05/11/2012 12:24 am ET Updated Jul 10, 2012

5 Things I Learned About Marriage From My Mom

I have pretty amazing parents. They've been married for 36 years and together for a total of 40 (they were high school sweethearts). Forty years! Can you even imagine?

My parents' long partnership has taught me a lot about marriage -- both what I want from my relationship and what I don't (sorry parents, it's true). And I've learned a few things in particular from my mother, whom I have watched blossom and reinvent herself time and time again throughout my life. In honor of Mother's Day, here are five marriage lessons I've learned from this awesome lady.

1. Marry Someone You Want To Be With, Not Just Someone Other People Say Is "Right" For You

This might seem obvious, but marriage is a tricky institution. While your parents may be tolerant of your dating scraggly-bearded, Grateful Dead t-shirt-wearing, armchair philosophizing boys in your teens, they'll probably have a few words for you if those men end up on your list of potential marriage candidates later in life (no offense to all the very sweet, scraggly-bearded philosophers out there). They'll likely tell you those boys aren't "right" for you, and unfortunately that can be a death knell for an otherwise happy relationship.

My mother married a man she knew her mother would never approve of; a non-Greek boy from the wrong side of the tracks, with long hair to boot! They dated in secret for five years before my Mom revealed the truth to her mother, who, of course, disapproved. But my Mom stood her ground and my grandmother eventually came around, later praising my father for his excellence as a husband. If my Mom had married the "right" person, she'd probably be divorced and sad, with really lame kids who wreaked havoc at their Greek school (I'm looking at you, elementary school peers).

2. Test Drive The Car Before You Buy It

Sorry to drag this one out into the air, Mama, but you definitely taught me (intentionally or not) that you should have sex with your future spouse before saying "I Do." I'm not getting into the details here, but suffice to say this was a really important lesson.

3. Don't Lose Yourself After Marriage, And If You Do, Work Really Hard To Find Yourself Again

I've watched my mother change a lot over the years. She was a stay-at-home Mom/dance instructor/president of the PTA/superwoman when I was a little girl, who later ran for local office, worked part-time at a daycare, worked in my school lunch room, worked at a health food store and finally opened her own business when I was in high school. All while raising my older brother and me, having five siblings and an aging mother, cooking, cleaning and basically doing more things every single day than most people do in a week (to all the Mamas out there -- you all seem to have this amazing skill and I commend you highly).

The most amazing thing for me to watch was my mother go through a process of self rediscovery in her fifties: she rediscovered her independence, her passions, her life outside the home. Suddenly she had dinner dates after work, drinks with her friends on the weekend and mani/pedi appointments. I watched my Mom find herself 25+ years into her marriage, which taught me that life doesn't stop just because you have a husband, children or even because you go through menopause.

4. Do Fun Stuff With Your Spouse

My parents' marriage, while long, has weathered its fair share of storms. There were many times I thought it wouldn't last, but every time I figured they were finished, my parents somehow picked themselves up, dusted each other off and carried on (yes, I'm making it sound easier than it was). Now, both in their late 50s, my parents pride themselves on spending time together and doing fun things. For my Mom in particular, who you'll remember developed an active social life in her middle ages, spending time having fun with my Dad has become a cornerstone of keeping her marriage intact. That's why they spend Sundays biking to the beach, or going on long drives to the country, or scouring the city for the best yard sales. It's why they go to Cuba every year, despite the fact that until my late teens I never saw my parents go out of town alone together. Their priorities are different now, and that's part of what keeps their marriage strong. My Mom showed me that having a full life means doing what you love, having close friends and enjoying your spouse.

5. Hug And Kiss Hello And Goodbye. Say "I love you." Say "Good Morning" (And "Good Night," Unless You Pass Out On The Couch At 8pm And Forget)

This is one of the things I love most about my parents. Through 36 years of marriage, they've always kissed each other good morning and goodnight (except for the aforementioned evenings when my Mom falls asleep on the couch way too early), said "I love you" at the door, on the phone and whenever else it pops into their heads and shown each other heaps of affection. They behave similarly with my brother and me, expecting "I love yous" after every phone call, and my Mom is one of the key enforcers. We often have truncated phone calls while she's at work on Saturdays; she'll have to get off the phone three or four times in 30 minutes to handle customers at her health food store, but she always says "I love you" before she hangs up, even on the fourth call. It's an important habit that I've brought into my marriage: My husband and I kiss each other goodbye at the door every morning, we say "Goodnight" and "I love you" before bed even when we're mad at each other and we're affectionate. They're little things, but they keep us connected.

My parents' relationship has changed a lot over the years; we've changed a lot as a family. But watching my Mom be a wife, and listening to her talk about marriage, has taught me that love can endure through even the darkest times. Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I love you.

Below, photos of my family:

My Mom's Lessons About Marriage