FAITHFUL LIVING: Lasting marriages require loving work

“They’re starting to leave — already!” my friend Jane explained one day this week. “The noise level is certainly abating but that’s the point: I’ve enjoyed the summertime hubbub and in a matter of weeks it’ll be so calm around here with three of the boys heading back to college. I’m glad I have a job to keep me occupied. But how will our youngest manage in such a quiet household?”

We have been neighbors for 12 years and it has been a continuous joy to compare notes as we mother our children. And while I am two years away from sending a child to college, and eight years away from entering the empty nest season of life, Jane and I stand together when it comes to marriage: we have both legitimately earned the title of Old Marrieds. We have looked into the eyes of our spouses for more than 20 years and watching our kids mature is not the only sign life is marching on. There are a few stray silver hairs that serve to remind us how important it is to tend to our personal lives and continuously reset the goal to be happily married for a lifetime.

When the kids are gone there had better be a soulful marital relationship to enjoy.

Our conclusions? A great marriage cannot be sustained over time on the magic you experienced early on. Enduring love is not a feeling but is the creation of couples who consistently choose activities throughout the years that foster spiritual, emotional and physical intimacy.

The fact is, most Americans who choose to marry enter into the relationship with the expectation that they will experience a lifetime of happiness with each other. The problem is we all too often enter into the covenant with two mistaken beliefs. The first is that only high-risk marriages need work. The second is believing that when we meet the right person we will experience sustained intimacy for a lifetime.

So what things do the happily married do? They tend to inward care and affection using outward demonstrations of fondness and concern. This involves assuring words, “Have I told you I love you today?”, a promise to pray, an e-mailed note of encouragement and planned time away from children. Care can also be shown by a phone call made in the middle of the day or a latte, like the one my brother fixes his wife every morning.

“It goes a long way!” Mary explained the other day as she raised her frothy mug in a mock salute while I looked on. It certainly did my heart good to see my brother’s fondness in action for his wife, whom I love as well.

Although women frequently joke with the men in their lives that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, truth be told that a lifetime of uncomplicated, spontaneous, and thoughtful gifts — like a weekend away, a massage, a bouquet of flowers — effectively go straight to the heart. I have it on good authority men feel the same.

The happily married also practice the fine art of being vulnerable, which can only be nurtured in an atmosphere of trust. They know they can talk about deeply personal goals and dreams, fears and frustrations without being ignored, teased or belittled. For some this can be an area of great challenge, especially if they are dealing with problems that were never faced early on in the marriage or if youthful insecurities were brought into the relationship.

This is an area where faith and acting on God’s Commandments — as well as His challenges — can completely revolutionize an adult’s level of vulnerability. Long-term spouses can develop still deeper levels of love and understanding when the atmosphere is safe and they both aim toward God’s empowering spirit together.

Happily married couples choose commonality, even though they may possess differing personalities and opposing styles. For many this includes a compatible faith, education, social and economic backgrounds. Those whose backgrounds are diverse usually focus on interests like raising children, developing shared hobbies, starting up a small business endeavor or developing their home and property. Many Christians enjoy Bible study and serve in various capacities in their church congregations. Some couples travel, share a love of music, perform in community theater, garden, join a car club, ride horses or join service clubs. The possibilities are truly endless. Commonality creates energy, vitality, interest, and draws people together in respect and joy.

Because a lasting love with one’s spouse is so precious and frequently our greatest challenge, we will continue next week with a few more secrets.

In the meantime, love well in the coming days.

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