The secret of a long marriage


My wife and I observed our 46th wedding anniversary last week. Or, as I sometimes say, “We completed 46 years of a life sentence without parole.” Which makes most men grin and most women give me “the Look.”

Once in awhile, someone will ask what our secret is. “Well,” I respond, “when we were younger, it cost $200.00 to get an uncontested divorce. So we agreed to stay together until we saved the money. Then, when we had 200 bucks, the cost of a divorce had risen to $500.00. So, we decided to stay together until we raised that sum of money. By the time we did it, we were getting along pretty well and, hey, we had five hundred bucks!”

That story is not entirely the truth but it does contain an important truth. Marriage is hard. Anytime two people are in close proximity to each other for extended periods of time, there will be disagreements, clashes of egos, and conflict.

Was ours always a blissful marriage? No, it wasn’t. There were times when neither of us thought we would make it and those who knew us concurred. We married young, she 19 and I, 20. I came from a solid blue-collar family, she from a white-collar professional family.

I used to describe how we started out by saying, “I rode into the castle on my broken-down donkey, wearing my rusty armor, and saved the Princess from a life of shallow materialism.” And that was the absolute truth — at least it was for years.

If there is a secret, it is simply this: neither of us was willing to admit we couldn’t do it and quit. Neither of us wanted to move back home in defeat. Neither of us wanted to hear countless people say, “I told you so.” And neither of us wanted to subject our children to the ordeal of parents who lived apart. And both of us were stubborn, which was both our problem and our salvation.

Looking back, all of those difficulties seem like so much nothing. We made it through the Marine Corps years where we were both together and then apart. We both went to college and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees, we saved money and bought our first house, then another, and then another. We had three sons, moved to Colorado from Tennessee and then to Georgia.

We both advanced in our chosen fields and, somewhere in the midst of all that, we learned about married life. Of all the people we knew who were married around the same time as us, we are among the very few to still be together.

Last year, on our 45th, I said to her, “If you’re going to get out of this thing, you better do so while you still have your good looks and girlish figure.”

Her reply was, “Shoot, I’m not going anywhere. I have too much blood, sweat, and tears to leave now.”

“You sure?” I asked.

“Yep,” said she. “I don’t even think you could do anything to make me leave.”

“Really!?” I said, surprised.

“Yes. I don’t think I’d divorce you even if you had an affair.”

I said, “Hmmm. Soooooo, I have your permission?”

Looking over the top of her glasses, she said, “If you can find somebody that desperate, then go for it, big boy.”

Ah, sweet romance.

Maybe it’s my background and training. My parents stayed together through tough times. In football I learned that, “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” In the Marine Corps it was “always faithful,” or “improvise, adapt, and overcome,” or, simply, “Do or die.”

Once, a young man headed off to Marine Corps boot camp asked me the secret of making it through Parris Island. My response was, “Don’t quit.”

And that simple phrase, or one similar, has gotten people through college, through tragedies, through the storms of life, through doubts about God, through illness, through hopeless times, and got Great Britain through World War II.

On Oct. 29, 1941, when Winston Churchill visited Harrow School, it was after the Blitz and things were looking up a bit for Britain. Here is the relevant part of the speech: “But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period — I am addressing myself to the School — surely from this period of ten months, this is the lesson: Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Never give up. Never give in. Do or die. Don’t quit. “Do or do not, there is no try.” If we have a secret to a 46-year marriage, that’s it.

On our 40th anniversary, I said, “Well, in spite of everything, we made it!”

“Yep,” she said. “So far.”

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, ( The church is located at 4881 Hwy. 34 E, Sharpsburg, and meets on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. He may contacted at]