After 58 years of marriage we’re beginning figure it out. Yes, you can make marriage work and yes, marriage is work. Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” If you’re married, then marriage is one of your most important jobs. Make it fun and you’ll enjoy every day.
Well, maybe not every day. There will be days when things are not going well. Remember, this is mortality and there will be hard times. However, going through them with someone you love makes it all a sweet possibility.
In our 58 years together we have had our share of hard times and disappointments. Some included the heartbreak of infertility, the challenge of adoption, having a mentally disabled child, struggling financially with five young children, crying over a child who chose a path away from the Church, mourning with a child at the passing of her spouse, facing our own health issues, taking care of dying parents, and on it goes.
Through these same years we have also gone through many experiences that were filled with happiness beyond what we ever imagined. These include being guided by the Lord to the very children who were meant to be ours, kneeling at sacred altars as they were sealed to us, having prayers answered in miraculous ways that blessed a struggling child, praying together and falling deeper in love because of our united faith for our children, seeing a lost child come back into the fold, attending temple weddings of our children and grandchildren, having the privilege of helping our aging parents, speaking together in seminars and firesides, serving missions together after the flock left the nest, and so much more.
One of our great blessings has been writing books together. Of course, that, too, was a bit of a challenge at first. Then we learned to laugh about our differences, choose to overcome them (only after a spirited water fight with our water bottles), and reach for a common goal. When we were asked by our publisher, Penguin Books, who published our first book I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better, to write a second book we decided it needed to be about marriage. It was titled Married for Better Not Worse. After it went out of print we were contacted by Covenant Communications and asked if we would rewrite it for the LDS market. They said, “Don’t change what you’ve written. We love the 14 secrets. Just add quotes of our Church leaders to support those secrets.” So we did, and Love That Lasts was born. We loved the subtitle they gave it: Fourteen secrets to a more joyful, passionate, and fulfilling marriage.
To celebrate our anniversary and hopefully lead you to your own 58 plus years of wedded bliss we’re sharing five of these secrets with you. You could probably teach us a few of your own, but for now here’s ours.
1. Return to the beginning.
Two of ten couples forget what brought them together and the fun they had when they were first married. To illustrate, here’s an actual experience that happened during a marriage and family therapy session. (Names have been changed.)
As Ted and Jill came into my office they carried a rather stern look and their faces had an ashen hue. They entered, rapidly moved to the couch, and sat rigidly, making sure they had some space between them. After going through the getting acquainted phase, I asked them, each in turn, what brought them to my office. Each had his or her list of complaints and offenses, along with a laundry list of what the other person needed to do.
As I listened to their complaints, I wondered how these two people got together. So I asked them how they met. Then I asked Ted what motivated him to ask Jill out on their first date. He sneaked a quick glance at Jill and said, “I saw her, thought she was cute, and decided to ask her out.” I then asked Jill the reason she said yes to his invitation and she, too, sneaked a quick look at Ted and said, “He was handsome and looked like fun.”
Then I asked Ted, “What caused you to ask her to marry you?” That question brought a longer glance and a little giggle from both of them. He began to relax a little and replied, “We had a lot of fun together and I fell in love with her and I thought she would be a great mother for our children.” Jill’s answer to “What caused you to accept his proposal?” was much the same. As she spoke she reached out and gently touched Ted’s leg and he nervously shifted and slid a little closer to Jill. As they remembered their beginnings they relaxed and their natural color returned to their faces.
Ted and Jill’s response is common. The answers to the questions vary, of course. “A friend introduced us and I thought she would be fun.” “I saw her walk down the street of our little town and I couldn’t get her off my mind.” Sometimes the wife was the first to ask for a date and the couple will laugh about that. Desirable attributes that attracted them to each other vary, and when couples start to remember their beginnings, they begin to relax and the whole atmosphere changes.
After Ted and Jill reviewed their beginnings, I asked them what they do for fun. The glance they gave to each other told the story even before they replied in unison, “Nothing!” Then Jill spoke up and said, “We used to have fun before we got married. We went dancing, out to eat, and would sit for hours just talking to each other. I don’t know what happened. I guess we just ran out of time for each other.”
Sometimes change happens so gradually that we are lulled into complacency and almost don’t wake up until it’s too late. What were the things that affected Ted and Jill’s connectedness? Schooling, jobs, his wanting to stay involved in sports and be with his buddies, money worries, pregnancy and birth of their children, job changes, civic involvement, her shopping with friends, preschool, washing clothes, cleaning house, fixing meals, buying a new home and fixing it up, PTA, church callings . . . and the list went on and seemed to grow almost daily. “It just seems we run out of time for us,” mused Jill. “It’s so easy to take each other for granted.” (Love That Last, p. 4-5)
The point here is, remember what you used to do to have fun together and start doing it right now. In order for marriage to blossom and grow we need to feed it with some fun. Review how you met and what you used to do. It will bring you closer together and get the fun rolling again.
2. Keep your mate at the top of your list.
This isn’t complicated.
It just takes paying attention to each other. Here’s how one couple does it.
Kent and Sylvia are both employed full-time and have three children, ages nine, thirteen, and sixteen. In addition to the pressures of their jobs and children, they are actively involved in their church callings. Some days it seems like there just isn’t enough time for all their commitments, let alone their marriage. To make sure their marriage doesn’t fall into the background, they keep connected by working together fixing meals, cleaning up, and helping with the kids. It is their way of showing that they care about each other. Sylvia says, “One of the things that really helps us is the very simple act of touching each other. When Kent holds my hand or puts his arm around me it tells me I matter to him.” They exchange these kinds of gestures when they are at the kitchen sink, at family gatherings, at church meetings, rushing to parent/teacher conferences and school concerts, or just sitting near each other trying to resolve family needs or watching the evening news. Tenderly touching your mate is a great way to say “I like being near you.” And that translates into “you are important to me.”
