Over twenty years ago, a well-meaning person told us that he overheard someone in the bishopric of our ward speculating that within five years, Barbara and I would be divorced. I don’t really know upon what evidence such a comment was made, but I just kind of laughed inside. They really didn’t know us but I suppose we’ve never been a very conventional couple. It couldn’t have been that I experience same-sex attraction. That was before I was “out” and wasn’t even talking to myself about it.
I suppose it could have been because we were never prone to using the traditional terms of endearment that so many couples used. We never really called each other things like “dear” or “darling”. You probably wouldn’t have heard us using any syrupy names. We were keenly aware of other couples where these words flowed like the proverbial “honey” and how much people were telling us that using these words made for a happy marriage.
We also watched as couples who used these words often would sometimes grind them in their teeth in angry moments, as if somehow, invoking them was like some kind of spell to cast off ill feelings. Over the years, we’ve known several couples who draped their communication in these verbal decorations who did get divorced.
I don’t know how long you have to have been married to qualify for giving advice on how to have a lasting marriage, but we’ve been married thirty-seven years. I realized when writing this that I’ve been miscalculating for about a year and telling people we’ve been married thirty-eight years. That won’t happen until this July.
Before I tell you what I think makes for a lasting marriage, let me opine about what doesn’t. First on my list of things that don’t keep a marriage together is sticky-sweet name-calling. My mother and stepfather were married for forty years before my mother passed away and they didn’t talk like that.
Another thing that is often touted as a key to a lasting marriage is the idea of regular dates. I think it is always good to get alone with my wife and have some time just together and away from the kids. We’ve never been well off, financially, so affording a babysitter in the early years was a luxury we only infrequently indulged in. Around the time the kids were old enough to watch themselves, we went out more.
The 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001 resulted in an economic downturn where I was laid off from the best-paying job I ever had. It was the job I held that qualified us for the first time to buy a house and thus began the recent years of financial struggle. We both work now at jobs that suck the life right out of you. We both come home from a day of it and crash. We still manage to get an occasional date in, but mostly we end up with her vainly trying to defeat me at Frisbee Golf on our Wii system, something we can do from the chairs we melted into when we get home from work. Dates are good, but I hear a lot of people saying that you have to have one every week or your marriage won’t last.
Even though it might “go without saying” and should be obvious by how long I’ve been married in spite of having what a lot of people are calling a mixed-orientation marriage, I think that both people in a marriage being mainly attracted to the opposite sex is not at all necessary. It’s probably a good idea, but we’ve lasted thirty-seven years without it.
It isn’t all about quantity. Other than wishing we didn’t have to work so hard when we’re both feeling our age, we’re pretty happy. Once, when confronted by someone saying that I must be miserable being married to a woman, it was said that no one could be miserable being married to Barbara. In spite of any troubles, that is a true statement.
Another thing that people say about marriage is that financial difficulties place a big strain on a marriage. I suppose that for many it is so, but I’ve seen more marriages break up with plenty of money and lots of spending of that money. As I said, we’ve never been well off. In many ways, I think that struggling through such things together is good for a marriage. In fact, we’ve suffered a lot of financial setbacks and still we go on.
And what makes us go on? How do we last when so many other marriages with all of their “ideal” factors in place fail?
I think it really boils down to a marriage with Christ-centered ideals, not the least of which is the one attribute of the Savior upon which we all depend. I’m talking about the virtue of mercy. It’s not that Barbara and I are a perfect couple. But, one thing we do both practice in near perfection is forgiveness. No one can get under my skin as much as she can and I’m sure it goes both ways, but I think that few couples are as good as we are at letting go of resentment. We can look back over those decades and laugh at some of the things that we got the angriest about.
Another virtue that is important is the virtue of commitment. Sometimes you keep going simply because you promised the Lord you would. Along with commitment comes fidelity and we have that in our favor too. I’ve seen marriages survive infidelity and it always impresses me, but I have no doubt it puts a strain on a marriage that few marriages survive.
Faith is also a key to a marriage. We had only been married a couple of months when Barbara stood up in a fast and testimony meeting and said that even though she was a newlywed she felt secure in our marriage and trusted me because she knew that I loved the Lord more than I loved her. As unlikely as I am to be unfaithful to her, I am even more unlikely to be unfaithful to the promises I’ve made to God.
So far, I haven’t mentioned love as a virtue other than loving the Lord, but it can hardly be said that love isn’t a key to a lasting marriage. Though I may not be very good at saying it, it is there all the same. Not only can one not be miserable being married to Barbara, it’s hard not to love her. People have been pointing out how much we love each other before we were even engaged.
With faith, forgiveness, commitment, and love, you can get through anything together. We know because we’ve been through most of it and there is no end in sight, not even when death eventually takes one of us. As pleasant as eternity with Barbara is to think about, even in this moment, these things sustain us each and every day of our marriage.