“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” Ephesians 5:25
Fifty years is a half a century. That’s a long time. Fifty years ago in 1966, my family and my wife’s family were gathering in a small western North Carolina town for our wedding. It seems so long ago, yet I have strong memories of those days. I had just finished my first year in law school – Sis and I opted to wait until that year was behind me before we got married. Good decision! The first year in law school at that time was considered a “shakeout” year – the professors were intentionally hard so that they could quickly weed out those who couldn’t make it. I don’t remember much of that year, other than I had to study constantly. Our marriage might have turned out differently had we chosen to get married before I went to graduate school.
Back to Shelby, North Carolina, my wife’s home town, where she grew up with her two brothers and parents. It’s a small town near Charlotte, North Carolina – originally a mill town with five different textile mills in the era before textiles went overseas to countries that had cheaper labor. It was a bygone era – she grew up in a community where everyone knew everyone else – they not only knew you, but they knew your family – your father, your mother, your siblings, your uncles and aunts. Families lived in the area for most of their lives. There weren’t a lot of transients moving in and out. On the other hand, I grew up in a New Jersey suburb outside of New York City, where your neighbor was from somewhere else, and often moved away after a job change or relocation to another office in another state. A lot of flux in community rather than a stable rural environment where my wife grew up.
Our mutual pledge, when we got engaged was that I wouldn’t try and take her to live in New York so long as she didn’t try and make me live in Shelby. For me, that was an easy commitment, because I didn’t want to return to New York and the transient commuter life I had seen my father and mother endure. My father worked in New York City, some 20 miles away, and he left the house early in the morning to catch his train for a 90 minute commute to his office in New York City . He returned home well after 6 pm most nights. I was not interested in that, nor was I prepared for the opposite end of the spectrum which would have been Shelby.
So, here we are closing in our 50th anniversary on Saturday. I marvel how we made it. It probably was because I became a Christian at age 38 – a product of the prayers of my wife for 17 years. It was a game changer for me, and had a profound impact on my life and our marriage from that point on. Even so, we never envisioned all of the milestones that we would encounter: the birth of our three children and two miscarriages along the way; the empty nest when our youngest child left the house for college; the first marriage of our eldest son some 21 years ago, followed by the second son and finally the marriage of our daughter 11 years ago; the death of our parents along the way; health issues including cancer, hip replacement surgery, and a back operation; the birth of the first of 9 grandchildren followed by the others. My youngest son recently turned 40 which I find hard to stomach.
How did we survive life’s tumults where others failed and got divorced? Hard to answer that, although we’ve tried. Perhaps the best answer is what Ruth Graham said when asked if she ever considered divorcing her husband, Billy Graham: “Did I consider divorce? – never! Murder? Yes, several times.” I think that might take the “until death do us part” portion of our marriage vows to an extreme.
What we find interesting is that we never pictured ourselves at our 50th anniversary, having three children with strong marriages to wonderful spouses and nine grandkids ranging from 6 to 16. When you get married, you tend to think short term – like, “what are we going to do today”? For us, I think success in marriage is a day-to-day thing. The future is now – if you want to be successful long term, try and be successful today. Short term goals produce long term results.
There are lots of things that helped us along the way, but three things that worked for us and may guide you: 1) Laugh more – have a sense of humor and be able to laugh at yourself; 2) Become better friends, not just spouses. That may mean finding things that both of you can enjoy together; 3) Extend grace to each other regularly. We all fail in life (I am adept at saying stupid things), and living in a grace environment where you don’t get pounded into the ground for failing expectations of your spouse is essential.
Most marriages fail when ego gets involved – “it’s all about me!” “I’m not happy,” or “I’m not getting what ‘I’ want”. In successful marriages, it’s all about your spouse. That’s a very different mindset. My challenge to all who read this: if you want your marriage to last fifty years, simply love your spouse today. Wash, rinse and repeat that again tomorrow, and so on. Pretty simple formula but it has worked for us for 50 years.