The Secret to a Long and Happy Marriage


A couple of weeks ago I attended the bridal shower of a friend who is the same age as my son. (My motto is “Make younger friends in case all of your older ones die off.” Just kidding.) At the shower one of the planners asked everyone to ponder a question: What advice did someone give you before your marriage that has been helpful, or what advice would you offer Angela from your own experience?

I mentally gulped as I considered what words of wisdom I would offer. First, I felt a little insecure offering advice. My mother always used to say, “Unasked-for advice is half scandal.” Well, this advice wasn’t unasked for, but mercy, advising someone about marriage is such a dangerous thing. What would I say to any young bride-to-be?

I decided to be honest. When John and I were engaged, I really wondered whether we would make it as a couple. You see, we used to fight every Thursday night. Every. Single. Week. So I told this story, not quite as long as I make it here:

I used to worry about John and me. When we were engaged, we had a fight every Thursday night. (At this point I saw a few people at the shower squirm a bit, like they were thinking, “Oh no. What is she going to say?”)

John belonged to a square dance club, and he took me square dancing on Thursdays. Being a sweet, innocent, young thang of only 23 years, I went along with his wishes and grudgingly went square dancing. I’m not sure I disguised my lack of enthusiasm very well, especially after I got a STUPID yellow dress to wear square dancing. I’m sure John loved the dress because it showed off my long legs, but I hated, hated, hated it. I felt conspicuous every time we danced. I have always felt klutzy, and on Thursday nights during our engagement, probably never felt more klutzy at any other time of my life.

The reason we fought was twofold: I was immature, and I was tired. I am by nature an introvert, though many people see me as an extravert. At that time, I had not yet learned to limit my activities and take care of myself. I undertook too many responsibilities at church, and by Thursdays I was just plum tuckered out, to use a good, old-fashioned Southern idiom. On Wednesday nights, I worked with children in choir, teenagers in missions, and attended adult choir practice. So by Thursday I was ready to stay home for the night.

I tried to be a good sport, but I really disliked square dancing. I felt stupid doing it, trying to make my body twirl and remember all the things I was supposed to do as the caller instructed, “Do si do, turn your partner, promenade now!”

The first thing I did after John and I were married was say, “Now I don’t have to square dance any more.” And we didn’t. Perhaps this was selfish on my part (John still wistfully remembers our square dancing days, and I still have his name tag from Flat Rock Square Dance club in my memory box), but I just call it realistic.

My next piece of advice? Well, I thought that since I was attending a shower where everyone present was connected by the common bond of being Christian, it might be good to offer some scriptural advice. Again I was my usual frank self.

“We tried to follow the scriptural admonition, ‘Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.’ But I found that sometimes we did go to bed mad at each other. There were some things we just couldn’t work out by staying up and talking about them.” (More squirming by shower attendees.) An aside to the reader: I believe in and trust the power of scripture and try to obey as much of God’s Word as possible, but I also think God gave us brains for a reason. God knows that I can’t reason very well when I’m tired. My sweet, wise, and very patient husband also knows that sometimes it’s just best to keep your trap shut.

So John and I have had conflict, but somehow we’ve always managed to resolve our conflicts, even if it took awhile. One thing I wish we had done differently is arguing in front of our children. I grew up in a home where my parents never fought in front of me, but boy could I feel the freeze-out if they’d had a disagreement. John grew up in a home where his parents let it all hang out. You can see which parental pattern we chose to follow. I wish I’d had enough self-restraint and maturity to whisper, “Let’s talk about this later” when John and I were having a “discussion.” But at least our children saw us engage in conflict and then resolve it. I hope they have learned a thing or two from watching us. I hope they will be a little less public with their disagreement than we were.

One thing I’ve learned over the years (now I’m not recalling what I said at the shower but just writing my thoughts) is that there is no ideal couple. The couples I have watched whom I thought were “the perfect couple”…well, some of them have divorced.

God only knows how my and John’s marriage has survived for nearly 33 years. Well, I do know how it has survived: by God’s grace and a little fairy dust sprinkled in. Sometimes I have been the strong one; sometimes John has been the strong one. We have certainly had our  hard times…raising children, dealing with the deaths of three of our parents, financial struggles, depression. There were times when I had to act as if I loved John. (I read somewhere that if you act like you love someone, even if you don’t feel like you love the person at that moment, the feeling will follow.) When the chips have been down, we were a team. I think some of the toughest times in our marriage have also been the times when our love has kept us together.

So what’s the secret to a long and happy marriage? I wouldn’t presume to tell you. It’s essential to be able to trust each other and to forgive. But as I said previously, it’s all quite mysterious to me…and it all depends on God’s grace, plus a little fairy dust.

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