April 18, 2012 by Stephen
How to Stay Married for Fifty Years
Well, someone has to say it.
No one who is married qualifies as an authority on marriage.
It’s no doubt true that some writers on the subject and professors who deal with this in academia may be considered such. But all the people I know married for any length of time have one overwhelming sense about them: Staying married and getting it right is hard work and cannot be done perfectly.
Taking two individuals who are sinners, needy, flawed, and still becoming whoever they will eventually be, and locking them into the most intimate of all relationships–then telling them it’s for the rest of their lives!–can be scary.
Marriage is tough.
Staying married takes everything two people have to offer. Only the truly determined or the terminally timid stick with it for decade after decade.
Marriage is a relationship designed to reduce its participants to a state of eternal perplexity, complete inadequacy, and thus a daily dependence on God.
No wonder many are opting out on the institution these days.
In this second decade of the third millennium, marriage is becoming increasingly unpopular. People need a good reason for getting married, otherwise, they see they can have the benefits of a legal union without any of the obligations.
That said, for those considering it, we offer our list of marriage values that will take you and your husband/wife through to the end and leave you rejoicing that you hung in there.
To make your marriage last a full half-century (and beyond), we recommend the following….
1. Get to be friends before anything else.
Warning: if it is love at first sight for the two of you, beware. Plan to do nothing permanent until the blush of excitement has cooled to a livable temperature. No decisions should ever be made when one is running a fever, has lost his appetite, talks for hours with his lover on the phone about nothing, and goes around in a daze.
Get past that (“the stupids”) before deciding anything.
Get to be friends. Join groups, play games, work on projects.
Find out if you really like each other enough to want the friendship to last forever.
Many a person has fallen in love with someone they don’t really like. From the moment the bloom fades from the relationship, the news is all bad.
2. Insist on lots of pre- and post-marital counseling.
You knew about premarital counseling? Good. Go for all of that you can get. But don’t stop there.
Two months after the wedding, schedule a tune-up visit with whoever gave the premarital counsel. Give him/her in advance of your session a list of things you and your spouse want to discuss.
Many a pastor feels the time they devoted to premarital counseling was a waste of time. As one told me, “They don’t appreciate the counsel until they’ve been married a while. Then, they really need it.”
Few pastors/churches offer followup counseling to newlyweds.
I used to tell couples, “I want you to come back a few months into this marriage. Let’s talk about what you have found out about yourself and each other.”
No one ever did. Perhaps it was my failure to initiate the session, but the few times we tried to schedule followups, we got no takers.
3. Live out your faith with each other.
Talk about your faith. Worship together. After church, go to lunch and discuss the service you just attended–the hymns, the prayers, the sermon, everything. And pray together.
Try this while you’re still dating. Open the Bible, read a few verses, then each of you say what you hear that scripture say. Discuss it. Whether you agree is unimportant. The main thing is you are discussing matters of the spirit. Then, pray together. Even if it’s only a sentence or two, so long as you are each addressing the Lord on behalf of your relationship, a sentence is as good as a paragraph.
Keep up this practice, and when the time comes that you are doing it at your breakfast table, you will find it easier, more natural, and far more beneficial.
If you wait until you are married to start reading the Scriptures and praying together, the chances are you’ll never do it.
Some suggestions about praying together…
–Do not pray against the other. You know, something like: “And Lord, help Elsie to remember to do what I asked her to do.” “Lord, I pray that you will forgive Ellis for what he said to me today.” Prayer is not for manipulation of the other.
–Do not overload your prayer. If one of you offers a sentence prayer and the other calls on God for a full 10 minutes, this is not good. If the first one praying offers a short prayer, the second should not be overly long. If the first is lengthy, the second is free to pray as short or as long as desired.
–Genuinely and graciously, ask for Heaven’s blessings on each other. Tell God something about the other that blessed you today. Thank the Father for the privilege of being married to this son/daughter of His.
