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MARRIAGE

Loving Over the Long Haul: The Rewards of Marital Commitment

By Karen O'Connor
Guest Columnist

CBN.com - Last summer my husband and I were invited to a dinner party at the home of our friends, Corinne and Ed. It would not be just an ordinary party, however. It was to be a celebration of the couple's 50th wedding anniversary. We could hardly wait to attend. Here was a milestone in the lives of these dear people and we wanted to be there to honor them.

As guests arrived we were escorted to the garden where tables were beautifully decorated with fresh flowers, colorful tableware, and pretty party napkins. Festive punch, hot appetizers, and warm conversation added to the pre-dinner hour. Before and after the meal we sauntered through their home, taking time to look at photos of Corinne and Ed and their children at various stages in their family life. Their wedding album was displayed on the coffee table in the living room. Everyone crowded around, curious to see what they looked like and what they wore on that special day half a century ago.

I was deeply moved by this special evening of tribute to two people who have modeled commitment--in our lives and in the lives of all who know them. I wished young married couples, those engaged, and people who are dating with an eye to getting married could have been there to see these visible signs of what it means to love over the long haul--regardless of the challenges.

Some time later, while planning this article, I asked Corinne what has kept them together, what she felt the 'secret' ingredient was that helped them sustain their long marriage and still remain interested and devoted to one another. Then I decided to ask the same question of other couples I know who have been married more than fifty years. Their answers were insightful, practical, and wise. I hope their responses will inspire and bless your marriage as they have mine.

"I remember how God has proven Himself worthy and faithful in the past."

Corinne said that keeping the Lord first in her life has helped her maintain the balance she needs to sustain her commitment to her husband through the tough times. "Whenever we face difficulties we stop and remember how God has taken care of us in the past," she said. "He's been with us through difficulties again and again. He has proven Himself worthy."

When Ed and Corinne recall this truth she said they're better able to take a deep breath and keep going.

Fifty years with one person is a long time! Yet the years can become sweeter as they add up because of the intimacy that comes through shared history, creating a family together, nursing one another through hurts and illness, laughing together (Corinne rated a sense of humor high on her list), and making decisions and choices with the other one in mind. This common history--especially when you are walking in faith with Jesus Christ--sustains you for whatever comes your way. Corinne and Ed have proven this to be true.

Ed counts himself a "blessed man." To him, Corinne "is the best wife." He 'upholds' and 'cherishes' her. For some people, such words sound old-fashioned. But every woman should be so graced! Ed's devotion to Corinne was never more evident than at their anniversary party when he wrapped her in loving words and looks during his toast to his 'bride.'

Pretty awesome--after fifty years!

"I stay open-minded and keep a sense of humor."

Joan and Lenard Wolf have been married 51 years. According to Joan, who admits she is 'temperamental' and 'perfectionistic,' she's had to learn to adapt and to be open-minded--to laugh at mistakes, smile at misunderstandings, and chuckle at misdeeds, especially when neither of them meant to hurt the other.

"I couldn't have kept my commitment for so many years," said Joan, "without my ability to adapt. That's it," she added. "Adaptability. I was married young and that actually helped us, because I was not yet set in my ways. My husband and I could grow together."

Joan had plenty of opportunity to adapt since her husband worked for the FBI and had unconventional hours. He was sometimes called out on a case in the middle of the night or had to stay away from home for days at a time. He also faced many life-threatening situations. It was up to Joan to provide a stable family life for their two sons and to be supportive of Lenard when he was home.

"I didnt do a perfect job," she said, "but when I look back now, I didn't do too badly either. Our boys turned out all right. Neither gave us any trouble in high school. They didn't get into drugs or alcohol. And as adults they're good, responsible people."

Today Joan continues to adapt. Lenard has some developing health problems, and once again, Joan must be willing to change and grow and adjust to the way things are now. And that seems to be the hallmark of their long marriage. Taking life as it is--and making adjustments as they're needed.

"I gave up my right to be right."

