Welcome back to 4 Minutes 4 Marriage!

Welcome to newcomers, and welcome back to those of you who’ve followed previous Lenten posts for growth.

I’ll share wisdom over the next 6 weeks about relationships from professional counselors and authors. I’m in the process of culling information from several well-regarded relationship books. In years past we’ve reviewed such authors as John Gottman (Why Marriages Succeed or Fail), David Schnarch (Passionate Marriage), Gary Chapman (5 Love Languages), Shaunti & Jeff Feldhahn (For Men/Women Only), and even Dr. Phil McGraw (Relationship Rescue). For a refresher, or if you want to see previous posts, choose the “Marriage” link under 4 Minutes 4 Growth in the right hand column.

But I also believe some of our greatest wisdom comes from our elders. In “Ask Amy” on Valentine’s Day in The Oregonian, Amy Dickinson quotes Cornell University’s Legacy Project, which collected advice from over 1200 Americans, most 70 or older.

Here are the top 5 tips these “Wisest Americans” offer for a long and happy marriage:

  1. Similarity in core values is the key to a happy marriage.
  2. Friendship is as important as romantic love: Heart-thumping passion has to undergo a metamorphosis in lifelong relationships.
  3. Don’t keep score: Don’t take the attitude that marriage must always be a 50-50 proposition; you can’t get out exactly what you put in. The key to success is having both partners try to give more than they get out of the relationship.
  4. Talk to each other: Marriage to the strong, silent type can be deadly to a relationship. Long-term married partners are talkers (at least to one another, and about things that count). (Betty here: In a future post we’ll talk about dealing with partners who don’t want to talk about the relationship.)
  5. Commit to marriage itself, not just to your partner. Make a commitment to the institution of marriage and take it seriously. Seeing the marriage as bigger than the immediate needs of each partner helps people work together to overcome inevitable rough patches.

Though my grandmother wasn’t part of the Legacy Project, her counsel still echoes in my mind. She used to say about children—but the words hold true about spouses—“When they are the hardest to love is when they need your love the most.”

Valentine’s Day made me particularly grateful to be married to a kind and considerate man who continues to earn the title of best friend. He will joke about “I suppose I have to buy you a gift and write something on a card,” but what I especially appreciate is not what he gets me, but that he “gets me,” at least most of the time. We’ve grown through almost 34 years of marriage, and we still have moments when we misunderstand, miscommunicate, and just plain mistake what the other wants/says/means. But we keep trying and learning and growing, because we are committed to marriage in general and our marriage in particular.

One of my unpublished novels, called “When the Vow Breaks,” tells of wounds that are inflicted on the innocent when people don’t honor and keep the vows they proclaimed on their wedding day. It exemplifies in story form what I firmly believe: Our marriage vows need tending every single day. It’s in the small acts of love and respect that we strengthen our commitment, and sadly, in the small acts of disrespect and selfishness that we chip away at our relationship. Those times we fail to honor our spouses we inflict harm, not only on each other, but on our children, our extended families, our friends, and anyone who is looking for examples of strong, loving commitment.

Conversely, we may never know the positive influence we have on people as we demonstrate our love and respect for our partner in what may seem to us like insignificant ways. Each marriage is important to countless people. We have a responsibility—not only to our spouse but to society—to make our marriage as strong and healthy and happy as we can.

On our wedding day, we promised to continue to love, “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” We may have romantically imagined ourselves nursing a loved one back to health or accepting lean financial times. But that worse/poorer/sickness challenge also applies when our spouses irritate us, continue to be messy, act unreasonable, wallow in a rotten mood, or simply make mistakes.

Let’s recommit to our wedding vows, and our spouse, today and every day.

To whet your appetite for a future post, here are a few quotes from Judith Viorst’s book, Grown-Up Marriage: What We Know, Wish We Had Known, and Still Need to Know About Being Married. She has more to say about our marriage promise, and the  commitment to that promise that we need to honor daily:

  • Eternal vigilance is the price of a good marriage. Pay attention. Never stop paying attention. Take care of your marriage.
  • Quoting Mrs. Antrobus in Thorton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, “I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage…. And when our children were growing up, it wasn’t a house that protected them; and it wasn’t our love that protected them—it was that promise.”
  • The promise we make to each other is that we’ll protect and preserve our marriage, that we’ll feed and watch over our marriage, that we’ll defend it against attacks—even our own. The promise we make to each other, and to ourselves,
    is that our marriage will endure.
  • Quoting Michael Vincent Miller in Intimate Terrorism, “After all, don’t husbands and wives have to go to heroic lengths to make a marriage work these days? Perhaps marriage in the modern world, with all its restless energy, its labyrinths of complex meanings to negotiate, its ordeals and setback to overcome, could be our next arena for heroic deeds.”

Didn’t you want to be a hero or heroine when you were little? We can be—to our spouse and all the people who see us as examples.

Consider yourself sent forth on a quest!



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