When I told my beautiful bride, more than 30 years ago, that I wanted to grow old together, I didn’t mean I actually wanted to grow old. Unfortunately, that was inevitable. But the together part has been pretty sweet.
No, it’s not my anniversary. I’ve just been thinking about this topic lately because some good friends of mine, people I love, appear headed for divorce. They’re hardly alone. About half of all marriages end in divorce, with the average marriage these days lasting just eight years.
I don’t claim to be a relationship expert, nor has my own marriage been perfect, mostly because I’m not perfect. (My wife pretty much is.) But I have learned, in 30-plus years of wedded bliss, some of what it takes to build a lasting relationship.
Shared values. Young people who are in love, or in lust, think their current emotions are the only thing that’s important. They don’t understand that, because they won’t feel that way all the time, their marriage needs a more solid foundation: shared values, similar (if not identical) world views and compatible attitudes towards things like finances and child-rearing.
When couples grow apart, it’s often because they no longer want the same things out of life. Their values change. That may be difficult to overcome, but not impossible, if both parties have this next attribute.
Selflessness. The Bible says that, when two people get married, they “become one.” I take that literally. One of the keys to a successful relationship is learning to merge your identity with that of your spouse. It’s hard for you to want two different things when you’re essentially the same person.
Human nature being what it is, that’s not easy. But you can practice by striving always to put the other person first. Our natural tendency is to put ourselves first, seeking what we want. We rationalize this by telling ourselves we “need a little me-time” or “I can’t make anyone else happy if I’m not happy.”
In my experience, that’s false. I tend to be happiest when I’m focused on meeting my wife’s needs instead of worrying about my own. And the great thing is, I know she feels the same way.
Forgiveness. Couples together for any length of time hurt each other constantly, whether intentionally or not. No relationship would last if we weren’t willing to forgive.
That includes forgiving even when the other person hasn’t asked. Unfortunately, too many collect all the little injuries, like pieces of string, and put them together to create a giant ball of resentment. That’s how people who were once deeply in love come to hate each other.
Instead of holding on to the hurts, make a conscious choice to let go. Think about the other person’s feelings instead of your own. Remember all you’ve shared.
Then, instead of just growing old, maybe you can grow old together.
Rob Jenkins is a local writer. He will be signing copies of “Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility” at Books for Less in Buford this Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. Email Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit familymanthebook.com.