God’s plan is for marriage to be full of beauty and glory, happiness and harmony, each partner thinking of the other. But it doesn’t always start out that way, or if it does, it doesn’t always stay that way. People become self-centered, wanting their own way. Or, they are so fragile or bruised from their past that they are afraid of being hurt again. Some couples mean well, but don’t have a clue as to what it takes to grow the kind of marriage they really do want.
Linda and I met at a Christian college. We were preparing to enter lives of ministry. Shortly after meeting in the cafeteria, we started talking about dating. One of her classes was a psychology course in which her professor gave the students a list of one hundred questions to talk about if you were in a serious relationship and wanted it to work out long-term. W’d go to a local park and talk about the questions and issues identified on the handout. This started shaping our relationship, and within five months we were engaged.
During the months leading up to the wedding, married friends from our church tended to say things like, “You guys are in love now, but wait ‘til after the wedding!” It made us wonder, “What’s going to happen after the wedding?” After we’d been married a few months those same friends would say, “You guys are in love now, but wait ‘til you have kids!” “Uh-oh! What’s going to happen when we have kids?” After we had three children, those same friends said, “You guys are in love now, but wait til they’re teenagers!” By that time we figured out that those friends, while they meant well, simply didn’t know how to grow a good, healthy, happy, Christian marriage and family.
In our early marriage, my wife and I meant well. We loved each other and wanted what was best for each other. But both of us came from families that modeled poor relational styles, and we began to automatically reenact the marriages of our parents.
Knowing that we wanted something better than either of us had witnessed, we read books on marriage, attended seminars and couples retreats, talked with our pastors and several marriage counselors. We had our share of tough times, especially during the years after our sons were born, but on our twentieth anniversary, we had some friends over to the house to celebrate. I was in the living room with some friends, and Linda was in the kitchen when I heard someone ask her, “So, what’s it like being married to the same guy for twenty years?” I waited for her answer, and then heard my wife say, “You know, in twenty years we’ve had seventeen good ones.”
At first I got mad. What do you mean we’ve had three bad years? But then I realized that if a baseball player went 17 for 20 at the plate, the batting average would be .850, which isn’t bad. I think I can identify the years she had in mind as not being good ones. I came home from work one day, shortly after our second son was born, and Linda asked me if we were ever going to be happy again. I was twenty-four and she was twenty-two. We had two young sons. We weren’t getting enough sleep. We were dirt poor. Life was just hard. I answered, “I don’t know, Sweet-Heart. I think so, but I don’t know. How ’bout if we stay faithful to each other, treat each other right, and see what happens?”
Things did get better. Eventually we were happy again. We could tell when it got better because we could laugh together again. We were no longer angry all the time. We could look at each other and smile. We liked being in the same room again. It would have been real easy to call it quits during the tough times. It would have been easy to mistreat each other, or to give in to the temptation to have an affair. But we didn’t. We stayed faithful. We treated each other right. We made the decision to honor each other.
On our thirtieth anniversary, I took my wife out to dinner. While talking at the restaurant, Linda said to me, “You know, in thirty years together we’ve had twenty-seven good ones.”
Hmmmmm. Next August we’ll celebrate our 40th. I wonder what the count will be.