. . .preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight (Proverbs 3:21 NIV).
I kissed my husband Charles good-bye, waved as I backed down the driveway and drove off for a weekend speaking engagement. His last words rolled across my mind.
"Be safe and have fun. I realize when you come home you'll be a new person. I'm looking forward to the changes I'll see."
We had talked the night before about not taking each other for granted––in other words, assuming we knew all there was to know about one another––and about the importance of supporting each other as individuals with ideas, dreams and goals of our own.
Yes, we were one in spirit and flesh as married partners but we were also a man and a woman who had God-given talents and gifts to share with the world. Changes and challenges were inevitable and we wanted to accept rather than resist them. We committed to praying for discernment in our relationship so we would not grow complacent.
I can say today, as my mother often said about her marriage to my father, "We're not out of the woods yet, but we're on our way, and most important, we're still together." She and my dad had walked side by side and climbed over a few boulders, as well, for more than 60 years.
The following suggestions for staying married for life (and happily so) are based on observations, conversations and trial and error in my marriage. They work––thanks to my parents' example, the advice of people I admire and the counsel and prayer of an older married couple, Rob and Grace, who befriended my husband and me many years ago.
Perhaps they will work for you too as you ask God for discernment, practice it and then experience the rewards and results in your marriage.
Being 'there' for your spouse is what being married is really about. It takes time to get to know another person. If you're not available, it can't happen. Our friends Tom and Lou go out for dinner every Friday night and they have done so for more than 30 years. When their children were young, they hired a sitter. Nothing but a serious illness keeps them from this weekly date where they focus on one another in a relaxed setting.
Russ awakens his wife Jean each morning with a cup of her favorite tea. The two then sit in bed together, talk over their plans for the day and spend a few minutes in prayer. "Our day always goes better when we pray first," said Russ.
Ginger and Alan work together in real estate—a business with unpredictable hours and lots of driving. One works in the field, the other in the office. "Believe it or not we rarely see each other during the day so we've made a point of having lunch together," said Ginger. "Nothing gets in the way of that one hour when we can talk, plan, laugh and debrief."
And Sally and Dave bought a hot tub where they spend their special time together each night before going to bed. "The couple that soaks together stays together," Sally joked.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12:34 NIV).
Have you ever walked up to someone at an event, and as you begin talking, he or she nods and makes polite sounds, but is clearly elsewhere in spirit? He scans the crowd while he's standing with you. Or she peeks around your shoulder as if to say, "I wonder who else is here." It's chilling to be on the receiving end of such treatment. It's bad enough when it occurs at a social or business gathering, but it can be devastating in a marriage.
To be attentive, one must pay attention! Look your spouse in the eye. Listen for your mate's heart, not just for his or her words. This is an area of challenge for almost everyone. We lead such busy lives that many of us have made a habit of doing more than one thing at the same time. We make phone calls while driving, cook with one hand and scribble a list with the other, cut a child's hair as we help our mate with the monthly finances.
Later we wonder where the years went and why we don't feel as connected to our husband or wife as we hoped we would. We long for another hug. We wish we could laugh and play more. We notice a growing distance between us. If this is true for you, take heart. It's not too late. Regardless of how long you've been married, you can learn from those mistakes. Each of us can choose today to start paying attention to the person we vowed to love and cherish for a lifetime.
"His God instructs him and teaches him the right way" (Is. 28:26 NIV).
A friend of mine had a successful restaurant business for 20 years. He credited it to his weekly round-table meetings with his employees. "He knew his people would not be effective if they were carrying around emotional baggage," said his wife Anne. Each Monday morning Frank invited them to share anything that might interfere with them doing their job. "At the end of the meeting you could feel the change in the air," she said. "Employees felt closer to one another because they knew they weren't alone. Other people cared."
This custom inspired me. I started practicing it with my husband. Instead of assuming I know what's going on with him, I pray for discernment when I suspect something is upsetting him. Then I ask if he'd like to talk and if so, I try to listen and empathize rather than rush in with a pat answer.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves (Romans 12:10.
Two words spouses don't hear often enough––from one another:
- "Thank you for being my love."
- "Thank you for working so hard for our family."
- "Thank you for supporting me."
- "Thank you for being you."
Gratitude is not an option. It's actually God's will. As the apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Thes. 5:16-18, ". . . give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
The more we express our appreciation toward our mates, the freer we become of negative thoughts and emotions toward one another. Resentment and judgment cannot exist in the same space with appreciation.
"Gratitude is the rosemary of the heart," wrote 19th century writer Minna Antrim.
How little it would take to sprinkle rosemary into the lives of our spouses. A simple 'thank you' every single day would do it!
As we become available, attentive, aware, and appreciative toward our marriage partners, we are building a relationship that will last a lifetime—and happily so.