How can you help your marriage last a lifetime?
You may have heard about the law firm in Chicago that put up a billboard saying, "Life is short. Get a divorce."
And then there was the recent survey of 3,000 women by Woman's Day magazine and AOL.com. According to it, 44 percent said they'd marry their husbands again while 36 percent answered, "No," and 20 percent were unsure.
Let's face it: We live in an age of discontentment. We are bombarded with ads and interviews telling us that we deserve a new car, a better vacation, a perfect body … a flawless mate.
When I look at pictures from my wedding to my husband, Jim, I see friends and relatives whose lives have been shattered by divorce. I've also heard stories of couples who had been married 30 years, 40 years, and more…only to find themselves apart at the end of their lives.
Jim and I want our marriage, like those of our parents, to last a lifetime. That's why we take intentional steps to cultivate our relationship.
Here are 10 ways that we protect our marriage. I hope that you will glean an idea or two that will enrich your relationship with your spouse and make your marriage go the distance:
1. Spend regular time enjoying life with your spouse. My husband loves to tinker with old cars. He's now turning a 1941 Chevrolet into a hot rod. In case you are car-deficient like me, this means that he's fixing up an old car with new parts. I love to look at beautiful hot rods, but honestly I couldn't care less about motors, pistons, and gears. But because I love Jim, I go with him to car club meetings and antique car shows. And I've met so many wonderful people.
Now, my idea of fun is a writing conference—sitting in a ballroom learning about new ways to capture ideas. Jim couldn't care less about writing conferences, but he's joined me at many conference banquets and welcomed my writer friends into our home. He's usually the first person to read whatever I write—and he gives me his honest opinion.
Over the years, Jim and I have also gone on lots of fun getaways together. We've driven through the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains, sailed on area lakes, and watched hot-air balloons fill the morning sky. Recently we went to a national park high in the Ozark Mountains—away from computers, cell phones, and even grocery stores.
2. Add a little fun to your relationship. No matter how long you've been married, notes in lunch boxes, tucked in pieces of luggage, or placed under the visor of the car are always appreciated. And in this technological age, it's so easy to send an e-mail or text message to tell your spouse of your love.
If I make a lunch for Jim to take to the office, I'll often tuck a note inside a napkin or even in a bag of chips. And many times he'll leave a message on my answering machine at work—just to let me know how much he loves me.
Also, you may want to send your spouse on a scavenger hunt. It could end at a romantic restaurant where you will be waiting.
3. Thank God daily for your mate—imperfections and all. When Jim shows me his love despite my crankiness and selfishness, he models the heart of Christ. If he's a little short-tempered at the end of a long day, I have the opportunity to offer him understanding instead of judgment.
Romans 5:8 says, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." A perfect Savior died on the cross for sinful me and for my sinful spouse. Marriage is made up of two imperfect people who are being conformed daily to the image of Christ through life's struggles.
4. Ask your spouse how you can pray for him/her during the day. Jim and I begin and end each day with prayer. Before he heads off to the office in the morning, he'll hold my hand and we'll ask for God's guidance and blessing for the day … for us and for our entire family. Often we'll e-mail or call each other during the day to ask for prayer for a particular situation.
When I was a little girl, I remember walking into my parents' bedroom when they were kneeling side by side in prayer. Somehow that picture was etched in my mind and I can vividly see it today. Jim and I now follow their example and end our day on our knees.
5. Share temptations with your spouse. Proverbs 16:18 reminds us of this truth, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling." Jim and I have found that being honest about the temptations we face helps keep us from stumbling.
Years ago, Jim's work required him to travel out of town. He would tell me about flirtatious women and invitations to grab a drink at the bar. He'd share with me how he often felt alone when he'd choose a quiet night in his hotel room instead of an evening out with colleagues. I'm proud of Jim for his integrity … he knows that he's not immune to temptation.
I remember two times when I shared with Jim that I didn't want to cultivate a friendship with particular couples. I told him that I thought the husbands were very attractive and I didn't want to get to know them well. Jim understood. I know that I'm not immune to temptation.
6. Regularly remember why you married your spouse. What character qualities drew you to your mate? Write a love letter reminding your spouse why you married him/her and express your lifelong commitment. You may want to share this letter over a candlelight dinner.
I was attracted to my husband because he was a lot of fun. I also love Jim because of his love for the Lord and our family. He's a man who sacrifices for others and genuinely cares for people. And he makes me laugh!
7. Expect challenges in life and remember that we're not in heaven … yet. When I got married more than three decades ago, I knew in my head that life would not be perfect. But somehow my heart thought that life would be like Cinderella going to the ball. Wrong!
I didn't expect premature children, miscarriages, cancer, disobedient children, aging parents, financial stress, car problems, and bathroom leaks. But, after more than 30 years of marriage, I now realize that life certainly has its ups and downs.
God wants our marriage to model trust in Him—regardless of life's circumstances
8. Don't go into marriage thinking that it's a 50/50 partnership. If you got up with the baby last night, it doesn't mean that your spouse must get up with the baby tonight. In a Christ-centered marriage, you and your spouse are one as you serve each other. Marriage is 100/100, not 50/50.
I realize that there are times when Jim needs to relax and watch a baseball or football game while I'm cleaning the house. And sometimes he'll fix dinner while I'm on the computer. We don't keep score of who does what. We're partners in marriage and in life who are still learning to be more concerned about one another than ourselves.
9. Don't say everything that you think. I'm still learning this one.
Last Saturday Jim wanted to take a nap at 2 p.m. I wanted to say, "You can't lie down. The grandkids are here [ages 4, 2, and 6 months], and I need help!" But somehow I stopped myself, and instead of making a rude, demanding comment, I asked, "Are you okay?" It ended up that his back hurt from early morning yard work, and he just needed a little rest and relaxation.
10. Sign a marriage covenant. Marriage is more than a contract; it's a covenant—a vow between one man and one woman with God for a lifetime (Matthew 19:6).
Create a reminder of your lifetime commitment to your mate. This could be as simple as dating and signing a sentence such as: "I, __________ (name), promise to be ________________'s (spouse's name) husband/wife for the rest of my life." To create a family heirloom, frame the signed statements with a wedding picture.
A signed marriage covenant could also be as elaborate as a custom-made certificate that includes your actual wedding vows and the signatures of witnesses. You could even have a special signing ceremony for close friends and family at home or at church.
The important thing is to create a tangible way to remember your sacred promise of unwavering commitment. My husband and I have a signed marriage covenant that was witnessed by our children. It hangs above our bed and is one of our most prized possessions.
Written by Mary May Larmoyeux