We’ve been married over 53 years and we are still learning! I have a very good man, but he’s not perfect. And neither is his wife. We are both still self-centered sinners in need of God’s grace. The good news is that being married this long we recognize this need, and we see God step in, providing for us and weaving us into a stronger unity.
Here are 7 critical lessons we’ve learned over 53 years of marriage:
1. Marriage is a permanent, life-long commitment between a man and a woman.
In our wedding ceremony most of us promised before God to “have and to hold until we are parted by death.” Not so easy! There will be times for all of us that we’d just rather bail. Marriage is hard and in today’s culture breaking up is relatively easy and even accepted. It’s an option often encouraged and rarely challenged.
Agree that divorce will not be an option for you and eliminate that word from your vocabulary. It helps to remember that raw obedience to God is what we are called to. Make no mistake, our relationship to Him will be impacted by how we keep our wedding vows.
Make a plan to work through your difficulties. See a reliable Christian counselor. Find an older mentor couple. Resist the temptation to quit. (Of course, there are exceptions to this: an abusive situation is unacceptable. Seek help immediately. You cannot handle this alone.)
God can redeem anything and anyone. He is for your marriage.
“For nothing is impossible for God” (Luke 1:37)
2. Forgiveness is the most important ingredient in marriage.
I am a selfish, self-centered person. Gulp.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to go to my husband (or to a child or friend) and say, I shouldn’t have done that or said that and I am sorry. Will you forgive me?” I can’t remember a single time that I felt like doing this and often I’d rather say, “But you shouldn’t have…”
Saying I’m sorry usually isn’t enough because it does not demand a response. We don’t ask forgiveness because we feel like it but because God has commanded it. He has forgiven us. The Lord’s prayer makes this very clear.
Forgiveness does not immediately make us feel better nor does it restore trust. Healing of feelings and restoration of trust take time, but forgiveness opens the door to healing.
God willing, many of us are raising future husbands and wives and they will need to forgive their spouses. How will they know this if they have not seen this modeled in their own home?
3. You don’t know the person you married as well as you thought you did.
We come into our marriage with individual strengths and weaknesses. Part of growing in marriage is learning how to fill the gaps in our relationship so that our strengths and weaknesses work together to complete each other instead of irritating one another.
I am a creative visionary with lots of ideas–often for John to do. I tend to be black and white, quickly decisive, and can overreact. He, on the other hand, is slower, carefully thoughtful, and constantly stable. (I used to say boring!)
Did we realize this about one another before we married? Goodness no. But God knew, and He has a way of putting opposites together in order that we might become a better team. Do we irritate each other with our differences? Yes. But simply recognizing them and learning how to use them for good has made us more unified and whole as a couple.
If you’re a newlywed, don’t put pressure on yourself to figure out your marriage in the first year. It will take a lifetime!
4. Make your marriage a priority.
Sounds easy? It’s not. In our child-centered society our children have become the priority. And this is dangerous–not only for us but for our kids. Our marriage is what gives our child security. They need to know Mom and Dad love each other first. The family unit does not revolve around them, the kids.
It will not be easy to make your marriage a priority. There are simply too many good distractions and opportunities.
One of the best pieces of advice we got before we were married was, “Make a commitment to go on a date each week. Do this for the rest of your life.” We agreed to do this, and it’s been hard but a huge positive in our relationship. We haven’t made it every week but over 53 years we probably made 50% of that goal.
A date is not the time to discuss a difficult issue. Neither of you will want to go! Set another time to do that. Date night is the time to build the marriage friendship. If you regularly have couple time when you are young you will really enjoy the empty nest! Too many couples put their own relationship on hold while raising kids and then when the kids leave, they find they do not have much there.
5. Pray together.
On our honeymoon John suggested that we make a commitment to pray together every day. Praying together has a way of adding glue to your union. It’s not a big deal. In fact, he usually prays a simple prayer over us before we go to bed. If one of us is away, we try to pray over the phone.
There have been times when we’ve been upset with one another. Praying together does not mean solving everything. It is best not to discuss hard things late at night. In our exhaustion, we are more likely to say something we’ll regret. Instead, we pray, giving our concerns to God and asking Him to bring healing and to be the center of our union.
Praying for one another strengthens our marriage. Pray for good accountable same-sex friendships, for disciplined time spent in God’s word, for laughter, for a decision you are facing, etc.
If you don’t know where to start, our friends Matt and Lisa Jacobson have a pair of new books, Loving Your Husband Well and Loving your Wife Well which can be your guide. Each day has one theme, a reflection, and a prayer.
For more ideas, check out my blog How to Pray for Your Marriage (A Peek at My Private Prayer Journal), which includes the prayer I pray for our marriage every week.
6. Resolve conflict.
The goal in marriage is not to have a conflict-free marriage but to learn how to resolve conflict in a healthy manner.
We should never have secrets in our marriage. Keeping things from one another only breeds distrust. And when you can’t trust your spouse, you are treading down a dangerous path.
If you are considering marriage a good question to ask is, “Do I completely trust this person in everything?” If there is doubt in your mind, this is a warning sign. Get counsel before you marry.
If you are experiencing distrust in your marriage now, get help. Remember forgiveness. Find hope in the fact that our God loves to do new things. (Psalm 40:1-3)
7. Have friends to whom you are accountable.
I remember once when I was really frustrated with John. Walking with my prayer partner Ann, I shared my feelings and accusations with her. She listened patiently and empathized with me. But after a while she asked, “Susan what are you doing to move closer to him?” With that, she got me. Her friendship with me went deep. We knew our ultimate responsibility was to point one another to God and to our husbands. That’s a good friend.
We were not created to walk alone in life or marriage or parenting. We need other like-minded believers to hold us accountable. Men need men and women need women. And we need couples in each season of life.
A few years ago, we realized we needed some other couples in our season of approaching retirement to walk together with us. We asked 6 other couples to join us in a small group. (Affectionally named the “OaksFolks,” a play on old folks and Isaiah 61:3) Some of the group had already retired, others of us were considering how to prepare for it. Common to each couple was a desire to finish strong with the Lord. We’ve read books together, shared personally, laughed and cried in understanding company. It has been a rich, rich fellowship.
There have been many other lessons learned. One of the blessings of a long marriage is that when we look back, we see God’s faithfulness in so many small details over past years.
You might celebrate Valentine’s Day sharing with one another ways in which you have seen His work in your own marriage. Remember, He has been there all along.
You might also want to check out this video with me and John — Celebrating 50 Years: How to Make a Marriage Last
And this popular blog post: 10 Things You Need to Know Before You Get Married