Someone asked me recently, “What is the secret to a long marriage?” I presume they asked me the question because, come September 6 of this year, my wife and I will have been married 45 years. Over the years, when asked that question, I have often given some of my favorite answers:
1. Neither one of us were willing to go back to our parents’ home and hear them say, “I told you so!”
2. When we discovered we could not live together, we decided to try to get along until we could save up the $200 it cost in those early days to pay for an uncontested divorce. By the time we saved up the $200, the cost had risen to $500. By the time we saved up the $500, we were getting along pretty well and – hey! — we had $500!
3. We couldn’t agree on who would get the children … she insisted I take them while I insisted she get them.
All of that, of course, is just not the truth. I would love to say that we never had an argument, that we always agreed on every issue, and that we never even considered divorce. But that, too, would all be untrue.
The truth is that sometimes I am totally amazed we made it … so far, at least. I was 20, she 19, when we married. We gave our parents two weeks’ notice and I think they all finally forgave us for that. Neither of us had finished college, we worked low-paying, entry-level, menial jobs and we lived in places I wouldn’t even want to go into now.
I was a Marine reservist when we married. Later, because we were in desperate shape financially, I activated into the regular Marine Corps. While in the military, we had a son. With the help of the G.I. Bill, I put myself through school. By the time I graduated, we had another son. Then, she went to nursing school.
Then things got better, right? No, not really. The first 10 years were hard — terribly hard. We had some help along the way, her parents especially.
When I became a full-time pastor for the first time, my wife was still in nursing school. I was paid the princely sum of $400 per month and the use of a parsonage. No insurance, no benefits, no vacation pay, no help with utilities or anything else.
I would like to say that those first 10 years were the best days of our lives. But that would be a lie. The best thing about those days is that they are over. After 10 years of marriage, we left our home in Tennessee to move to Colorado where I finally had a decent job offer and there we had another son.
But here’s what I’ve learned about making it … so far. Both people have to be committed to the marriage no matter what. Come hell or high water, you decide not to quit. You also discover that this thing requires work. Like anything worth having, sacrifice will be involved. You have to learn to put the other person’s needs above your own and, ideally, they will do the same. It’s not all about you. It’s about them — and the two of you together.
You have to accept that your spouse, like you, is flawed and imperfect. That didn’t matter once. It shouldn’t matter now. And you have to learn to administer, and to seek, copious amounts of forgiveness. And, if you don’t quit, life will get better.
In our case, we both eventually earned advanced degrees and moved out of that world where I once walked along the sides of the roads to collect soda bottles to turn in at the grocery store (at 5 cents a bottle) to be able to purchase baby food.
Now, we have three adult sons, three daughters-in-law, three grandsons, eight granddaughters, and another granddaughter who is with the Lord. My wife is preparing to retire as the Associate Dean of Nursing at the University of West Georgia and, as Carly Simon once sang, “These are the good old days.”
So what is the secret to a long marriage? I really have no idea. I think we have been incredibly blessed to have weathered the storms and find that our ship still floats. But here’s my best guess.
With God’s help, just make it work one day at a time. Whatever it takes, make it work. One day at a time. If you can do that for enough days, the years will pass before you know it.
[David Epps is the pastor of Christ the King Church (www.ctkcec.org.). He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.org) which consists of Georgia and Tennessee and is the associate endorser for his denomination’s military chaplains. He may be contacted at email@example.com.]