The Blessings of a Long Marriage

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I’m sharing about the richness and value gleaned from a long marriage.

The blessings of a long marriageThe best part of the sixty-fifth birthday party I attended last night, other than the Chinese buffet, was definitely the slide show. Of course black and white pictures of a cherubic-looking boy are always adorable, but it was those late teen years pictures, when a rather familiar looking girl starting showing up, that made me smile.

And so we watched through forty-five years of hilarious photos, with the wedding, the babies, the cottage, and then more weddings and now lots more babies.

It’s a rich life.

When we first moved to our small town Roger became my husband Keith’s mentor, going out for coffee with him every so often and talking about work and parenting and marriage. Roger would, of course, be quick to tell you that the mentorship really went in the other direction. He’s the kind of person who genuinely enjoys and appreciates people.

So there he was last night, with his daughters directing the show (insisting they were being “decisive”, not “bossy”), and his wife grinning from ear to ear, as people praised him and told him about all the seniors’ discounts he could now claim.

Twelve hours later, though, it is still the pictures that keep flashing through my mind.

They show heritage, dedication, and a whole lot of barbecuing. And yet I know that behind all those smiling, laughing faces there were moments when things weren’t as rosy. There were moments when even a Roger, the nicest guy you could ever meet, lost his temper. There were moments when he and Heather truly didn’t know what to do with some of their children. There were health problems and family problems and all those things that none of us can escape.

And yet last night Roger and Heather stood with their arms around each other greeting their friends, beaming.

It’s a life well lived.

The idea of a long marriage–of forty plus years together with one person–seems so daunting. Wouldn’t a long marriage get boring? Most of us suffer wanderlust at one time or another. We’re with the same person, day after day, with all these responsibilities, and we wonder, “what would life have been like if I had married my high school boyfriend?” Or we think, “I bet life would be a whole lot more exciting if I were with my co-worker, who’s always the life of the party, rather than my husband, who is always grumpy.”

We want something new and something exciting, not something that we’ve had everyday for sixteen years, through seventeen hundred diaper changes, or twenty-two hundred loads of laundry. Life just gets monotonous.

The measurement of maturity, though, is whether or not one can forego immediate rewards for delayed gratification of better rewards. Too often people throw something away because they want the excitement of something new.

Everything new, though, will eventually be old. Unless you want to cycle through constant change your whole life, at some point you’re going to have to decide to commit to someone or something.

Sometimes everyone needs a fresh start if the life they’re living is dangerous, abusive, or degrading. And sometimes we’re thrown into that fresh start through no fault of our own. Yet too often people chuck something just because it’s lost that “newness” feeling.

Yes, infatuation is heady, but you know what’s even better? Forty years of friends and family who can stand there when you’re sixty-five and still say all kinds of great things about you–because you’re still around. You haven’t gone anywhere. You’re with the same people, you’ve invested in a long marriage, and now you’re reaping the rewards. There’s no awkwardness with the kids or grandkids. There are no pictures you have to exclude from a lifetime of memories. There’s just a life well lived, and that is something exciting.


  1. So you’re saying that a whole lot of barbecuing is good for marriage? 😉
    What a joy to get to celebrate with this couple.

    You mention having these “what if” thoughts (e.g., what if I’d married so-and-so instead, would I be happier if I were married to my coworker instead). Personally, I think making a commitment to not entertain these thoughts is one way to promote satisfaction in marriage. In the months before my wedding I told myself that I wouldn’t allow myself to dwell on those types of ruminations. Years later I can see how this has benefited me.

    It doesn’t mean those thoughts never creep into my mind, but I’m alert for them and replace them with thoughts and prayers of gratitude for “what is.”
    Shannon recently posted…Using Oatmeal to Treat Dry SkinMy Profile

    • Heavy-Hearted says:

      Its so nice to hear those stories. But they leave me incredibly sad. I think that is the life I was completely headed for until my parents and my lack of wisdom messed it up. The guy who loved me and had loved me since he was 18 and me 17 was lost forever six months before our wedding. My parents’ control issues that it took me 7 years to understand were the real problems. We had waited 4 years to be together and were so close, then a family crisis hit and everything went blurry. 17 months later I married (rebounded) a “good”, “mature” man who was 13 years older. He doesn’t “get” me, can’t stand my family, can’t stand my need for affection and 6 1/2 years later with children, I can’t help thinking back every day to what “might have been”. How can I help it? I try and try to be a good wife.
      Last night we had such a bad argument, I was crying and crying and just wanted him to say he loved me (I know he doesn’t) and he lost his temper and called me horrid names I can’t repeat here and physically hurt me. And I’m pregnant too. He’s not abusive by nature but he can’t stand my needs and personality. I am so LONELY. But I wouldn’t have been with my first love. Times would have been hard, sure. They always are. But he LOVED me.
      Anyway, sorry for the long comment. After the night I’ve had I’m so heavy -hearted and discouraged. You write lovely things, Sheila, but sometimes I feel they are so unrealistic. How does a happy-go-lucky, loving and in-love-with-life girl of 20 turn into a sad, dissapointed, lonely and hopeless woman of 28 who doesn’t even feel worthy of love anymore? What did I do wrong?

  2. We are now married for 13 months ! I truely hope we have the blessing of such a long marriage, as my parents were only married for 4 years !

