It’s been 30 plus years since that fateful night I took my wife, Kim, on our first date. I picked her up in my Candy Apple Red Ford pickup and took her to the Sugar Bowl . . . in New Orleans . . . via the Murdock’s television. We watched the game with numerous friends and had a blast. I think Georgia lost, but that night I didn’t care. I was sitting next to the most amazing woman in the room and that was all that mattered. She still is.
If you’ve been married very long (20 + years), then you’ve been through it. It’s impossible to walk through two decades of marriage and not face huge difficulties along the way. In case you don’t know this, hard times are what you sign up for at the wedding altar. Surely you didn’t expect your marriage to become an intimate relationship without some friction, did you? It’s impossible for two people to get close without creating friction.
And so it happens. The friction, that is. Perhaps it’s something no one can really help, like a job loss, a cancer diagnosis, or an emotional breakdown. Sometimes the choices could have been helped. Regardless, the days of struggle go on and on and on. The weeks become a season of your life. You get tired. Anger, fear, hurt and disappointment visit every single day. Emotions run high. Thoughts get distorted. Words fly. The volume gets turned up. You lay awake on your side of the bed wondering if staying together is the right choice. After all, you don’t feel that love anymore, like you used to. You aren’t happy either. Like birds, your love and happiness have flown away to another nest. Surely you can find them again. In another place? With another person?
So how do you stay? How does one make a marriage happy again? How does a couple stick it out?
Let me tell you about the Watsons – J. D. and Emma. You’ve never heard of them, but they were married for 76 years. Yes, 76 years. Lived in the little town of West Bank, just outside of Wenntoba for most of those years. What was the secret of their long and lasting marriage? It all began when J.D. proposed to Emma via mail. That’s right. He mailed her a letter. He had made some bad choices and was arrested. The county jail awakened J.D. to his foolishness and he was deeply regretful. He feared losing Emma. As a result, sitting on his cell bunk, he wrote her and proposed:
“Perhaps you are wondering, Emma, what I want out of marriage. In a few words,
I want you to talk to me so I can learn to listen.
I want you to forgive me so I can experience grace.
I want you to need me so I can learn to serve.
I want you to challenge me so I can grow.
I want you to take risks so I can learn to trust.
I want you to succeed so I can honor you.
I want you to fail so I can give encouragement.
I want you to struggle so I can support you.
I want you to be honest so I can learn to be genuine.
I want you to be caring so I can learn to receive compassion.
I want you to be patient so I can learn to be patient.
That’s what I want out of this marriage. I want to change.
To become more than I am
So you can do the same.
The more I become a better me,
The more you’ll become a better you,
And together we’ll become a better we.
Then you will know that you are deeply loved.
And I will know what it is to love deeply.
That’s what I want out of marriage.”
My wife’s husband is far from perfect, and I mean very far, but still he’s come a long way since that Sugar Bowl date on New Year’s Day. Along the journey, he’s become a better he and she’s become a better she and together they’ve become a better them. Through better and worse (no, they’ve never talked divorce), Bruce and Kim have undergone thorough transformations. The struggles have turned out for good so far. But transformation is still happening.
When the individuals of a marriage choose to change and mature through the seasons of marriage, the love grows and the home becomes stronger. Why? It is because growing people recognize and own their flaws, but refuse to stay the way they are. Instead they choose the path of transformation and in the process their love grows as they grow. Consequently, they make the marriage happy rather than the marriage making them happy.
If you are not happy in your marriage right now, perhaps this moment is for asking yourself how you are growing personally. What strides are you making toward transformation? Are you growing qualities like self-control or patience or humility or gratitude.
It’s your intentional willingness to grow and change that will make your marriage last. Growth is not easy or exciting, but it creates an environment where love and happiness can blossom. That’s what J.D. wanted out of marriage and that’s what he got. So can you.