Relationships do not always play out like a situation comedy, where all is neatly resolved within the space of 30 minutes. Just ask Kirk and Chelsea Cameron, who have experienced both a real-life and sitcom relationship together.
Cast as boyfriend and girlfriend on the '80s hit sitcom "Growing Pains," they had just enough conflict in their on-screen relationship to engage viewers and keep them coming back for yet another satisfying resolution. But when Kirk and Chelsea took their romance off-screen and were joined in marriage, their commitment to one another was certainly deeper than what could be summed up in witty one-liners.
Since then, they have faced challenges that did not have quick or easy resolutions. But their lasting commitment to each other has inspired a generation weary of Hollywood weddings and breakups. In a culture where celebrity nuptials can often be counted in days or even hours, Kirk and Chelsea's marriage has thrived for more than 18 years.
So what's their secret?
When Kirk vowed to remain faithful to Chelsea until death, he knew this was more than a commitment of convenience. "Marriage is a covenant relationship between me, my wife and Jesus," Kirk says. "And there is no exiting out of that covenant relationship." Even when Kirk steps on set, he stays true to his marriage vow.
In 2008, Kirk starred in the movie Fireproof and was supposed to kiss co-star Erin Bethea at the end of the movie. He believed in the film's message of commitment, but the kiss would have compromised his commitment to his wife. "There's nothing make-believe about kissing an actress," Kirk says. "You're kissing her. I made a commitment not to kiss any actress, ever. That's reserved for my wife."
As a result, the production company shot the kissing scene in silhouette. Chelsea dressed to look like his co-star. By doing this, Kirk honored his wife and finished shooting the movie.
"God defines the terms," Kirk says, "we don't. It's a union built entirely on trust. Trust, first in God — that as we move ahead in the power of the Spirit, by faith, God will work all things together for good, no matter the circumstances."
The meaning of commitment
Kirk and Chelsea are careful to point out that their marriage isn't perfect, and at times, hasn't been easy. For Chelsea, commitment means that she's willing to be supportive of Kirk, regardless of how she's feeling.
"Jesus says to show love whether you feel love or not," she says. "It's through our obedience that God will bless us. It's not through acting on our feelings. "I want to have a worthy walk with the Lord," she says. "This is my highest calling. And how that plays out in daily life is just staying committed — working diligently at the call of being a wife and mother."
When Kirk and Chelsea look back at the difficult times in their marriage, they recognize that those rough spots were often the result of busy schedules, selfishness, stress and major life transitions.
"If you hang in there long enough," Kirk says, "if you just trust the Lord, you can say, 'God taught us a lot during those times. He taught us to be patient. He taught us to be kind. He taught us to be selfless and put our spouse's needs before our own.' "
The little moments
Time together as a couple has proven elusive for the Camerons. Their days are extremely busy as they care for their six kids — Jack, Isabella, Anna, Luke, Olivia and James — all of them a year apart. Between the kids' different schedules and Kirk's traveling, they've learned the importance of togetherness.
Chelsea remembers how their separate activities and travel created distance between them. To regain what they had lost, Kirk and Chelsea started doing Tuesday morning breakfasts with each other.
Chelsea says, "We'd have breakfast together, and it was amazing. I mean, you spend an hour alone looking across the table at your husband, and you think, I just remembered why I really like you! Because I wasn't crazy about you this morning, but I like you now!" Chelsea laughs and then adds, "Kirk and I, we really love to talk to each other."
When they're able, they escape to the guesthouse in their backyard for quiet time and conversation. Kirk says they talk for a couple of hours while the kids watch a movie or read books. He is quick to note that it's not practical for them to have a date night every Friday because it's hard to get baby sitters for six kids. Chelsea adds, "We just try to find those pockets of time where we can, and a lot of that time is spent talking about the kids, but it doesn't matter because it's alone time."
Couples need to make the most of little opportunities, even if it's only 10 to 20 minutes here or there, Kirk says. If couples wait for the semiannual vacation trip to connect, they will drift apart — two weeks a year is not enough together time. To keep their marriage healthy, couples need to connect every day.
Kirk is intentional about doing this. "I put the remote and newspaper down and just ask, 'How are you? What's going on? What are you thinking about?' "
Lessons in marriage
Over the years, Kirk has learned how to listen to his wife's needs and concerns. Now as he makes his list of things to get done for the day, he asks his wife, "Honey, tell me what's on your mind. What are the things that you're trying to get done today? I want to be able to help you." What she says goes to the top of his to-do list. Kirk then does his best to complete the tasks in order to serve and bless his wife.
Kirk encourages husbands to "go to school" and study their wives and wives to study their husbands. Spouses should learn as much as they can about each other — what they like and don't like, and areas where they struggle and need help. With that knowledge, they can take the initiative to meet those needs and do things that show they value their spouse.
Chelsea says that she held many strong opinions when they were first married (and still does), so she has had to learn to step away from negative conflict. She no longer works solely toward what she thinks is right, but toward what God says is Truth. "I have learned to trust the Lord more and not try to take things in my own hands and in my own strength," she says.
The secret of change
Forgiveness is key to Chelsea. She realized over time that it wasn't her job to change Kirk. Instead, she had to allow the Holy Spirit to change her.
"A lot of times people say, 'Well, if he'd stop doing that, then I'll be this,' " Chelsea says. She no longer buys into that. Instead of focusing on her husband, whom she can't change, she focuses on getting her part of the marriage right. Kirk does the same.
And how do you get your part of the marriage right? Kirk says it starts with a change of heart. "Understand that the heart of the problem in marriage is always the problem of the heart." Because of selfishness, for example, a husband might conclude that his spouse is not giving him what he thinks he deserves. As a result, she may not feel loved.
"The only One who can change the heart of a sinful man or woman and cause him or her to love unconditionally is Almighty God," Kirk says. "A supernatural thing needs to happen. Without a new heart, all the great advice in the world will do nothing."Andrea Gutierrez is a senior associate editor for Focus on the Family magazine.