Even after four decades of marriage, I still find myself asking, Why did Jim and I get married? Exactly how did this all begin?
Before we got engaged, we were each dating several people. But when Jim learned that he was going to be transferred to another city, he asked if I would go there too—get a new job and move into my own apartment.
I didn’t have to think long or hard before replying, “No.”
I already had a roommate and a job. I simply couldn’t afford to move.
Jim paused. “No” was not the answer he expected.
He had come to what I now call a defining decision. One of those forks in the road of life that would alter his future. He had to decide if he was really committed to our relationship.
“Well,” he stammered, “then … would you want to … get married?”
As the smell of burning pizza began to fill the apartment I said, “Yes!”
Although Jim and I just celebrated our 40th anniversary, it hasn’t all been sappy love and romance. We certainly have had our share of disagreements and heartache. Recently I’ve been wondering, What makes a marriage succeed?
As I pondered that question, I jotted down some of the defining decisions Jim and I have made in our relationship. How we eventually answered the following questions has impacted the direction of our married life:
1. Who would be in control of our lives? After Jim and I were married for several years, we had our first son. Due on December 31, we had hoped he would be a “tax deduction,” but the little guy decided to come at the end of October.
When Christopher was just two days old and weighed about three and a half pounds, we were told that he probably would not live through the night.
As our baby struggled to breathe, Jim knew that he could do nothing to save him. He prayed to God, telling Him that he’d gladly trade places with our child. That’s when my husband felt God’s tug on his own heart. Where would I go if I died? he asked himself.
That night Jim gave both the fate of our child and the control of his own life to Jesus. Because I was already a Christian, Jim also became my brother in Christ.
Having Christ at the foundation of not only our lives, but also our marriage, has made a huge difference. My husband and I are both able to draw on God’s strength and wisdom. The closer we have become to Christ, the closer we have become to one another.
2. Would we put friends before family? Before we had children, Jim and the guys from his office would often stop at a pub on the way home from work. But after Christopher arrived, this habit stopped.
My husband told me that he no longer had a desire to regularly hang out with “the guys.” Instead, he wanted to come home. Jim chose family before friends; that meant a lot to me.
3. Would we be willing to sacrifice our own needs for one another? As Jim and I grew in our individual relationships with Jesus Christ, we each became easier to love. That’s because the words of 1 Corinthians 13 about love became real to us. I became less irritable about things that didn’t matter, and we stopped caring more for ourselves and instead cared more for each other. The result? We showed sacrificial love for one another.
4. Did it matter if we joined a church? Jim and I visited several churches when we were first married. After being married for a few years, we joined a church that was centered on the Bible. Becoming active members of a local body of believers has been important to the success of our marriage. That’s where we learned to search Scripture for guidance about our relationship and home.
5. Would we follow God’s design for a husband and a wife? Like most young couples, we had to make some adjustments when we got married. But it wasn’t until we attended our first FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway that we understood the unique roles that God has given to each of us.
I learned at the getaway that Jim was designed to prayerfully lead our family while I was designed to be his “helper.” Now that doesn’t mean he rules over our household or that I am a doormat. But it does mean that God holds Jim responsible for godly leadership of our home. I, in turn, am responsible for loving my husband in a respectful way that draws him toward Christ.
6. Who would be our best friends? Oswald Chambers says in his devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, “Friendship is rare on earth. It means identity in thought and heart and spirit.”
Although Jim and I have always enjoyed just being together, there was that point in the early years of marriage when he had to decide who would be his best friend—the “guys after work” or me. He chose me.
We now know each other so well that we can convey a message across a crowded room with a wink of an eye or a nod of the head. We’ve learned the importance of spending time together, even when a particular activity is not tops on our individual list. Today we are best friends.
7. Would we accept one another’s differences? I fell in love with Jim because he was a lot of fun to be with. He fell in love with me because I was a steady, caring person.
I liked security; Jim liked adventure.
I asked, “Why?” Jim asked, “When?”
Sometimes I cringed when Jim told yet another joke. And he sighed, wishing that I could loosen up.
Over the years we’ve learned that it’s not our job to change one another but instead to appreciate one another’s differences. And a funny thing has happened along the way. I’ve become more adventurous and fun-loving and Jim is more cautious now.
8. Would we grow closer or apart during the tough times of life? It wasn’t until we had been married for a few years that we began to experience some of life’s storms for ourselves. We had a premature baby, miscarriage, a job transfer, Jim survived cancer … the list could go on and on.
But instead of just surviving these storms of life, we actually grew closer to Christ and to one another. I’m reminded of something Dennis Rainey wrote about two trees in Yosemite National Forest:
A ranger explained that some 1500 years ago, two trees had sprouted as seedlings on the forest floor about 15 feet apart. For several hundred years, the two trees had grown individually, but as they got larger, their trunks grew closer and closer together. Sometime around the age of 800 years, the trunks literally touched, and they began fusing together as one tree. There they stood throughout the centuries—the Faithful Couple.
I’m very grateful that I did not make a costly move 40 years ago to be with Jim while we were still single. Instead, he made a priceless decision: He chose marriage.
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FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family.
1. Read “What Are the Secrets for a Lasting Marriage?” and then discuss it with your spouse.
2. Watch a video about how selfishness affects a marriage.
3. Attend a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway or The Art of Marriage® video event.