in base or plinth; weight 16 tons;

One piece in die; weight 36 tons;

One piece in cap; weight 12 tons;

Carved on the East side (the front of the Tomb, which faces Washington, D.C.) is a composite of three figures, commemorative of the spirit of the Allies of World War I.

In the center of the panel stands Victory (female).

On the right side, a male figure symbolizes Valor.

On the left side stands Peace, with her palm branch to reward the devotion and sacrifice that went with courage to make the cause of righteousness triumphant.

The north and south sides are divided into three panels by Doric pilasters. In each panel is an inverted wreath.

On the west, or rear, panel (facing the Amphitheater) is inscribed:


The first Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was a sub base and a base or plinth. It was slightly smaller than the present base. This was torn away when the present Tomb was started Aug. 27, 1931. The Tomb was completed and the area opened to the public 9:15 a.m. April 9, 1932, without any ceremony.

Cost of the Tomb: $48,000

Sculptor: Thomas Hudson Jones

Architect: Lorimer Rich

Contractors: Hagerman & Harris, New York City

Inscription: Author Unknown

(Interesting Commentary)

The Third Infantry Regiment at Fort Myer has the responsibility for providing ceremonial units and honor guards for state occasions, White House social functions, public celebrations and interments at Arlington National Cemetery and standing a very formal sentry watch at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The public is familiar with the precision of what is called “walking post” at the Tomb. There are roped off galleries where visitors can form to observe the troopers and their measured step and almost mechanically, silent rifle shoulder changes. They are relieved every hour in a very formal drill that has to be seen to be believed.

Some people think that when the Cemetery is closed to the public in the evening that this show stops. First, to the men who are dedicated to this work, it is no show. It is a “charge of honor.” The formality and precision continues uninterrupted all night. During the nighttime, the drill of relief and the measured step of the on-duty sentry remain unchanged from the daylight hours. To these men, these special men, the continuity of this post is the key to the honor and respect shown to these honored dead, symbolic of all unaccounted for American combat dead. The steady rhythmic step in rain, sleet, snow, hail, heat and cold must be uninterrupted. Uninterrupted is the important part of the honor shown.

Recently, while you were sleeping, the teeth of hurricane Isabel came through this area and tore hell out of everything. We had thousands of trees down, power outages, traffic signals out, roads filled with downed limbs and “gear adrift” debris. We had flooding and the place looked like it had been the impact area of an off-shore bombardment.

The Regimental Commander of the U.S. Third Infantry sent word to the nighttime Sentry Detail to secure the post and seek shelter from the high winds, to ensure their personal safety.


During winds that turned over vehicles and turned debris into projectiles, the measured step continued. One fellow said “I’ve got buddies getting shot at in Iraq who would kick my butt if word got to them that we let them down. I sure as hell have no intention of spending my Army career being known as the damned idiot who couldn’t stand a little light breeze and shirked his duty.” Then he said something in response to a female reporters question regarding silly purposeless personal risk… “I wouldn’t expect you to understand. It’s an enlisted man’s thing.” God bless the rascal… In a time in our nation’s history when spin and total b.s. seem to have become the accepted coin-of-the-realm, there beat hearts – the enlisted hearts we all knew and were so damn proud to be a part of – that fully understand that devotion to duty is not a part-time occupation. While we slept, we were represented by some damn fine men who fully understood their post orders and proudly went about their assigned responsibilities unseen, unrecognized and in the finest tradition of the American Enlisted Man. Folks, there’s hope. The spirit that George S. Patton, Arliegh Burke and Jimmy Doolittle left us … survives.

On the ABC evening news, it was reported recently that, because of the dangers from Hurricane Isabel approaching Washington, DC, the military members assigned the duty of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were given permission to suspend the assignment. They refused. “No way, Sir!”

Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they said that guarding the Tomb was not just an assignment; it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a service person. The tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24/7, since 1930.

Very, very proud of our soldiers in uniform


What is a Mother?

A mother can be almost any size or any age, but she won’t admit to anything over thirty. A mother has soft hands and smells good. A mother likes new dresses, music, a clean house, her children’s kisses, an automatic washer and Daddy.
A mother doesn’t like having her children sick, muddy feet, temper tantrums, loud noise or bad report cards. A mother can read a thermometer (much to the amazement of Daddy) and like magic, can kiss a hurt away.

A mother can bake good cakes and pies but likes to see her children eat vegetables. A mother can stuff a fat baby into a snowsuit in seconds and can kiss sad little faces and make them smile.

A mother is underpaid, has long hours and gets very little rest. She worries too much about her children but she says she doesn’t mind at all. And no matter how old her children are, she still likes to think of them as her little babies.

She is the guardian angel of the family, the queen, the tender hand of love. A mother is the best friend anyone ever had. A mother is love.


J-BAR-H Jalapeno Cheese Polenta

This polenta is one of my favorites and works nicely with my JBARH KINKY FRIEDMAN BRISKET.  He doesn’t know we call it that, but I am certain he’d be proud of it.



  • Olive oil to sauté
  • 2 cups chopped onions, mixed
  • 1-2 jalapeños minced
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1tsp coarse ground pepper
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1.5 cups coarse cornmeal
  • 1 cup cheddar or pepperjack cheese


  • Heat a 2 quart saucepan (I use a cast iron “chicken fryer”) over medium high heat.  Once it is hot add a tablespoon or so of olive oil.  If it immediately spreads out and starts looking wavy you are ready to cook.
  • Add the onions and peppers and sauté until the just start to take on a bit of color.
  • Add the stock, milk, salt & pepper & butter and bring to a boil.
  • Lower the heat a little until the liquid rolls down to a simmer
  • Whisk the cornmeal in gradually until it is all incorporated.
  • Once the cornmeal is incorporated, continue to stir slowly with a wooden spoon until it begins to turn thick & creamy, about 10 minutes.  (There has been much debate over whether or not the kind of spoon makes a difference in the finished product and without a doubt, you will get a creamier, better tasting polenta with a wooden spoon.)
  • Remove from heat and stir in cheese until incorporated.
  • ALTERNATE METHOD: Once cornmeal has been incorporated, cover and move the pan to a 350 degree oven.  Give it a stir every 10 minutes or so until it’s thick and creamy, about 20-30 minutes.
  •  Serve immediately or move to a wide, flat container, lined in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator.

This recipe makes 8-10 servings.

Polenta is AMAZING when refrigerated, sliced and sautéed in butter the next day.  CLICK HERE for my JBARH EGGS BENEDICT recipe using sauteed polenta cakes as the base.