My husband Rodger and I looked at each other and smiled, really smiled from the heart. It was our 31st wedding anniversary. Our love, companionship, understanding, help and continuity had grown strong through years of doing life together in complete commitment. The path had not always been easy, but we had “made it” to the long-term marriage group.
When we drove away from our wedding guests years earlier, all was new and exciting. Everything was a first. The unknown and resulting adrenalin were the main, driving forces every day. All seemed rosy and smooth. We thought we were complete — that we had reached a milestone in life and been catapulted into maturity.
We had read lots of books on marriage and its many benefits. All listed the rewards and personal improvements that could be gained by such a relationship. Some were good and some provided nothing of real value. According to Jacob Silverman Silverman, Jacob. “How Marriage Works.” n.d., cited 14 January 2008. there were 1,138 federal benefits, rights and responsibilities associated with marriage. Gallagher and Waite Waite, Linda and Gallagher, Maggie. The Case for Marriage. 2000. Pub. Doubleday. stated that married persons are happier, healthier and better off financially.
We both started wondering if we actually needed that much information for marriage. We kept many of those things in mind at the start, but it was other factors that mostly guided us through the years, keeping us focused on the benefits God offered. During three decades together, the “rosiness” grew to mean more than an exciting beginning and challenging adventure. And that growth often showed up over and over in several areas.
Learning the Differences
The newness was followed by one of working out a relationship between two individuals with many differences — learning how to compromise, give in, fight fair. This stage demanded a lot of time and more commitment and understanding than our hearts contained. Shannon L. Carter of Ohio State Carter, Shannon L., M.S. “After You Say ‘I Do’: Adjusting to Marriage.” Ohio State University Extension. February 2001, cited 14 January 2008. said the first three years of marriage are the years of working out the relationship. Well, I think we managed to stretch that into 10.
Working out a relationship requires knowing both yourself and your spouse, understanding strengths and weaknesses and encouraging growth in your spouse’s unique personality. Keirsey and Bates Keirsey, David and Bates, Marilyn. Please Understand Me. 1984. Distr. Prometheus Nemesis Book Company. have defined temperament types and given clear understanding in how this can be accomplished in marriage, work and life. They help a person to understand why husbands and wives make certain choices. For example, my husband chose to go sky diving. He loves excitement and challenge and fears very few things. But I have no desire for that experience. Our two choices are characteristic of our temperaments and inner needs.
Our ability to understand our spouse can make or break a relationship. Healthy communication requires respecting both yourself and the other person. When angry, we must learn not to sin with our words. Name-calling or degrading the other is never affective in solving issues. Instead, we need to start from the truth that our spouse is created in God's image and speak to an issue without killing off our partner’s heart and spirit with words.
Learning to respect and communicate through the differences might be a challenge. But a good marriage is worth that price and much more. After the struggle and adversity comes a stage of peace and joy in having made a unit out of two separate lives — the joy of waking up each day with the one you love.
Understanding With Patience
Deep understanding is another benefit that comes with time and care — listening to the emotions, reading between the lines, watching how “that other person” deals with life. Before we were married, I thought I knew my husband well. And I did for the amount of time we had spent together. But the understanding I have now comes with years of watching and interacting with him.
There is no shortcut to gaining understanding — no instant package in this arena of life. It requires seeing and valuing the other person’s heart, asking yourself questions like, “What matters to my other half?” or “What are the inner thoughts of his or her heart?” Keep the things you learn as a sacred trust. Use your understanding to grow the heart and tenderness of your relationship and guard it with patience.
Yes, some have more capacity for reading others according to the spiritual gifts the Lord has given them. Some are better at patience. But we are each able to give the one we love significant insight for life’s choices only through years of deep and honest sharing between patient, understanding hearts.
Becoming Best Friends
Through the years, Rodger and I have grown to be best friends. We learned about and supported our mutual interests, values, goals and directions. Friday became our date night. On Saturdays, we made it a point to “make memories” by going on unforgettable and fun outings — sometimes with friends or family, sometimes alone.
There were many activities that didn’t cost money — it wasn’t necessary to go into debt to have fun. The important thing was to spend time doing something together — whether a walk or a movie or whatever there was to enjoy. We nurtured a relationship that supported our lives together through sorrow, loss, discouragement, anger and those desert times that go with life.
Sharing the Tasks of Life
Sometimes the tasks of living are heavy to bear. Having someone who is committed to you for life and who is willing to split up the challenges in a way that works for both of you makes those tasks doable. Otherwise, life can quickly spiral out of control. As we age, this is especially true because we start to lose our strength and stamina. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says that two are better than one. This is true for several reasons: They can get more done, help the other stand back up when they fall, give each other warmth and help fight off enemies. We have found this to be very true and a great blessing when the storms of life have blown in from seemingly nowhere.
Marriage Over Thirty
Long-term marriage, when the truth and power of Jesus Christ is its focus, is more than just a blessing. A faithful spouse helps give us emotional well-being. He or she provides coherence, constancy and order; coherence because our lives are more logically integrated, consistent and intelligible; constancy because we have steadier affections and loyalties, firm minds, purpose and emotional stability; order of life because the relationship also provides peace and serenity.
Each of these qualities contributes to our complete well-being. They are the foundations Scripture speaks of when it says marriage is an archetype of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5). Not only does marriage provide us with temporal benefit, it is a picture to the world of what Jesus Christ is to each of us. Looking at the benefits of long-term marriage makes it clear that God had a good purpose in creating this institution.
We looked at each other after 31 years and knew that, because of God’s gift and our trust in Him, we were where He wanted us to be.
Cheryl Pfingsten is a freelance writer living in Colorado Springs, Colorado.