Al and Lisa Robertson, of A&E's hit television show "Duck Dynasty," have been married for more than 30 years. High school sweethearts who knew the pain of an up-and-down relationship, Al and Lisa also understand the joy of young married life … and the pressures that drove them apart.
I truly did respect Al for his diligence in school and commitment to his studies, but I also felt such a sense of loss. I had lost him to his studies in the evenings and to his preaching on the weekends — the only times I was off from my job and we could have been together as a couple or a family. Al was totally blind to the way I felt. He was so consumed with school and all that went with it that he did not notice my discontent. I was not at all pleased with the direction our lives seemed to be going. … More than anything else, I missed Al and felt alone.
Lisa openly admits feeling like she had lost Al during their early years together. Trying to show respect for his calling, his career and his studies, Lisa wrestled with finding her voice to clearly express her need for her husband's time and attention.
Al acknowledges that at that time he felt like his life couldn't have been better. He was enjoying his beautiful wife and daughters, excelling in school and pursuing ministry opportunities that seemed to confirm his call to preach. Unfortunately he was unaware of Lisa's loneliness and vulnerability.
The ultimate fallout of Al and Lisa's disconnect became apparent when they experienced what they now refer to as "dodging a bullet." Lisa had become involved in an inappropriate relationship with a bank investigator she met through work. She humbly apologized for this emotional distraction — and Al readily forgave her.
Less than a decade later, the Robertsons once again found themselves dealing with major issues including dishonesty, deceit and shame. This time Al and Lisa did the hard work of healing by addressing the root issues in their relationship, ultimately deciding to recommit themselves to their marriage and to each other.
Looking back, Al and Lisa have words of wisdom to share with newly married couples struggling to build a solid relationship amid the responsibilities of building a career, buying a home and starting a family. They understand the stress of being a young husband and wife trying to focus on their marriage relationship at the same time they're distracted by the everyday responsibilities vying for their attention.
The Robertsons find the crux of their message in the apostle Paul's words to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 — respect and love. Here are some things they suggest couples consider as they work to strengthen their relationship:
Wisdom from experience
Lisa encourages young wives to be intentional about respecting their husband. She admits that if she could do something different in the early years of her marriage, she would have respected Al enough to not nag him. During our time together, she explained: "Whenever you have a problem or you need to talk to your husband, don't do it when he's in the middle of a ball game [and] don't do it when you're extremely mad. Calm down, find a time when he is not otherwise engaged and then say you need to talk to him about some really important things. If you feel that there's a problem, there's a problem. Because we [married couples] are one, if one person has a problem then we as a couple have a problem. You just have to voice that in a very respectful way."
Al echoes Lisa's comments. "Women are really good at creating atmosphere — I think they're better than men at that," he adds. "Lisa can set a stage for having a conversation, but young women in young marriages don't realize they have that ability."
Communication is key in a healthy marriage, and Lisa advises young wives to choose the right moment, honor their husband with a respectful and affirming tone, and then articulate their needs in a way that he can clearly understand.
To young men, Al references Paul's admonition for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:33). He encourages Christian men to make certain their wife is the first love in their life. He clarifies, "If anything else gets in the way of that, then you've already got a problem. Whether it's a hobby or it's your career or all the other things … it's tough to get started when you're juggling a career. I was a young minister and I wanted to be the best I could be, but if I put the church above Lisa, which I did, then automatically I've got something out of balance." (For more on this topic, see Al and Lisa's article "Leaving Old Relationships to Embark on a New One.")
Boundaries make a difference
Boundaries are essential for all married couples. Al and Lisa know from experience that certain actions and attitudes can protect husbands and wives from experiencing their own close calls. They offer the following insights:
If a wife is going to show respect for her husband, then he needs to work hard to be respectable. Job defends his character in Job 31, laying out for men a great respectability check. If a man wants to build a happy marriage, he must make a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully at a woman. That would include viewing pornography or lingering at a female co-worker's desk for too long. Either practice threatens a man's marriage because it will hurt intimacy with his wife.
A wife needs to build her husband's confidence. Proverbs 31:11 describes a godly wife by saying, "The heart of her husband trusts in her." If a woman wants to build a happy marriage, she must give her husband every reason to trust her and be confident in her, then help him build confidence in himself by praising and encouraging him.
Do not have a close relationship with someone of the opposite sex who is not your husband or wife. Most couples think they're strong so they don't have safeguards in their marriage. But Satan is always looking for an opportune time to tempt husbands and wives with inappropriate relationships. Be on guard by avoiding friendships with the opposite sex.
Al and Lisa now coach couples preparing to marry. The Robertsons also make themselves available to those same young couples if they need additional input in the future.
Al and Lisa may have experienced plenty of highs and lows during more than three decades as husband and wife, but today they're grateful to have built something more beautiful than they could have imagined when they were young. It's their honesty about life and the wisdom they've gleaned that make Al and Lisa a blessing to their family of adult children and an encouragement to the next generation of married couples.Pam Woody is the marriage editor for Focus on the Family magazine. Al and Lisa Robertson are the authors of A New Season and the hosts of the Robertson Marriage Retreat.