“Mawage is wot bwings us togevvah today. Mawage, that bwessed awangement, that dweam within a dweam…”—the Impressive Clergyman (Peter Cook) in The Princess Bride
This August, Jay and I celebrate 25 years of marriage. While we try to do something special every year commemorate the beginning of Us, this feels like a milestone. I know it’s only silver, half-way to the golden 50th, but these days, that’s a big deal. And whether due to death or dysfunction, neither our parents nor our grandparents made it to the golden anniversary and so we’re even more determined to keep going!
Recently, I have been contemplating what this relationship means to me. I watched a young couple get married on a quiet beach one morning in June. It was just the two of them, barefoot, with an officiant and a photographer for a witness. I was remembering my own wedding, the promises we made before we knew what they meant, the giddy feeling that is equal parts joy and terror, and how far we’ve come in the intervening years. What we did with our family—leaving the beaten track to follow our dreams and live an adventurous life—would not have been possible without the stability our marriage, the partnership based in love, teamwork, good communication, and hard-won problem-solving strategies. What is this “dream within a dream” we call marriage, and why is it worth fighting for? Though the global divorce rate hovers around 50%, we all know that a good marriage is more than a flip of a coin. These are my reflections after spending a quarter of a century with the same person.
- The promise I made on my wedding day was not only to Jay, but also to God. Marriage is not merely a contract between two people, but a covenant made before and with the Creator. It is a promise to stick it out and treat each other with love and respect regardless of changing circumstances, and not merely a legal arrangement between two people that can be easily broken when one person doesn’t uphold their end of the deal.
- Because we have children, this covenant involves them, too. By promising to work out our difficulties and stay together, we provide stability for our family. We are also setting an example, and we want our kids to be in relationships where mutual respect is the norm, where they feel safe to be themselves, and where conflict can be resolved.
- The benefits of staying are things you can only learn by staying. Romance is magical, honeymoons are wonderful, and early marriage is full of both mountains and valleys, but “middle marriage” is when maturity happens, when (ideally) you have stopped trying to change your partner, stopped expecting the impossible, and have even begun to appreciate the things about him or her that you might have complained about at the beginning of the marriage.
- Love is not just a feeling, it’s also a choice. We may describe love as something we can fall in or out of, like an accident, but the kind of love that makes a marriage work is purposeful. It involves a lot of hard work and forgiveness. Unconditional love is demonstrated only when challenges are faced, when potential conditions present themselves. Sometimes, love is how you act toward another person despite the way you feel at the moment.
- Sex is important, but it’s not everything. Our culture celebrates sex before marriage and makes fun of sex after marriage. But a good sex life in a committed relationship is a rare and beautiful thing. It can promote bonding, build trust and communication, encourage selflessness, add fun and pleasure, prevent infidelity, and create new life. Over a lifetime, a couple’s sex life will go through many transitions, but if intimacy and communication are at the center of the relationship, sex complements the emotional bond, but doesn’t make or break it.
- Love is like your favorite pair of old shoes. At this point, our relationship is comfortable. We have begun to take our marriage for granted and can finish each other’s sentences. But comfort can lead to complacency, so we still have to do the little things that say “I love you.” We need to take care of the old shoes so they last a long time.
- Love never fails. That’s what it says next to the date engraved on the inside of the gold wedding rings we exchanged. And I still believe it. I may fail, Jay may fail, but love itself—the Eternal Source of love, the power of love, the feelings that follow the choices to love—these things do not fail. When we pick ourselves up after a failure and try again, we witness the power of this kind of love that doesn’t quit or walk out. It is, perhaps, the best demonstration of the gospel: we have a God who loves his people unconditionally, a God who forgives, a God who is faithful. The fact that we survived and stayed happily married despite raising five kids on a boat is a modern-day miracle! By the grace of God, we still love each other.
I read a book with a group of friends this year by Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? His observations are timely and echo my own sentiments: “I love marriage, and I love my marriage. I love the fun parts, the easy parts, and the pleasurable parts, but also the difficult parts—the parts that frustrate me but help me understand myself and my spouse on a deeper level; the parts that are painful but that crucify the aspects of me that I hate; the parts that force me to my knees and teach me that I need to learn to love with God’s love instead of just trying harder. Marriage has led me to deeper levels of understanding, more pronounced worship, and a sense of fellowship that I never knew existed.”
I don’t know what curve balls the next few years will throw at us, but because our love is based on something transcendent, something that lasts even after we are gone, we face the future with optimism and hope. In the immortal words of Westley (Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride), “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for awhile.”