My parents recently celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary. They started out so young – my mom at 18, my dad at 21. They have literally spent over half their lives together!
But, it hasn’t always been a fairytale. Life has a way of making sure that doesn’t happen.
When I was a toddler, nightmares from my mother’s past were brought to light. And in the light, everything was made ugly. Things got so ugly, in fact, that my dad was planning on leaving. But, he stayed. He stayed because of me. It’s the hard decisions like this that determine the success of a marriage – do I stay or do I go? My dad stayed and he fought hard for their marriage.
Obviously, things are better since they are on their 37th anniversary. But, they have had their fair share of storms and trials. They have stood in the face of job successes and failures, business ventures and business endings, times of plenty and times of barely enough, and recently some very scary health issues.
Sometimes it seems like some people hold the secrets to happiness. That MAYBE, just maybe, they found the perfect one and nothing is going to tear them apart. Maybe, they just lucked out. But, marriage isn’t about lucking about. It isn’t about finding the “perfect” someone or harboring some great key to the secrets of love and happiness.
But, there’s no secret key. There’s no special formula. Marriage is about…it’s about…Well, I’ll just refer to one of my favorite quotes on marriage from the movie Just Married.
“Some days your mother and me loved each other. Other days we had to work at it. You never see the hard days in a photo album… but those are the ones that get you from one happy snapshot to the next.”
Marriage is about working through the hard days. It’s the decision to put one foot in front of the other until you get past the tough times. Marriage is hard work. They should really be considered synonyms. Because it’s HARD and each day presents it’s own challenges.
I had an inside view of my parent’s marriage. And as my sister and I brainstormed about what made their marriage work, we continually went back to these things:
1) Make Time for Each Other
It doesn’t have to be an all out date night every Friday or even every other week. But, taking time out of your day to just talk to them, hold their hand, or listen to their frustrations goes a long way.
2) Be Willing to Forgive Each Other
1 Corinthians 13:5 states that love keeps no record of wrongs. Easier said than done sometimes. But, forgiveness isn’t about the other person being wrong and you being right. It’s about you making the choice to forgive, regardless of the wrongs committed against you. And, if you say you forgive, then don’t bring it up in an argument later. That is not forgiveness! Forgiveness forgets and continues to forget because it’s a choice, not a feeling.
3) Be the Champion of Their Dreams
My dad is a dreamer and he goes for those dreams. Some dreams, my mother does NOT understand. Some she’s hesitant to embrace. But, she supports my dad. And likewise, he supports her endeavors.
4) Find Hobbies Together (or Be Willing to Partake in Their Hobby)
I will speak from my own experience here. My husband is an avid fly fisher. I think fish are stinky and slimy. But, if he mentions going to Bass Pro to get fly tying material, then I tell him to swing by and we’ll go in. If he wants to show me a new fly pattern, I ooh and ahh (because I really do find that part fascinating).
For our anniversary one year, I gave him a guided fly fishing trip. He was happy, but mentioned several times that he wished I could go (considering my daughter was just a few months old it was going to be difficult). Still, I made it work. We didn’t go as long as he would have liked, but I went with him. Regardless of the length of the trip, he was happy and mentioned over and over how happy he was that I went.
Was it my cup of tea? Absolutely not. But, I went because it made him happy.
Find what makes them happy, or find something to do together. It can make all the difference.
5) Respect the Other Spouse
Whether you agree with them or not, whether you’ve heard the story or joke a thousand times, whether they embarrass you with their crazy antics, never tear them down in public. Just laugh and roll with the punches, but never call them out or put them down in front of your friends.The same goes in the home. Don’t criticize your spouse in front of your children. Always build them up, especially to your children.
The book Love and Respect is a phenomenal guide to showing love and respect within your marriage. I highly recommend reading it if you are struggling in this area.
6) Serve Together
Working alongside your spouse, especially serving in the church or community, can open your eyes to a whole new side of your spouse. I know that in the times my husband and I have worked alongside each other, I have seen the ways he is a great problem solver or just willing to jump in and do anything. These I probably wouldn’t have seen had we not served together.
Additionally, serving together promotes unity since you are a united force working towards the same goal.
7) Pray Together and Pray for Each Other
There is a reason why books like The Power of a Praying Wife have been so popular. Praying specifically for your spouse keeps them in the forefront of your mind. It ensures that you are not acting selfishly, but acting selflessly as you are focusing on the needs of your spouse (spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally). And, above all else, it keeps the enemy from sneaking in and planting seeds of doubt and dissension.
The same is applied when you pray together. Just like with serving, when you pray together, you present a united front against the devil. His ultimate goal is to rip apart marriages that bring glory to God. Praying together, uniting in prayer together, and fighting for your marriage together is probably one of the most important things you can do.
I know there are many, many more things that can help build a strong marriage. Some I am still discovering in my own marriage, but these are at least a great jumping point.
As for my parents, I know they don’t have the perfect marriage. Because, marriage is a constantly changing scene. Things arise and partners get on each others nerves or just simply make the other angry. Sometimes things arise that beat down and exhaust the couple. But just like the movie quoted – it’s these hard times that make the way for the happy times.
My parents have weathered so many, many storms – some that people probably don’t even know about – because they weathered the storms together, through prayer and with strength and dignity. Their example of a godly marriage is inspiring; and I can honestly say that, if I have a marriage half as great as theirs, I will have a wonderful life with John.