I casually mentioned at work on Friday that it had been thirty three years since DH and I got engaged. Promptly I was met with, "You'll have to tell me your secret." At the time there was no time to talk about my secret, which is just as well, since I needed some time to think. What would I classify as secret/s to a life long relationship with one person?
Now that I've bad time to think about it ... here are my/our secrets to a lasting marriage. And contrary to what the songwriter said ... love is not all you need.
1. God. I know there are marriages that last the distance where neither is a Christian (perhaps less so today than in our grandparents' generation) but in all honesty, without God my marriage would not have survived. Two sinners living together are going to cause tension and chaos and, at times, pain. Add mortgage, children, stress, and you just may have a recipe for disaster. I'm not the easiest person in the world to live with. It took me a long time to learn that a man cannot meet all my emotional needs - only God can do that. My husband annoys me at times (and he knows it). We have different backgrounds, different expectations, even different cultures. Without our faith in God, without being able to draw on His Word and the power of prayer, we would've struggled even more than we have. Most likely one of us would have walked out years ago. Probably me. (How's that for honesty?)
2. Commitment. It's a dirty word at times. Our grandparents and their parents and so on back through the generations understood what it meant to be committed to your marriage vows. Now, with divorce so common and couples choosing not to wed, I think commitment has lost it's permanency. We will be committed ... for as long as we feel love ... until we meet someone new ... while it suits me. The kind of commitment where we stay because we promised, is less common. If it's not working, we want out. It's hard to explain this level of commitment to someone whose understanding is more temporal. How do you say I stayed because I made vows ... and even when I was unhappy ... even when I wanted out ... I stayed because that was what I had committed to ... and my commitment didn't have a use-by-date or exclusion clause ... it was forever.
3. Children. I have five. Five incredibly wonderful sons. Three beautiful daughters by marriage. And six amazing and adorable granddaughters. I stayed for them. Because regardless of what we may tell ourselves, unless abuse is present, children generally do a whole lot better with Mum and Dad in the same house. For me personally, one way of showing my love for my sons was by staying with their Dad and making it work. I had seen far too many children from Christian homes go off the rails when their parent's marriage broke up and I didn't want that for my kids. I loved them too much and cared too much about their spiritual wellbeing to do that to them.
4. Love. Not Hollywood's version of love but God's version. Not romance and feelings (although they can be good in their place) but acts of the will. Showing love when you don't feel like it. Putting the other first. Considering their needs (including their sexual needs) even when you feel as if your needs are always put on the backburner. Loving supernaturally. Learning to love - and be loved - every single day. For the rest of our lives.
I'm not sure if I'll get to share my secrets with my friend ... or if she would even understand. Our views on God and love and commitment and children and marriage are worlds apart. But if she does ask again, I have my answer ready.