I remind myself regularly that my wife is the authority on Joe’s Christianity. She who knows me best and sees me at my worst needs no speeches from me about my faith. Someone once asked Dwight L. Moody if a certain man were a Christian. “I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t talked to his wife.”
Husband, make your wife believe in your loyalty to Jesus Christ.
4. Aggressively seek out some great friends for yoiur marriage.
I once performed a remarriage for a couple. “May I ask why you divorced in the first place?” I asked them. “Pastor,” they said, “all our friends were getting divorced. So when we started having problems, it seemed to be the thing to do.”
Later they realized the divorce had been a mistake, and corrected it.
Church is a great place to find friends in your age group, with children the ages of your children, people with interests you have in common. A Sunday School class is ideal for this purpose.
5. Make married life (family life) fun.
When our children were small, family trips in the car were song times. We sang every chorus–children’s, church, serious or silly–we could think of. We laughed and told stories and played games. On long trips, I would buy a sackful of small candy items at a store and to help pass the time, would award one item to the winners of our games.
One game we developed was shamelessly manipulative on my part, but I was trying to keep the older boys occupied on days we were trying to travel 500 miles or more. “Tell me when we have traveled 5 miles. The one who comes the closest wins.” (These days, mile markers are everywhere, so that no longer works. But it worked then!)
We made up jokes and played riddles. We bought joke books. One person would read the first part of the joke, then stop while everyone else in the car tried to finish the joke.
From time to time, I meet young people growing up in homes with no laughter. It’s as sad as anything I know.
6. Be quick to forgive. You’ll have plenty of practice.
I have a theory–or maybe it’s a full-blown conviction–that anyone married 3 years has grounds for divorce. That is, if each party were to keep a record of every slight, every putdown or neglect or hurt, every harsh word and misunderstanding, they could convince a judge this marriage was a mistake from the beginning.
Marriage is a union of two flawed people. Two sinners. Two people seriously in need of grace and mercy and constant forgiveness.
No married person gets it right every time. Everyone gets tired and irritable sometimes. Everyone needs space to himself sometimes. Everyone will forget something they should have remembered, will say something wrong, will be angry at this most important one in their lives. It’s how we are.
One couple who asked me to marry them did not want to use the words “til death do us part.” They explained, “So many say it and end up divorcing. We want to be honest.” I said, “What do you want to say?” They said, “We want to commit ourselves to each other ‘so long as love shall last.'”
I said, “That’ll be about Tuesday.” I quickly explained that in the best of marriages, there will be days when you despise the other, when you will feel this marriage was a mistake, when you will want to walk away. I added, “Your marriage has to be based on something stronger than how you are feeling at a given time.”
Asked what I recommended, I said, “Til death do us part.”
This requires us to learn the art of dealing with conflicts and learning how to reconcile. Which means we’ll be doing a lot of forgiving and apologizing.
You will be needing a great deal of grace; you will want to extend a great deal of grace.
7. Protect your family. Give it a high priority.
When our grandson Grant was a preschooler, we were out spending the day together doing our usual activities (the zoo, feeding the ducks in the park, visiting McDonald’s Playplace). I said, “Grant, would you like to spend the night with grandpa and grandma sometime?” That seemed like an obvious thing to me since we live one mile apart. He was quiet, then said, “Grandpa, I just like to be with my family.”
I love that. What can possibly be finer than for a child to love his family so much as to want to be with them above all.
I’m happy to report that his mom and dad and his sisters all feel the same way.
When our bunch was young, on our vacations at the beach dad was not much fun. I was constantly tired and just wanted to sleep. That did not sit well with Margaret and the kids. One day, she looked up from a magazine she was reading. “Now I know why you’re no fun on vacations,” she said.
The article said it takes the average person 3 days to relax on a vacation and they begin gearing back up 3 days before the vacation ends. “In a weeklong vacation,” Margaret said, “that means you are relaxed exactly one day.”
Thereafter, we took two and three-week long vacations whenever possible. My wife will tell you it was one of the smartest things we ever did for our family.
