Marriage is hard work and it doesn’t necessarily get easier with age. Each new stageof life presents a different set of challenges for married couples. However, like the old saying goes, “anything worth having in life is worth working hard for.” And marriage is no exception. Believe me, I know.
Stephanie and I have been married for twenty-seven years. During this time we have experienced a lot of ups and downs. There have been disappointments and pleasant surprises, but through it all we have managed to stay close and in love with one another. This relational closeness didn’t just happen. We had to do our part, which required a lot of faith and hard work.
I am not writing as a marriage expert. Instead, I am sharing a few things that Stephanie and I have learned through our almost three decades of marriage.
First, our marriage is built on our faith in Jesus Christ. Our common faith is the strongest bond that holds us together. There is no substitute. Stephanie does not occupy first place in my life and I do not occupy first place in hers. That would be idolatry. Our first commitment in life is to Jesus Christ. Individually and collectively we draw guidance and strength from the same source. It actually gives me a lot of comfort knowing that Stephanie loves Jesus more than she loves me.
Secondly, we have learned to have fun together. You have to understand, Stephanie and I are quite different. Obviously, I am a male and she is a female and there is a world of difference between the two, but there are differences that go way beyond our genders. Stephanie is a firstborn and I am a middle child-twin hybrid if there is such a thing. She is type A and I don’t know what type I am. Furthermore, Stephanie has a very impressive background in dance and musical theater and I grew up Baptist. We have learned to find common interests and even expand our horizons.
For example, during the last few months, I have gone with Stephanie to see The Phantom of the Opera, Annie Get Your Gun, Anne and Gilbert the Musical, as well as to a Johnny Swim concert. However, we have also gone kayaking, hiking, horseback riding, and we do CrossFit together. We have actually learned to enjoy doing what the other likes to do. It has been a classic case of give and take. For all of the Hallmark movies I have had to watch, there have been plenty of action movies and ball games to go around.
Now in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I have grown really fond of the Hallmark movies. Many times Stephanie will fall asleep watching them and then, to my horror, I am able to tell her all of the relational stuff that is going on with the characters. No wonder I was left out of all the Fantasy Football Leagues this year.
Thirdly, we are learning how to handle our disagreements better. Yes, we have disagreements. Some might even call them arguments. However, we are learning how to resolve our conflicts in a better way.
We use a system that we learned from a Christian marriage author named Dr. David Clarke. His system allows each spouse to have ten minutes of uninterrupted time to express his or her feelings. Afterward, there is an equal amount of time spent in prayer and reflection before any more conversation takes place. Then, the other spouse is allotted ten minutes and the same process takes place. When this is over, there is a time for resolution.
This method does not always go off according to plan, but it does allow each spouse the opportunity to express his or her feelings to the other without interruption. Regardless of what method you use to resolve conflicts, always remember that you are on the same side. You don’t win unless you both win.
Finally, we have learned that you have to keep romance alive in marriage. It doesn’t just happen- at least not after twenty-seven years of marriage. This prioritization of intimacy requires time and intentionality. Stephanie is my best friend but she is so much more. She occupies a place in my heart that no one else does. We are called to be one flesh. That is the height of exclusivity. So, we take time to relax and to enjoy being with one another.
Stephanie and I can both attest to the fact that it’s well worth the effort to build the kind of intimacy into a marriage that keeps your love life sizzling. Now, I won’t say a lot because my kids read this blog and I don’t want to gross them out, but let's just say you make what you need to make a priority with no apologies.
Obviously, there’s a lot more I could write, but let me end with this. In order to have a successful marriage you have to die to yourself. You cannot be a selfish person. You have to have more concern about the needs and the feelings of your spouse than your own. That’s straight Bible. That’s the crucified life that Jesus spoke of when He said, “If anyone desires to come after Me let him deny himself and take up His cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
Loving your spouse will cost you but the rewards are far greater than the cost.