Marriage: 37 Lessons from 37 Years of Experience
still smiling after 37 years of journeying together
Thirty seven years is a long time, and yesterday my wife and I were able to celebrate that time marker as the length of marriage. This is something that brings us both pride and gratitude, but more gratitude than pride. We realize that we’ve been largely healthy, and at least one of has been employed, the whole time. We have much cause for thanks, because of the lives we’ve been given. Still, 37 years is a big deal and to be both married and still very much in love is, we feel, no accident.
While I’d never presume to write a book about marriage, it may prove helpful to share some of “what’s worked for us…” So here they are: 37 lessons learned in 37 years. Enjoy! And if you find it helpful or think it might help others, share freely!
We’ve always made big decisions entirely together. Why would we move, buy or sell a car, change jobs, or practice radical hospitality, if only one party thought it was a good idea?
Candles at supper have been the default for the 37 years. We’re at our best when the TV is off and we’re eating together, sharing, talking, and listening.
Our devotional lives are very different, and though it took over a decade for me to realize it…that’s OK.
Our circadian rhythms are also different, and while I’m still convinced God’s desire is for all humans to rise early, I’ll confess I enjoy the quiet house before 7.
We’ve learned to fan each other’s strengths into flame. She’s better at details, organizing, and maintaining. I’m better at vision, words, writing, teaching. We’re done trying to change the other in these realms, now seeing them as assets.
We enjoyed our children when they were small, and still do now that they’re all adults and married.
Though we enjoy our children, they’ve never defined us fully. The whole time we’ve been married we realized that we’d been a couple before we had children, and would still be a couple (short of death), after they left home.
Donna’s heart of compassion for others is a quality I celebrate, and I’m in awe of it on a regular basis.
Her compassion makes me a better pastor and teacher. I know this, and so any accolades that come my way for my work, I share with her so she knows the important role she plays in my world outside the home.
Donna has her own chain saw. You have no idea how important this is unless you burn wood as your primary heat source.
We both love cutting wood, and I love splitting, while she loves stacking. It’s as if we’re made for each other.
We are both terribly easily pleased. Sunsets, simple meals, good coffee or tea, the smell of the forest, and the sound of birds bring us as much joy as a night at a fancy restaurant, or a concert or sporting event.
We’ve learned that we’re aging (in spite of fish oil and eating occasional vegetables) and have adapted. In fact, I’d say “adaptation to life’s changing seasons” has been one of the most important reasons we’re still wildly in love. We gave up the illusion of control a long time ago.
We’ve worked at our sex life to make sure it’s still enjoyable and life giving to both of us. This requires conversation, total transparency, a bit of trial and error, and a sense of humor. That is all.
She wants a cat and I don’t. I want a big dog, like a Malamute or Husky, and she doesn’t. So we’re happily pet free.
Our shared love of the mountains, evident from the day we met, has been a good glue. We get outside together often, and always have. It’s a context where real sharing occurs.
I’ve appreciated Donna’s quickness to forgive. “The freedom to fail” was one of the three things I was looking for in a spouse. She’s given me that and the result has been a profound transparency that I now realize is too rare among married couples.
She’s not picky about music and I am. This has worked out well for me and, I can only assume, for her too.
Early on we sought approval from each other for any expenses over $20. The amount’s gone up. The principle remains – no money is “mine” or “hers”. It’s ours.
We’ve paid our credit cards on time every month, which means we’ve bought less than we’ve made.
We’ve given our money away – both to our church and other organizations. We’ve done this regularly, even when we were making “not so much”.
Beyond our economic compatibility is the unanticipated gift that I’ve never felt pressured to “earn up” in order to achieve a lifestyle. Only now, looking through the rear view mirror, can I see what a blessing this was, and still is.
We are both strong as individuals. This has been important because throughout our marriage there have been seasons where we’ve been able to offer less of ourselves to each other. Travel for work, young children, and aging parents, all come to mind. I tell young couples that one of the best things they can do to prepare for marriage is develop a strong sense of personal identity, so that they’re not making incessant demands on their spouse to fill some gaping hole in their life.
To really know what the other person wants in a given situation we sometimes jokingly say, “What would you do right now if I weren’t here… If I were dead?” “Well if you were dead, I’d have steak, mushrooms, and a spinach salad. Then I’d go for a walk and listen to the birds.” Done. Evening planned, or decision made, according to the desires of one or the other of us.
Each of us believe that marriage requires a million tiny little positive investments, and that each positive investment will eventually yield rich dividends. As a result, a neck rub, a clean kitchen, a meal prepared while the other rests after a hard day, are things we enjoy doing for each other. We’ve recognized that the joy isn’t just in the moment, but that there will be joy later because of these tiny acts of kindness.
We don’t watch much TV at all.
When we argue, the win isn’t that one of us is right and one is wrong. The win is that we both feel heard and honored by the time we’re done.
We both believe that God brought us together, and brings every couple together, in order to create a new union that will bless the world uniquely. Because of this we have a sense of calling to be a blessing to others, and though we debate what that means and looks like, we are truly seeking to live into that calling.
We are both able to say the hard thing to the other and know it will eventually be received.
We laugh nearly every single day and this seems, to me, to be a sign that we’re still having fun, and she’s still the one!
We share some deep commitments to a body/soul/spirit theology that means we take exercise, food, stress managements, and sleep seriously, just as we take prayer, Bible reading, fellowship, and service seriously.
We share some recreation, in particular hiking and downhill skiing.
Sharing recreation requires that we appreciate each other’s personalities. I go fast and push for more. She slows down to savor. It’s a dance and we do it well enough that we genuinely enjoy our shared loves.
Traveling together has not only expanded our world, but increased our intimacy. We’ve seen things in other parts of the world that have challenged our ways of thinking, and that we’ve seen them together has been helpful.
We know each other’s love languages. Hers is “words of affirmation” and mine is “time spent together”. Knowing this and serving each other in these ways is huge.
Christ is the foundation of our marriage in the sense that our completion in Christ is the well from which we’re able to draw so that we can serve and bless each other freely.
Forgiveness. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”. Ephesians 5:32
We’d love to hear what’s worked for you in the comments section. Cheers!