HOW TO STAY MARRIED FOR SIXTY + YEARS
On September 7, Jan and I celebrated sixty-one years of marriage. We were married in Loudon, Tennessee in 1957 by James Matthews, professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and minister of the Loudon Church of Christ. How do people stay married for sixty or more years? I do not have all the answers to this question, but by virtue of having been married that long, perhaps I have a few insights that will be helpful.
The facetious answer to the question is three-fold: 1) marry young, 2) don’t divorce, and 3) live a long time! Jan and I both were young (19) when we married. Divorce has never been a viable option for us. And we both have now been blessed to live to be 80 years of age. At some point we will die, and when the first one goes, our marriage will end. Sixty-one years ago we vowed “until death do us part,” and that has never changed. Of course, in the life hereafter “they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30).
Staying married for sixty or more years is both easy and hard. When marriage is based on certain spiritual commitments, it is easy to stay married. Yet, in spite of these commitments, remaining married to the same person is hard. Marriage may be made in heaven, but it has to be worked out here on earth. The human factor is intensely involved in the marriage relationship, and it takes a lot of hard work for a couple to stay together. A marriage will not last very long when selfishness, self-centeredness, ego, and “me-itis” characterize one or both marriage partners.
A good and lasting marriage must be based on agape, self-sacrificing love, love that puts the other person ahead of oneself. This kind of love suffers long and is kind. It is neither envious nor arrogant. It does not act rudely or seek to have its own way. It is not easily provoked and it thinks no evil of the marriage partner. It does not rejoice in wrong-doing but rejoices in the truth. This kind of love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (I Corinthians 13:1-7).
Have Jan and I always perfectly demonstrated these qualities toward each other? No. Have we ever had strong disagreements about a number of matters? Absolutely! The person who says that he or she has never had an argument with his or her spouse will lie about other things as well! However, when a marriage is based not only on sexual love and attraction, but on the self-sacrificing kind of love that Christ had for the church (Ephesians 5:25), that marriage will both survive and thrive. Lasting marriages are built on the “leave and cleave” principle (Genesis 2:24, KJV).
The Bible gives much instruction concerning the marriage relationship (Genesis 2:18-25; Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:1-12; Romans 7:1-3; I Corinthians 7:1-40; Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19; Titus 2:3-5; Hebrews 13:4; I Peter 3:1-7; et al). When one is ignorant of what God says about marriage or when one ignores what God has said about marriage, one should not expect to have a long and happy marriage. Ira North, a gospel preacher, said, “You cannot do wrong and get by with it” – either in this world or in the world to come!
A sense of humor contributes greatly to a lasting marriage. Being able to laugh with each other is of immeasurable value. Common interests make for an enduring and happy marriage. Jan and I both love to travel, and we have seen a good part of our country—both coasts, New England, all over the southeast, Yellowstone, the Rockies, the Tetons, Mount Rushmore, South Padre Island and the Rio Grande Valley (with lunch in Matamoras, Mexico), a cruise to Alaska, Vancouver Island, B. C., and several of the restoration movement historical sites, etc., etc. My work as a minister has taken us on some of these trips, but most were planned vacations (intentional time away from work, intentional time to relax). We both like the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Florida and the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. I have been privileged to have been in all the states except Michigan and Hawaii. Jan has been with me to most of these. When our grandchildren were small, we enjoyed taking them on short trips to places they wanted to go. As we have gotten older, shorter trips are more appealing to us.
Jan and I enjoy taking walks together, going to the movies (though good ones are getting increasingly hard to find), eating out, and watching TV together, though we don’t have the same tastes and likes in all of these areas. We both enjoy the college football season and watching our favorite teams on television.
Holidays and family traditions are important to us. When our own children were young we went to our respective parents’ homes for Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as other times throughout the year. For many years now our son and his family spend time with both us and our daughter-in-law’s parents during the holidays. (We are blessed in having our daughter-in-law’s parents living only a few miles from us). Trips to see our son and his family are still important to us.
No marriage can last without a deep respect for God. The church has been the center of Jan’s and my life. Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night attendance have been the pattern for us throughout our married life, even on our honeymoon! We read the Bible together and pray together. We keep an on-going prayer list of family, friends, and fellow Christians for whom we pray on a regular, rotating basis.
Our marriage has not been a perfect one because we are two imperfect human beings. But we have worked at it. A long and happy marriage (like anything else that is worthwhile) requires work. We love each other and respect each other. Our personalities are different, and sometimes our personalities clash. We apologize and forgive and move on. So far we have “moved on” to sixty-one years of wedded happiness. We often pray for many more years together, to love and care for each other. Lord, may it be, if it is Your will.
September 11, 2018
September 21-23: Gatlinburg, TN Church of Christ