Saturday, January 8, 2022

What is the Secret to a Long Marriage?

My husband, Carl, and I just celebrated our Golden Wedding Anniversary, which got me thinking. What does it take to stay married for fifty years? Is there one quality of a long marriage that stands out?

When we hear about long marriages, we tend to assume they have always been happy. The truth is no fifty-year partnership has been consistently happy. Two people living together that long are bound to have experienced differences of opinion and clashes of will. Certainly, Carl and I have had those moments…plenty of them. There was even a time when I wondered if we might be better off separating. But, we didn’t separate, and that’s the point I want to make. Instead, we stayed together and resolved to work through our differences.
Life can be stressful and hard. Marriage can be stressful and hard. So, if there is one quality that keeps people together through thick and thin, I’d have to say it is commitment. You thought I was going to say love, didn’t you? Let me explain.

When Carl and I took our marriage vows in 1972, we committed to each other for life. Divorce was off the table from Day One. During the honeymoon phase, it was easy to feel committed. Our love was new and fresh. We were striking out on an exciting adventure, focused on each other and our future together. So, when life threw us its inevitable challenges, it would have been easy to give up, to forget about those vows we took before God and our loved ones.

Disclaimer: lifelong commitment does not apply to abusive relationships. In my opinion, abuse is a dealbreaker.

It may be love or even chemistry that brings couples together, but those feelings can be fleeting, and physical attraction can fade with time. Commitment is a different kind of love. It is not based on emotions or sexual energy. Commitment says, “I promise to love you even when I find you unlovable; I promise to love you even when I feel unlovable.”

Communication has been a huge challenge in our marriage. I don’t think we’re alone in this. Both Carl and I are introverts who don’t communicate comfortably. He is cerebral and private. I tend to shut down emotionally when I’m upset. That’s not a good combination for open communication. It has taken many years and heaps of courage to figure out how to argue productively and work through the issues in our relationship.
Disagreements in marriage (or any relationship) are inevitable, even when the parties hold similar values and personality traits; but no conflict can ever be resolved by pretending it doesn’t exist, holding onto resentment, or refusing to compromise from one’s position. Learning to “fight fair” is probably the most important skill a couple can learn because conflicts arise even in committed relationships. Sometimes learning this skill requires professional counseling. Always, it requires open, honest, respectful communication.

When one partner is sick or angry or exhausted, it is impossible to find the humor in situations. When the other partner sees everything as funny or makes jokes when the other is suffering, the relationship will be strained. For many years, I suffered with endometriosis, a very painful condition. Trust me when I say, “Nothing was funny!” Instead of cajoling me out of my depression, Carl’s attempts at humor only created resentment.

Now, in our golden years, humor is a tool we use to keep from taking minor conflicts (or ourselves) too seriously rather than a tool to put down the other person. When both parties find it funny, the humor can be shared as a tool for intimacy. When one person is not amused, it’s a sign the attempt at humor may have been offensive.

Humans make mistakes. When that happens in marriage, the partner has a choice to either keep score or forgive. Forgiveness is grounded in a shared faith in God. It is also a byproduct of commitment. “What about infidelity?” you ask. I think commitment takes infidelity off the table, so I won’t even go there. But, let’s face it, mistakes and misunderstandings are part of every relationship. If God can forgive our sins when we “earnestly repent” and not hold them against us, don’t we have an obligation to both apologize for our offenses and forgive our partner when s/he earnestly repents?

Have you been married for a long time? What do you think is the secret to your long marriage? I want to hear from you.

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