Bold words from a bold and outspoken person, Barbara Jean, married to her husband Vic for 50 years. "I learned the hard way," said B.J. "I watched my mother-in-law press her 'rights' with my father-in-law while they were living with us, and one day I suddenly realized, I'm just like her. I do the same thing with Vic."

B.J. said she decided right then and there to give up her right to be right! What a blessing it's been, she claims. "I realize that Vic is just being Vic. He's not trying to hurt me or fight me. He's doing what he does. And when I began to see him in that light, I saw what a precious person he is. It's wonderful!"

B.J. went on to share how that insight has changed all of her relationships. "We each have our own point of view on life," she added. "I now see that most marital problems really have very little to do with one's spouse. We get upset because we think our way of doing things is the right way or the only way. But it's not. The other person has his or her way and it's as valid as ours."

I saw that truth in my own marriage not long ago. My husband and I were squabbling about how to load the dishwasher, of all things. He likes to do things according to the manual. I'm the kind who feels that as long as they get washed, who cares how they're placed. Suddenly I stepped back, laughed, and said, "Does it really matter as long as the dishes get clean?" Then he broke out laughing and agreed. End of discussion!

One evening while driving to the airport, I commented on the route my husband had chosen. It was different than mine and I was certain my way was shorter. As I was dispensing unwanted advice, I stopped mid-sentence. I asked myself a similar question to the one about the dishwasher. "Does it matter what road we take as long as we arrive safely in time to board the plane?"

No it doesnt.

I apologized to my husband and thanked him for driving. End of discussion!

B.J. and Vic have similar patterns in their relationship. One is spontaneous. The other methodical. One is playful and talkative. The other quiet and observant. But together they make a beautiful whole! After all these years of living together, growing, changing, leaning on the Lord, and seeing one another through ups and downs, both admit they wouldnt want anyone else. B.J. and Vic. Vic and B.J. Like peanut butter and jelly, one just isn't the same without the other!

"I'm committed because I desire to be."

What a powerful statement, I thought, as I listened to my dear friend Mabel talk about her 61-year marriage to her husband Quimby. "That probably doesn't sound like a very profound answer," she said, "but it's true for me. I want to be committed to Quimby." And so she is. When you see the two of them together you know it's true for Quimby too.

Mabel once told me their marriage has been a love affair from the very beginning. "We loved each other," she said, "and we still do. We're good friends too. We've always been able to talk."

For the past several years, their marriage has been challenged by Quimby's decline due to Alzheimer's Disease. But Mabel remains optimistic, totally committed to her husband's safety and comfort, and as close to the Lord as ever.

"How do you stay so positive?" I asked.

"When you love someone you just keep going," she said. "You don't stop loving the person because there are changes. I take each day as it comes and do what's needed."

This wasn't the first time Mabel inspired me with her simple wisdom, common sense, and focused commitment.

I remember a time about ten years ago when I was going through a difficult time in my marriage. I asked Mabel for her advice. I have never forgotten what she said. "Take your burdens to the Lord first. Listen to what He has to say. Then go to your husband only if the Lord tells you to. So often He solves our troubles without our even needing to bring them to our husbands."

Mabel wasn't suggesting that I avoid talking with Charles, but she wanted to make the point that oftentimes our concerns are motivated by selfishness. We want this or that. We don't like this or that. We wish this or that about our husbands or wives would change. But when we bring these feelings to the Lord first, He can minister to us and to our spouses before we hurt one another with damaging words, emotional outbursts, or regrettable actions.

There you have it. Words to live by from four couples who have answered the question, "What does it mean to love someone over the long haul?" for more than fifty years of marriage to the same person.

  • "I remember how God has proven Himself worthy and faithful in the past."
  • "I stay open-minded and keep a sense of humor."
  • "I gave up my right to be right."
  • "I'm committed because I desire to be."

Karen O'ConnorKaren O'Connor is the author of 38 books, a retreat speaker, and writing instructor from San Diego, California. She received the 2002 Special Recognition Award at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference for her years of writing and mentoring aspiring writers.

 

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