I was in Phoenix this weekend for my niece’s wedding, where my daughters giddily fulfilled their role as flower girls.

Once the beautiful outdoor ceremony ended, we made our way into the reception hall for some celebratory dancing.

At one point the DJ had all married couples fill the dance floor. He then asked couples to stop dancing and stand aside as he called out how many years we had all been married — “married for one year, step aside, married for five years, stand aside.” And so on.

Dr. Karla and I came somewhere in the middle at 10 years this year, but there were several couples well into the 30-40 year range. My parents invited friends from their Dancing Social Club, which skewed the anniversary dates up several decades.

By the end, one couple was celebrating their 50th anniversary this year…

…and that left my parents the Grand Champions at 52 years married.

Winners in more ways than one!

The DJ then asked them what their secret to such a happy long-term marriage was, but more on that in a moment.

As is customary at wedding receptions, several toasts were made after dinner.

One toast in particular stood out to me, the toast made by my father.

Dad mentioned that, years prior, Lindsay (my niece) asked him how would she know when a man was the one who would be the love of her life.

He went on to say that was a difficult question to answer because he had met the love of his life when he was 7 years old, on the South Side Chicago city block he (and all his children) grew up on.

Mom promised him that “when the time was right they would get married, have children and live a life of happiness and adventures that they would pass on and share with their family.”

Dad said he was standing there that night fulfilling that promise, with his children present and passing the joys of their lives on now to their granddaughter and her new family.

My parents relationship seems more and more like a modern fairy tale (far better than The Notebook) the more details of which they mete out to us children now that we are all adults.

In 52-plus years together (more because they didn’t get married until over a decade after they met), they have been through more trials and tribulations than I have a glimpse of, yet their memories are always on the bright side of whatever happened.

I commented to Dr. Karla about an engrossing book I’m reading that one of the reasons I so enjoy it is because of how the author develops his endearing characters through their actions, rather than describing what they are like.

This has been my experience with my parents, they have always shown their characters through their actions, by their examples of how their children should treat others with kindness and face life with a hopeful attitude, come what may.

As for the DJ’s question, “what is the secret to long-term marriage success?”

“Don’t sweat the small stuff, and keep moving forward.”

Speaking of tests, this is Test Week at SMAA, which is what made me think of my parents and some of their secrets to success.

1.            They started young.  This may not be possible for us all, luck does play a part. I didn’t meet the love of my life until I was 34. If your children are training right now, they have a HUGE advantage toward their self-improvement because they are obviously young. Starting young helps a great deal, but just as important is to keep going.

2.            They made a promise, one they kept.  PRE-COMMITMENT has been scientifically studied and proven to be one important factor in succeeding. Pre-committing means you take your short-term emotions out of the equation and behave according your your highest VALUES. Pre-committing makes every subsequent decision easier and more or less automatic, insuring you stay on the path you have deemed worthy prior. Powerful Strategy, that pre-commitment is! Every single one of our advanced students is an advanced/expert student BECAUSE of pre-commitment to their goals, not because of anything unique to themselves.

3.            They envisioned a bright future, then went about creating it.  My parents never asked anyone for a thing, rather their generous hearts always reached out to help anyone in need. To this day, my dad can’t turn away beggars who hang around their neighborhood asking for spare change. They always made decisions based on where they were headed, obstacles be damned. Take personal responsibility for training and improving, devoid of blame or excuses and you will see such success that seems impossible to most people.

4.            They have always supported each other. My niece asked for guests to write some advice in her guestbook. My advice was that when life tests and challenges them, the correct move is always toward each other, then they would make it through anything. I got that advice from watching my parents. I have never seen such devotion to each other, the kind that continues to pull them through inevitable challenges that occur to adults in their 70’s and onward. No one can make it through this life alone, and they live the adage, “if you want to run fast, run alone, but if you want to run far, run together.”

It’s all-too-common to stumble across saccharine self-help platitudes like “You’re amazing!” that ring hollow and don’t touch our being.

It’s undeniably more powerful to be saturated in examples of how exactly to live a good life, watching someone get it right.

I hope my parents’ examples may help you as they have guided my own life, on and off the mats, and if you’ve had similar experiences with your own family or friends, then you know what I mean.  Stop and say a quick word of gratitude for them.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff, and keep moving forward.”