I know that many who read this blog post regularly have been married for many more than 14 years. I know that some who are reading are just married, and others are just thinking or praying about getting married. But, for what it's worth, I thought I would offer my best four best pieces of advice for a happy marriage. In my years of counseling couples I have also found these four chestnuts to be almost universally helpful. Perhaps they can also help you, or someone you know:
1. Marry Someone You Have Fun Just Being With
I will never forget the night that I first met Star. I was working for admissions department of Princeton Seminary (actually, I drove the van between the seminary and the hotel for students who were hoping to attend). Star was applying for enrollment. I asked Star, "Why do you want to become a seminarian at Princeton?" I was used to worn out and cliched answers like, "I just feel died in the blood of Jesus," or "God has called me to change the world for Christ." I will never forget Star's answer. She said, "Actually, I don't know if I want to go to seminary, or I want to become a ski-lift operator in Colorado." I was smitten! What a fun girl she was, and still is. Fun can get you through a lot of life's difficulties.
2. The Arguments That You Think Are Important, Really Aren't That Important
One of my favorite story tellers and modern day prophets is Garrison Keillor. Keillor once told a story about a Norwegian couple, the Lindqvists, who lived out in rural Minnesota in the middle of nowhere. When this couple first got married they argued all the time. The Lindqvists would argue about anything and everything (house-work, kids, farming, politics, religion, the weather). But then, as the years rolled on, they stopped arguing so much. Keillor says, "They decided that arguing wasn't as much fun as it used to be. The Lindqvists just didn't have it in them anymore to argue - they didn't even argue for recreational purposes." Arguments, for newly married couples, and even some seasoned marriages, are often about "recreation" and not conflict resolution. Trust me, there are much better recreational activities to engage in together.
3. You Will Go Through Tough Times, But Those Tough Times Don't Last
Like most couples, Star and I have been through an entire panoply of life struggles together. Some of these include; infertility issues (8 years), two New Church Developments (one that failed), moving to 7 different houses in 14 years of marriage (I figured out this past week that I have actually packed and unpacked our wedding china now more times than we have ever used it), urban church settings and very rural ones, at least two very tough pastoral call situations, the death of a beloved dog, saying hello and goodbye to more people than we can count, and the list goes on. But here's the thing - these tough times have never lasted. One of my favorite pastors, Robert Schuller, used to say, "Tough times never last, tough people do." After 14 years of marriage I might revise that just a tad, "Tough times never last but persevering marriages do."
4. Pray Every Night Together
In about our eighth year of marriage, about the time Star and I were basically giving up on the idea that God would ever give us children, we began praying together every single night. Now, I want you to know that for some readers this will sound like the most nauseating - 'Good for you pastor Graham' moment I have ever written about. But we did pray, because we literally had no where else to turn. We have prayed every single night ever since. God eventually did bring us two of the most incredible little girls anyone could hope for. Now Star and I pray every night together. Prayer is a kind of intimacy that you can't experience outside of a relationship with God. We pray for big things and small things. We pray for our ministry, we pray for our friends, we pray for our family, we pray for a good night's sleep. Prayer matters, and makes a difference.
So, those are my best pieces of marital advice. What are yours?
One last thing. If you are planning on getting engaged, and you are a guy, pick a date for proposal that you won't forget - in my case it was May 1, May Day. Just for clarification, I got engaged on May Day, not Mayday (as in Mayday, Mayday, the plane is going down…).
All For Now,