Today is my parents’ “golden anniversary”, meaning that they’ve been married for 29 years and it’s the 29th of July.
After observing them for some time, I’ve gleaned these pieces of marriage advice from their relationship:
How to Be “Happy to Be Stuck With You”
Put Jesus at the center.
My parents weren’t married “young” in the sense that they were still teens, but they were definitely younger than they are now (truism!). Not only were their personalities and ideologies still developing, but the Holy Spirit hadn’t done as much renovation in their lives as He has at this point.
People who become entangled in relationships at a very young age can find that, as they grow and mature, they aren’t so compatible as they once were. The best example off the top of my head is the protagonist from God’s Not Dead and his girlfriend. (My brother can hate me for mentioning it if he wants.)
Those two started the relationship before they really had to live their faith in a way that challenged them. When the guy tried to follow God in the direction he felt called, the girl refused to go that direction – and split.
If you are a Christian, you have to make sure your life-partner is a Christian, too. If both of you have the Holy Spirit living inside you, teaching you want God wants, then no matter how you each change over the years you’ll be pulling in the same direction. You’ll both be yoked to the same Master.
As Dad started thinking more deeply about world issues, and his viewpoint shifted in response to God’s Word, Mom could come along with him because 1) she was led by the same Spirit as he was, and 2) she believed in submitting to his leadership as the man (which came from #1).
When Dad decided to move states to set up our little homestead, Mom followed him not only because she was committed to him, their relationship, and our family…but also because she trusted where he was getting his direction and guidance.
Be totally besotted with each other.
My dad is a much more romantic, expressive person than my mom is, so it’s more obvious with him. He’s still head-over-heels in love with my mom after thirty years of knowing her. He may appreciate other women’s womanly graces – from a distance. But no other woman has a chance at his heart or affections because he’s totally sold out to his wife.
Of course it’s not the only thing that makes their relationship work, but it certainly makes the rest easier.
Being “in love” is a mysterious (and somewhat suspicious) phenomenon. I don’t pretend to have a science of it, but practicing to love someone frequently helps you to actually love them.
Mom is the only woman in the world. Dad is the only man in the world. It doesn’t matter how beautiful anyone else is, or how strong and hard-working someone else is. In terms of a romantic connection, they do not exist. Mom and Dad exist for each other, ’til death do us part.
Gifts are for the other person, not for you.
This also applies to chores that you volunteer for.
You may think it’s intensely romantic to buy a puppy, secretly arrange a candlelit dinner, completely redecorate the house, etc.
But if you’re truly doing it for the other person, it’s what your spouse thinks that matters.
Mom is a frugal, practical, and conscientious person. So Dad has learned that it’s much more romantic to, say, vacuum the floor or wash the dishes than to buy Valentine’s roses or overpriced, uncomfortable, slinky outfits.
Likewise, my mom is constantly giving us her time as she cooks, cleans, and cares for us. But she also thinks about what Dad would enjoy, and likes to buy him funny T-shirts with computer jokes on them…rather than something she thinks he might need, but not want.
When she praises his insights or tells him he’s smart, part of it is her being honest…and part of it is her giving him the validation and respect he both needs as a man, and deserves as her husband.
Talk it out.
Nowadays, few things make my parents fight like passive-aggression. Because they’re both trying to serve the other, they have trouble sometimes expressing their own preferences (especially my mom).
Whether it’s making plans for the afternoon, discussing major investments/expenses, or talking about dinner, they do better when they lay out all the pros and cons and work as a team, rather than play the game of:
Well, what do you want to do?
Oh, whatever you want.
But what do you want to do?
What for? I’ll do what you want, but –
The Long-Haul is Worth It
Some will try to convince you that an overnight fling will give you all you need. That if you’re not getting everything you want from your “significant other”, that you should cut your losses and run. That commitment only applies while it’s convenient.
Lies! All lies.
A tree doesn’t grow fruit by saying, “Y’know, I like that soil over there better. I’m gonna pull up and try that spot.”
A tree grows by staying in one place, enduring the bugs that eat its leaves away, looking like a stick for a few years…and then pushing out itty-bitty apples that aren’t big enough for pie. And then the next year, it’s bigger, and puts out more apples, and then…
Then you have fruit.
The most obvious fruit is me and my brother – the direct, biological fruit.
But there are also all the foster kids my parents sheltered, who – for perhaps the only time in their lives – saw a husband and wife committed to each other and to the children in their care.
Besides that, I can’t count the number of people who have come alongside us – in one context or another – and testified to how inspired they were by our family’s example. Simply by living out their commitment, day by day, through the fights and the arguments and learning pains, my parents have touched and strengthened many other lives.
Beyond a Shared Mortgage…
It’s not about tax breaks, or combining your 401Ks. If you’re here only because the other person is really hot…you’re missing out on so much.
Yes, “young love” is fun. (So I’ve been told.) Yes, it’s beautiful – why do you think we keep telling stories about it, over and over and over? But Year 29 is also beautiful. Year 40 is also wonderful. Year 50, Year 60 are incredible.
You can’t get there unless you get through the first time you want to go on a fancy date, and she’s stressed out because she cleaned the bathrooms all day. Or you can’t understand why he never helps out around the house, and he’s putting in overtime at work and just wants to sit in the Man Cave and breathe deeply.
Relationships weren’t meant to be easy. If it were easy, we could do it on our own. We’re meant to need help…from our parents, from our neighbors, from our pastors – from God. Our lives weren’t meant to be solitary strands of ambition, but spiderwebs of commitment and dependence – covered with diamond dew-drops of grace.
A Toast —
Here’s to my parents – inspiring, training, and equipping me; learning, failing, and trying again together; encouraging, mentoring, and modeling for others.
They started this journey long before I came along, and they’ll still be at it (Lord willing) long after I’ve started my own experiment.
I’m counting on it. I’m going to need all the help I can get understanding The Mister.
She currently lives with her family somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.
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