Today my wife and I celebrate ten years of wedded bliss!
Okay, not every moment has been blissful but, on the whole, we are happy. Do we have some kind of secret? Is there some great wisdom I could share with you about how to build long-lasting, successful marriages?
Sure, why not?
There are two guaranteed ways to stay married for as long as you would like:
- Don’t die.
- Don’t get divorced.
That’s it! My advice is done!
Well, perhaps I should elaborate and also take some of the sting out of words which might unintentionally hurt people.
If death is the thing which parts married people then one of the ways to have a long marriage is to just stay alive. Long life is a prerequisite for a long marriage. If we do not die then we can stay married as long as we choose.
Now, here is one of the places where I need to backtrack a bit and be sure I am gentle to some people. Not everyone chooses to die and very, very few people would choose for their spouse to die. When I think of friends who have lost a spouse way too early in their young lives my heart breaks for them. This advice is not meant to be so flippant that it ignores the real possibility of grief, sadness and loss that can enter our lives. The consolation some of us have is that the death of our bodies or the death of a loved one is not the end of love. We will meet our husbands and wives again in Heaven where love will continue forever. This is a genuine hope which can produce great strength when tragedy weakens us.
For those who are alive, what does it mean to have an enduring marriage by not dying? It is pretty simple, really. Take care of yourself so that you are there for your spouse. Take care of your spouse so that they are there for you. Here is a little saying I heard somewhere that I really like:
If you see a beautiful young woman then you thank her parents. If you see a beautiful older woman then you thank her husband.
Obviously, women (and men) have a lot to do with maintaining their own health. Yet marriage, being a partnership, requires us to do more for our spouses. What do I do?
I buy clothes for my wife when she is too reserved or stressed to buy clothes for herself. Why? Because I want her to feel as if she can dress up and be beautiful.
I actively pursue intimacy and physical affection with my wife. Why? Admittedly, this is not exactly an unpleasant chore! Yet it it still a discipline. I do it because I want my wife to feel as if she is still attractive to me.
I encourage my wife in her own plans to eat better and work out more. Why? Because I want my wife to be healthy and to feel healthy.
I try to make space for my wife to be with other women. Why? So that she can have a healthy social life that does not always revolve around me and our four kids. This promotes mental health.
I endeavor to work around the house and share the workload. Why? Because I do not want my wife’s life to be reduced to sleeping, waking, cleaning and babysitting. These things might not kill her body but they might damage her emotions and her liveliness.
Perhaps I fail in a lot of ways and I mess up often. Yet I want to try. I want my wife and I to stay alive physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
That last one is important! Our family goes to church together, we have family devotions together and we pray together. Sometimes we fall out of parts of this routine but we try to get back on the wagon. Why? Because a healthy body with a dead spirit is, in the words of the Bible, a whitewashed tomb.
Don’t Get Divorced.
Okay, maybe this is another ‘duh!’ moment for you. Of course if you want to stay married then you have to avoid divorce. What in world am I talking about?
Quite simply, divorce should be taken off of the table as an option. There are circumstances when a divorce is permissible for a Christian. Yet there are a lot of times when a divorce is not necessarily beneficial. Certainly, it is true that entertaining divorce as an option will corrode the iron commitment we need to have to our spouses.
When we disagree, my wife and I do not have any disagreements which can end in divorce. We might fall out over how we spend our money but we will not divorce because of this. We might argue about what to do with the kids or the garden or the decorating but we will not get divorced over this. Simply put, no argument in our marriage can end in divorce.
This means, of course, that we must restrain ourselves. There are lines and boundaries we may not cross.
So if I am having an argument with my wife then I must not let my rhetoric get so heated that I say something which I cannot take back. I must not allow my mouth to damage my wife.
If I am feeling down or tired or angry I must protect my family. There are at least three ways I can do this:
I can shut up so that I do not say things which are harmful. Even if I say nothing and my unhappiness and restraint is plain for everyone to see I have still done better than if I had opened my big blabber and hurt my wife with my words. If I do not have something nice to say then maybe I should just keep my mouth shut.
I can protect my family by going away sometimes. Just this week I had a day where I felt really grumpy, impatient and mean. This is, of course, just old age setting in! My choice was to go down to the river, get in my boat, and paddle for a few hours. When I returned I was better! If I cannot remain and be silent then I must leave.
Substituting one difficult experience for something much less difficult is really wise. Sometimes when I come home my house is not peaceful, serene and tidy. This has happened twice in the past ten years. Okay, well maybe a few more times than that since the kids arrived…
When I walk into my house and it feels chaotic, untidy and out of control, I could react by shouting at my wife and kids. I could spank every bottom in sight and castigate my wife as well. Instead, I try to first do a little mental self-inventory. If I feel up to patiently helping to put things back in order then that is what I do. If I do not feel up to this task then I make a substitution. Whatever was on the menu for dinner gets forgotten. Whatever plans were made get abandoned. The kids get put into the car and strapped down. The wife is instructed to get in the car as well. Then we all go to McDonald’s, KFC or somewhere else where someone else does all of the cooking and cleaning. After we have eaten we drive until the kids fall asleep. Then we drive home and my wife and I can have a little chat about stuff while there is silence in the car.
Is that good parenting and good relating? I don’t know and I don’t care. What I do know is that making this kind of substitution reduces anger, frustration and work. This is helpful.
So, how can anyone stay married for ten years or more?
Don’t die. Take care of yourselves.
Don’t get divorced. Choose to love and forgive.