Dads whose jobs take them out of town a great deal must work hard at giving the family the priority it deserves when he returns. Mothers must not get too heavily involved in clubs, hobbies, even church activities, that take them away from the family too much.
8. Turn loose of old hurts and slights and pains.
Here’s a scenario for you. In the counseling room, the wife says, “Well, when we got married, Tom spent the first two weeks going by his mom’s house every day after he got off work.”
The counselor: “And how many years have you been married?”
Counselor: “And you are still fretting about that? Turn it loose, lady!”
Okay, the counselor is probably not going to be that direct, but she needs to turn that loose. The husband can probably match her tit-for-tat if they want to bring up ancient grievances.
But who wants to? I for one do not.
Learn to forgive, then forget. Scripture says, Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do (Colossians 3:13).
Notice the three steps in that verse: Forbear, forgive, and forget! Forget? It’s implied, my friend, by that line: “as Christ forgave you.” (See Hebrews 10:17)
Someone says, “I can forgive it, but I can’t forget it.” My answer is, “Sure you can. But you may have to consciously determine to put it out of your mind again and again until it leaves.” It will not automatically vanish the first time you say you forgive.
9. Keep a healthy fear of God in your heart of hearts.
A pastor’s wife said of her husband once, “I don’t have to worry about Frank committing adultery. He fears God too much.” Her man, sitting at her side, laughed and said, “You’ve got that right.”
A healthy fear of God is a righteous thing.
This is not the place for a lengthy discussion as to what the fear of God means, but one strong element in our relationship to the Heavenly Father must always be the knowledge that we shall one day stand before Him and give account of all we have done in this life (Romans 14:12). Our accountability to Him is what Andrew Murray once called the most awesome fact he knew about our earthly existence.
This unconcern about God–of what He thinks about our behavior, whether what we are doing is incurring His wrath and scheduling us for judgement–leads me to conclude that a great portion of those who trouble the Lord’s churches are practicing atheists. They will tell you of their conversion and swear up and down they believe all the Bible. What they do not do, however, is fear God. And that’s as serious as anything I know.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33). We must not try to explain this away as some kind of awe and respect. To fear God means to bear in mind that God is the Almighty God, that He is Lord of all, and that we shall one day stand before Him and give account. That is a scary thought, and well it ought to be.
10. Keep your family growing and bearing fruit.
Kansas City Pastor Paul Brooks told me once, “I took up golf so I would have something to do with my sons when they became teenagers.”
One smart man.
No family is static. Every child grows and therefore every family lives in a constant state of flux. This puts a burden on the parents; this gives a great opportunity to the parents.
Dads and moms should stay up with books and magazine articles that deal with their children at whatever stage they’re in or entering. Southern Baptists’ “Home Life” is as good as there is for this purpose. In my travels to various churches, I’m always glad to see so many keeping a supply of these in the church foyers for families to pick up at no cost to them. It’s an investment with a great payoff.
Focus on the Family has incredible resources in this regard.
The payoff is that one day, you will look back and realize that you have (basically) completed the job of raising your children. They’re out of the house, they’re married and have families of their own. They will still need you from time to time, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.
They’ll all come home from time to time. Our three children and their families were here this past weekend to help Margaret and me celebrate our fiftieth. The laughter and happiness will reverberate in my heart for many years to come. It was truly one of the great weekends of my life.
Remember the old poem that includes the line: Grow old with me; the best is yet to come. It’s true.
What we call the “golden years” do not happen automatically, young marrieds. Work at it now, stay with it through the difficult times, get help when you must, and one day, you will realize you have come through the storms and the sun is shining. There will still be challenges and problems in this fallen world populated by flawed people. But you will be so glad you stayed in this marriage and worked to make it happen.
Take my word for it.
Dr. McKeever led our church’s Men’s Retreat a couple of years ago. He’s a good guy and he speaks honestly and from many years of experience. I hope Randa and I make it 50 years! He’s also a great cartoonist. Check out his work over at his website.