This coming September, my wife and I will attain, God willing, 52 years of Holy matrimony. I’m pretty sure that the people who knew us well (who knew ME anyway) would be totally shocked. I’m surprised that those folks didn’t start a pool to see how long it would go before we divorced.
Someone asked me a few years ago, “What the secret of a long marriage?” I really don’t know the answer to that question and there are experts in the field that are wiser than I and who teach seminars and have written books. I have never attended those seminars and I never read any of the books on the subject. But I do have a few thoughts.
I suppose the secret of a long marriage is about the same as making it through Marine Corps boot camp. I have shared with several young people about to leave for Parris Island three secrets:
1) Stay scared (Don’t worry, your Drill Instructors will make sure you stay that way).
2) Do what you are told to do when you are told to do it.
3) Do not quit. I repeat, do NOT quit.
The three thoughts on marriage are similar:
1) Stay scared. By that, I do not mean terrified. Maybe the best word might be “stay aware.” Be aware with at least a bit of fright thrown in. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 43% of all first marriages end in divorce or separation within 15 years. Marriage, in the early years, is fragile and it doesn’t take much for minor disagreements to escalate into full-blown catastrophes. Be aware that words hurt, that trust, if broken, may take years to rebuild. Be aware that the other person is a full partner in this venture and not a subordinate to boss around. Be aware that in-laws and parents, while they can be supportive, have no business in what goes on in your home between the two of you.
2) Do what you are told to do. I’m going to get biblical here for a minute. Men, the one job you have that must be done is this: Love your wives. That sounds like it’s a given but the verse in the New Testament goes farther. You are to love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her. That means that marriage is not about you. It’s about her. Jesus died for his Bride, the Church. He endured humiliation, torture, and unjust execution for her. And, as faulty as the Church is, he never abandoned her. You are to do the same.
Wives, the one job that you must do is to respect your husband. “I’ll respect him when he deserves it.” No, respect him now. If he has no respect from you at home, he will find respect elsewhere. The Church’s response to Jesus and his self-sacrificing love is adoration, worship, and obedience. Surely you can, at the very least, respect him — and let him know you do.
3) Do not quit. I repeat, do not quit. In boot camp I wanted to quit every day. Everything I had ever heard about Marine Corps boot camp was true. And people around me did quit. I couldn’t and I wouldn’t. My father had told me that it was too hard and that he felt I couldn’t hack it.
Looking back, I think my dad, a World War II veteran of the U.S. Navy, did not want his son to go to Vietnam. The Marines, though ultimately successful, had paid a high and bitter price for their victories in the Pacific. Truthfully, I think he was trying to protect me.
But there was no way I was going home a failure. It’s one thing to be injured and sent home and another thing entirely to go home a quitter. The prize was worth the pain.
It was the same in my marriage. Though we both considered it — a lot actually — neither of us were prepared to totally walk away. Sometimes stubbornness can be a virtue. Again, the prize was worth the pain.
There was plenty of pain in those first ten years. We were married too young. I was 20 and she was 19. I’m certain both sets of parents thought we had ruined our lives. We had no skills, no degrees, no furniture, and no money. Then we had a kid and then another who quickly followed, and we still had no skills, no degrees, no furniture, and no money. But all of that would come later. Almost seven years after we had the second son, another son came. Nothing came easy but we stayed together and faced the difficulties and experienced the successes together.
Doubtless, other couples with long-term marriages will have differing reasons for their longevity. The United States Navy’s SEALs are among the most elite warriors in the world. I read somewhere that a SEAL was asked if getting through the rigorous training was hard. He replied that it was very hard, that they try to make you quit. But then he said that “it’s all about the mind.”
While the physical was grueling, it’s the mind that gets tough or it’s the mind that breaks. He said that if someone is committed to pay the physical price and had determined in his mind never to quit, he will make it through. God willing, come September 6 we will observe 52 years of marriage. The prize is worth the pain.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at email@example.com.]