It is not only important for your spouse to feel this love, but it is also important for your children to see you doing the things that give this message. These gestures will make the marriage secure while also making the children feel secure. A Family Circus cartoon by Bill Keane illustrates this perfectly. It shows the mom and dad in the kitchen kissing each other with the little children watching from the other room and one of them saying, “I feel all warm and happy when I see Mommy and Daddy kissing!” The greatest gift you can give your children is parents who love each other.
Children must see their parents exhibiting caring and tenderness in their marriage relationship. This caring brings security to children and to the marriage. When children feel that their parents’ marriage is solid they are less likely to act out and misbehave. And when children are not driving their parents nuts with bad behavior, more attention can be directed to the marriage relationship. Every relationship in the family is improved when spouses pay attention to each other. (Ibid, p.16-17)
3. Focus on the positive.
Noticing the good in your mate and letting him or her know will go a long way in creating a loving relationship. When a spouse is continually critical or his or her spouse, mostly paying attention to the negatives, those negatives grow. The opposite is true. If we focus on the good qualities in our spouse those qualities grow.
Abigail Van Buren shared a letter in her column “Dear Abby” from a woman whose marriage had been in need of repair. She and her husband were continually fighting and she had spent many nights crying herself to sleep. She wrote:
“One night I couldn’t sleep because I was so upset with him. All I could think about were all the things that bugged me about him. I knew that if I didn’t banish these negative thoughts from my mind, it would be a long time before I fell asleep. I decided to think instead of all the things that I loved about him. I wrote them down on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope, and placed it in his briefcase.
“The next morning, he called me from work to tell me how much he loved me. When he came home that evening, he put my “list” in a frame and hung it on the wall. We hardly ever fight anymore. I get love notes weekly and kisses daily.” (Ibid, p. 55)
President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “If husbands and wives would only give greater emphasis to the virtues that are to be found in one another and less to the faults, there would be fewer broken hearts, fewer tears, fewer divorces, and much more happiness in the homes of our people” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 322)
4. Have a sense of humor. There is a choice little verse in the Bible that says, “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest . . .” (Ecclesiastes 9:9). Finding the humor in situations that could go either way is a great way to live joyfully with your mate. Naomi and Gil discovered this secret early on in their marriage and it has served them well. After one of their less desirable days when they had a rather heated discussion, she found the perfect card to give him. On the outside it said, “You’re the answer to my prayers . . .” Then inside: “not quite what I prayed for, but nevertheless, the answer.” It broke the ice and they laughed. And they have continued the practice of giving humorous greeting cards to each other ever since. (Love That Lasts, p. 76)
The beloved comedian/musician Victor Borge, said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” When you think about it, that’s exactly what happens when you laugh together-it brings you closer together. Make a habit of finding the humor in life. Find things to laugh about. Share a fun story or joke with each other. It will keep you from taking life too seriously.
We decided a long time ago that we would laugh more than we cried. It has helped us through some difficult challenges. Keep humor alive in your marriage and your whole family will be blessed for it.
5. Enjoy sexual intimacy-both of you.
President Spencer W. Kimball reminded us that, “There are many aspects to love in marriage, and sex is an important one. Just as married partners are not for others they are for each other.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, P. 73)
Sexual intimacy is a vital part of the marriage relationship because it keeps you connected in a way that nothing else can. When enjoyed by both partners, it becomes a physical renewal of your love for each other-a re-commitment of your devotion and your determination to honor your marriage vows. It is a release of stress for both when both find pleasure in it. It bonds a couple, reviving your ability to face the world and all its pressures, together.
At one of our marriage seminars a young woman made that point clear when she said, “If we go very long without having sex, he gets grouchy, and I get easily offended.” She went on to explain that “it’s amazing how much better things go in every other part of our marriage if we take the time for some sexual intimacy.” Others nodded in agreement.
There are all kinds of excuses for not having a regular sex life as part of marriage, and one of them that some couples use is that they just don’t have time to fit it in. When compared with the rest of your day or week, your sexual encounters are but a small moment.
Think about it. You have at least sixteen waking hours a day; that’s 960 minutes. Making love can take from 10 to 15 minutes, if you’re short on time. Or when you want to make the fun last awhile, it may take up to an hour, or even longer. At the hour rate, that’s only 60 minutes out of 960. At the shortest it’s only 10 minutes, and that leaves 950 minutes! And that’s if you do it every day, which is rarely the case, except for most newlyweds. Not having enough time just isn’t a valid excuse. The powerful and lasting effect that those few minutes have on the rest of the day, the week, the month, is incredible.
One problem I find in my therapy practice is that, because sexual intimacy isn’t fulfilling to one spouse or the other, couples end up not wanting to make time for it. Or they put everything else first and are just too tired. Couples need to start giving this part of their marriage high priority.
It’s time to have a serious talk with each other about this part of your marriage. Find out what each needs and wants in a sexual relationship. If there are deep emotional or physical problems you may need to see a therapist or a doctor. This part of you marriage is too important to ignore.
Making love will be a fulfilling, wonderful part of marriage if couples remember that the most important part of the phrase is love. Love means tenderness, caring, sacrifice, holding on, forgiving, sharing, and responding to each other’s needs. When all of these elements go into making love, it can’t help but enrich your marriage and bring joy and contentment to both husband and wife. (Love That Lasts, p. 91 &111)
These are only a few of the secrets to a happy, lasting marriage, still they will go a long way to enriching your marriage. Be willing to put the work into your marriage and you can be assured your marriage will work.
[To find out more about or to order “Love That Lasts: 14 secrets to a joyful, passionate, and fulfilling marriage”, click here]