Today my wife and I are celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary.
When a couple manages to be together this long (especially in this day and age), folk want to know if there is a secret to our success. Is that what this is: longevity as success? In previous generations marital longevity was not optional; some marriages (maybe even many) were to be endured out of necessity or cultural boundaries – rather than to be enjoyed.
John Witte Jr. says that the earlier “ideal of marriage as a permanent contractual union designed for the sake of mutual love, recreation, and protection is slowly giving way to the new reality of marriage as a ‘terminal sexual contract’ designed for the gratification of the individual parties” (quoted in “The Meaning of Marriage“).
Today it seems that once couples find the thrill is gone, marriage can too easily end so as to be catapulted on to the next opportunity – endlessly trying to find the ever elusive soul mate (sic).
What I have come to realize:
I’m fairly sure there’s no such thing as a soul mate, but I know my wife has been my sole mate for these ongoing 35 years. However, it must be said that those years behind us do not provide the momentum to propel us to another 35 years, or even another 35 days.
The fact is, we are only married today; today is the only day we have to live within our relationship. All those years behind us may inform, habitualize, and shape today, but it is only today that we have. We can’t count on the past 35 years to keep us together for another 35 minutes.
We have only today to be married, to live, to love, to cherish.
Sometimes couples are surprised by our openness about going to marriage retreats, seminars, conferences, reading yet another marriage book, or going to marriage counselling.
Are you two okay?”some might ask with honest concern.
“Of course not – we’re two different people who want different things a lot of the time; we’re selfish, and tired, and unique… you know – like everyone else.
I like how Timothy Keller says, “You never marry the right person… just try not to marry the wrongest person.” Stanley Hauerwas writes:
We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change.
For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is… learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.
I can safely say after 35 years: my wife didn’t marry the right person… she just didn’t marry the wrongest person. I love her and she honours me, and we manage to live a life inter-braided by a third strand on a journey where we have been continually in a process of change.
Let me redefine success: a successful marriage is recognizing where you are right now and who you are right now, as you shape, bump, trip, and chisel each other more and more into the likeness of the One who made us for Himself.
Though endurance is needed for the journey (no doubt about it), so is learning to enjoy. Therefore may you receive this blessing:
- enjoy the person with whom you are married
- enjoy the persons you and your spouse are becoming
- enjoy the marriage process and
- enjoy the ways marriage makes you holy more than it is to make you happy – but happy may you be!