“He who finds a wife finds a good thing
and obtains favor from the Lord.” – Proverbs 18:22 (ESV)
Mrs. Booth and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary this week. I am profoundly thankful for the years we have had together, and I look forward to the years ahead. The institution of marriage has suffered multiple body blows over the past several decades — and the situation is so bad I hear some of you saying you never plan to marry. You may be called to lifelong singleness, but I doubt it. So whether or not you’re able to see yourself married in the future, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past 30 years.
Marriage is hard work…
Dating and courtship are generally good things if one remembers that he is seeking a wife. As good as these methods may be, they provide incomplete data. Nothing prepares a couple for the reality of married life. It’s different when you’ve taken vows before God and witnesses to become one for the rest of your life. Critics scoff that it’s “just a piece of paper.” They are wrong. The weight of marriage strips away the prerogatives of consumerism — you can’t legitimately trade in a wife like a used car. And the work of marriage is to work beyond the infatuation of the early years into knowing and being known through every circumstance.
…But it’s worth it
I’d fail you if I lied and said every day was like a cotton-candy scented rainbow. But the challenges my wife and I have overcome together and the high points we’ve also shared have united us in ways I can’t adequately describe. Even when money is short or work is stressing me out, having an intimate ally is a great blessing. And if you have children, having a solid marriage provides them with significant advantages in terms of their spiritual, emotional and intellectual health. All this to say, you can choose this and work toward it, and it will pay off for generations.
Marriage teaches you
Futurist George Gilder said marriage’s function was to civilize men. I don’t agree completely. I have learned over the years that marriage is, as my pastor says, the graduate school of service. If a man is to love his wife as Christ loves the church, there is a great pot of selfishness that has to die. Interestingly, that selfishness can’t die until it gets exposed. That happens in episodes over time.
If you had asked me on my wedding day if I thought I was selfish, I would have said no. I know better now, but I am still learning.
You will be tested
The old-school wedding vows exist for a reason. Our ancestors understood that our mortal condition was going to need some help. This is because hard times will come — maybe more than once. While you’re young and attraction is strong, it’s useful to have a reminder that you promised to hold on through tough times.
In our case, the first trial showed up just before our first anniversary in the form of a serious health diagnosis. It was not my finest hour as a husband. We worked through it largely because we are the sort not to enter into vows lightly. Thanks be to God!
And you will be tested
In a couple of previous posts, I have written about the husband’s role as spiritual head — as the leader — of his family. Going all the way back to the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, we see that one consequence of our fallen condition is that wives will tend toward dominating their husbands. Men who go along with this tendency rather than lovingly leading their wives can expect to see a loss in respect and attraction on the part of their wives. Understand that the tests a wife throws your way are her way of making sure she has chosen — and still has — the best of men. Leading helps her remember.
There is no magic number
A former colleague brought me to this realization when he explained that he and his wife got divorced after 20 years. “How?” I wondered,”Why?” I couldn’t understand how after all that time they could decide they could no longer stand being married to each other. He said they simply grew apart.
I still find that answer unsatisfying, but it galvanized my view that there is no point in your marriage when you can begin to coast or take your wife for granted. As the man, strive always to be your best. This means getting and staying fit, dressing well for your body type, and maintaining your intellectual and spiritual health as well. Continue to grow and you’ll remain interesting. This will help to maintain her attraction to you. And this will motivate her toward all kinds of good things.
It also means you Have a Plan and a mission, and that you invite your wife to join you in your quest. A quiet evening at home can be great for your marriage. Don’t just come home and flop on the couch by default. Have adventures together. Continue to initiate and to pursue her — in and out of the bedroom.
People say passion fades. I disagree.
Your mileage may vary
I have been married to one — and only one — woman, so understand that what my wife likes may or may not be the same as what your wife likes. Getting to know his own wife is a man’s greatest joy. It takes time, but that’s a good thing because you stay married a day at a time — and you’re aiming for a lifetime.
Likewise, measure what I or any man offers in the way of marriage advice against God’s word and use your God-given sense. I am aware that there are pitfalls in and around marriage — and I have been far from perfect as a husband. Still, I cannot imagine my life any other way, and I thank God again for blessing me with such a wife.
So how about you? How do you plan to build a strong and durable marriage? What lessons have you learned? Add your comments below.
P.S. In honor of 31 years, I want to add a few extra thoughts here:
- You stay married a day at a time — that’s how you make the years count.
- You’ll never know how good it can be if you don’t stick it out through the tough times.
- Make your marriage the most important relationship in the house. Kids are supposed to grow up and leave. If you haven’t made your marriage central, your kids will move out and your household will lose its reason for being. This is not good.
- Becoming grandparents opens up whole new reservoirs of delight.