This past week, Janet & I were at a Starbucks near Dr. Pepper Field celebrating our 38th anniversary. The Barista found out & congratulated us, & gave us our coffees as an anniversary gift. She said: “Way to beat the odds and fight through to make your marriage work; that’s not the norm.”
As I thought about her words, I tried to think about the things that have helped us get this far. By the way, this isn’t “pie in the sky” kind of stuff because we’ve had our share of ups and downs, and times when we didn’t feel close. But here are a few of the things I thought about that have helped us reach this point.
- Forgive each other. There are times when we’ve hurt each other and gotten ticked off and said things that we shouldn’t say, but we’ve always come back to the fact the we’re not each other’s enemy and we need to forgive each other just like Christ forgave us. We’ve both made a personal decision to trust and follow Christ, which influences everything we do.
- Take regular breaks from the routine. Marriage can easily become routine and difficult; especially during the child raising years. We determined years ago that we’d strive to have a regular date night away from the kids. We also decided to try and take a vacation together at least once a year without the kids when possible. Yes, most of our vacations in the child raising stage were family vacations, but we tried to find ways to get away by ourselves. Even if we weren’t able to get away for a week, we at least tried to do something special for a few days every 5 years on, or around, our anniversary.
- Give each other space. It took some time, but we’ve both grown to the point where we’re good giving each other some space which means short periods of time alone or away from the family. For me, I get recharged in nature or away from crowds and where there are little demands on me. Janet likes to be with people and do things. We trust each other to spend some time away; for me it may be a spiritual retreat or hunting trip. For her, it usually meant going somewhere to be with her family.
- Develop great friendships. We developed great friendships with people who were moving in the same direction as us. Friends who wanted to grow in their relationship with Christ too. That made it easier to talk to our friends and keep each other accountable since we’d built relationships of trust. We also learned the value of consistently being in a small group designed for spiritual growth with friends and people we trusted.
- Be on the same page. We decided that we’d always strive to be on the same page when it came to discipline or making decisions that concerned our children. We didn’t air our differences in front of the kids or let them play us against each other, but rather had a unified front in what we decided.
- Realize some expectations won’t be met. We had to grow to the point of understanding we are very different and always will be. Our responsibility is to try our best to meet each other’s needs and guard our hearts against being selfish. That’s a whole lot easier to write than it is to do. This also means we realize some expectations we had coming into our marriage were unrealistic and we had to grow through releasing these.
- Recognize marriage is a journey. There are ups and downs, hard times and good, times of prosperity and times of want. It’s a journey, an adventure, and we’re in it together for the long haul which means we’ll walk through a variety of things that are good and bad along the way.
- Remember our impact on our family and others. There’s a type of inbuilt accountability for us because we value the example we set for our children and grandchildren, as well as our extended family, friends and others. This doesn’t mean living a life of hypocrisy, but the desire to set a good example means we strive to work through the problems and issues we face and are honest about our struggles. Note: that doesn’t mean airing all our dirty laundry; it just means we’re real people like everyone else and we realize we have a responsibility to those who are watching our example.
- Handle Finances Well. We made a decision when we got married to do our best to handle our finances in a way that honored God. We continue to practice tithing to the local church, giving over and above the tithe to build the church, and we continue to support a variety of missions and several children in foreign countries. The only way this has been possible was by building margin into our finances. We learned this the hard way by making a number of mistakes, but over the years we learned to limit debt (we owe a little on our house but that’s it) and be on the same page in how we give. We also learned the blessing of generosity!
- A common commitment to Christ. We’re both committed to growing in our relationship with Christ even though we mess up time after time. Striving to keep Christ as the center and Lord of our lives and home has helped us through tough times when it would have been easier to give up. This commitment includes a consistent commitment to involvement in our church, serving in ministry, and having a regular time alone with God in the Bible and prayer. This is the number one reason I believe we’ve been able to work through the difficult times and remain committed to one another.