I’m fascinated when I meet couples that have been married for more than 50 years. Before I became a therapist, I used to ask, “what’s your secret?” Now, I tend to probe a little deeper. Check out my most recent exchange with a wise church member.
What’s your secret?
When you’ve been married for 50 years, people are amazed and will ask. “How did you do it or what was your secret?”
That’s easy I say. We just stayed married. People fail to ask the question behind the question. Did you enjoy being married or how did you stay in love?
It wasn’t all fun stuff. The fun moments are times in between the crappy moments. My marriage wasn’t always the greatest or in the right place. In fact, I wasn’t in the right place. Most of the times I was a spoiled brat that just wanted life to go my way. There were times I wanted to leave. We made stupid decisions to include affairs, bad financial decisions, drinking too much and even working too much. We overcame boredom, the death of a child, crappy sex, not enough sex, health scares and almost dying, and work accidents.
How did you overcome those adversities?
We got good at apologizing and not taking everything personal. We had good days and bad days. I guess we grew up and stopped acting selfishly. We learned to make each other a priority, even before the kids. We figured if they [kids] were going to make it, we had to make it.
What advice would you give people thinking about getting married?
Happiness doesn’t come from another person or marriage. So don’t get married to be happy, you get married to build a life together. Always put God first in your life and your marriage. Be the example you want from your marriage. Follow the advice of the late Steven Covey, to have a purpose you must learn to laugh, to love and to leave a legacy. Marriage is hard. It forces you to grow up. It isn’t for weak people. If you want life on your terms, don’t get married. Oh, one more thing, take a shower together at least once a week whether you’re dirty or not.
Do you have any regrets?
I have lots of regrets. When it mattered most, I wish I’d been more understanding and kinder. I wish I had more time. Unfortunately, the cruelest thing of all is just when you start to figure out your part in your relationship and can appreciate the one you’re with, your time is almost up. One of you gets sick, forgets the other, or even dies. The saddest thing about the greatest love story is that it always comes to an end. One of you will have to bury the other.
Even though it’s tempting to pull away or emotionally disengage to avoid the pain, endure. It takes the strength of character to keep loving someone even though you know it will end in pain. Staying married for the sake of kids is easy. However, staying in love and connect is a different ball game. That’s what a real marriage and love story is all about.
Dr. Dave Jenkins, DMin, LMFT is a marriage and family therapist in the Northern Virginia area. He’s the founder of Fredericksburg Relationship Center, LLC. He’s been married to the same woman for 25 years and has four children and a daughter-in-law.