  3. Love this article and Shannon’s comment, “It doesn’t mean those thoughts never creep into my mind, but I’m alert for them and replace them with thoughts and prayers of gratitude for ‘what is.'” too. I try to keep a sense of freshness in my marriage of 29 yrs. through dating and new experiences. It’s not the same as infatuation, but it’s certainly not monotonous.
    Sheila, thanks so much for your ministry.

  4. Next year will be my parents’ 50th and boy are we going to celebrate! I thank the Lord (and them!) for the godly example they’ve set. Their marriage has had a ripple effect of blessing themselves, their family, and many, many friends and acquaintances. They inspire me to persevere through the ups and downs of my own marriage (20 years in May), that – as you say – there is a richness in life that has to ripen.

    Remember too that cultivating faithfulness, commitment, and love not only blesses you but also the community around you.
    Julie recently posted…Grasshopper DaysMy Profile

  5. Sharing stories like this is so much more effective than just telling people to make commitments. We want our culture to desire the good, so it’s up to us to show our neighbours and friends what “flourishing” (one of my new favourite words, thanks to author Andy Crouch) looks like by being faithful to our vows one day at a time.
    Harriette recently posted…Not a Waste: the Short Life of Robert Murray McCheyneMy Profile

  6. Pat Anderson says:

    “There are no pictures you have to exclude from a lifetime of memories. ” There’s the sobering reality – do I want to make the commitment that lasts a lifetime or am I willing to allow the years to be a waste of precious time in my life?!

  7. We have been married now for over 39 years and every day I thank God for bringing the most wonderful woman in the world into my life. We are more in love than ever and our marriage gets better year by year. Sure we have physical problems we did not have at first but it is a joy and privilege to be the man she chose to marry. We are truly blessed. God knew the type of spouse we each needed and He brought us together. We have many things in common we often know what the other is thinking and yes we can finish each others sentences. We enjoy taking care of each other and love making is more fun than ever too.

  8. This is such a poignant post today. My daughters in-laws have been married 44 years. They started dating in high school at 18. This past week he was in the gym after recovering from a hospital stay after a heart attack feeling great for a guy with 30% heart function. He awoke in the early darkness Saturday morning and succumbed to a massive hear attack. Each day is a gift that we take for granted after years of repetition. I am only a few months older than he was, but have never had a heart attack. Still, it frightened my youngest son of 28. Every time he leaves us, he tells us he loves us. Today after church, while he and I were alone, he told me again and before I left. It was different, I could tell it was coming from a place of fear. I have always known he was deeply attached to his mother and I, but especially me. I need to go about preparing him and I don’t know how to do it. As Christians in our family, we know we can rejoice over a home-going. It has got us through three deaths in the last 7 months. I know fpr a young person, it will be inadequate consolation for him though and it will take much time for him to recover. Any suggestions anyone?
    Dan recently posted…Scheduled Sex and Kodak® MomentsMy Profile

    • Dan, I’m sorry for all of the loss that your family has suffered in these past months. Would talking to your son about how you feel about your own home-going and the reunions that you expect to take place then help? If he is a believer, perhaps it might strengthen his faith to hear you speak in such certain terms as to how you view death. Remember though, the Bible doesn’t say that we don’t grieve; just that we don’t grieve as those without hope. Lifting you and yours up in prayer.

      • Lisa-Thanks for that thought and your prayers. I know we haven’t had a “sit-down” and talked like that. I do know my wife and I practice that attitude though so me may be picking up on it. Perhaps a talk is in order. My wife says that after her funeral she wants a party to be thrown (No, she’s not Irish,) and for the place cards on the table to read, “See you soon, but I hope not too soon.”
        Dan recently posted…Scheduled Sex and Kodak® MomentsMy Profile

  9. What a great post. I hope to be in that place someday, where 40 years of friends and family are celebrating with my husband and I!

  10. My husband and I celebrated our 40th anniversary last year. We have been through a lot of wonderful events, many losses, sickness, and moves. We also have 2 wonderful children who have awesome spouses. And, our 7 grandchildren have given us a new lease on life. I was saved 18 months ago after 50+ years of church membership. My Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the lover of my soul and the one I love first in my life. NOTHING has affected our marriage as much as that has. I love this man madly, and am so thankful that even on my worst day, he still loved me and wanted to be with me. We, also, decided when we got married that we would never divorce. Yes, that was simplistic thinking for two teenagers, but it was a goal. And, even on the worst days, we could find a reason to stay together. Speaking from a thankful, overflowing heart!

  11. So glad to read your celebration of marriage! I connected right away (just had my 65th birthday in December) and my husband and I are in our 45th year of marriage. Each year is sweeter, each heartache is halved and borne by two, each blessing is doubly cherished. Lifelong marriage is attainable and worth striving for!
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  12. My husband and I celebrated our thirty-sixth wedding anniversary in December. There’s a great comfort in knowing that there is another human being who loves you (despite all your faults and failings) and is always there, a shelter when one returns from the turmoil of the world. There is an ease because we know each other, we think along the same lines, finish each other’s sentences and enjoy similar experiences. Yes, we have different likes and dislikes too, and different temperaments, but God has truly meshed us into one. One of the sweetest things I have heard this week is when he came home from work and said, “I missed you today,”

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