Photo by Kevin Tomes Studios.
On Wednesday this week, Julie and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary! Twenty-five years ago, in an outdoor, garden wedding, in the presence of friends and family, we said, “I do.” Julie has been the greatest blessing in this life and everyday I thank God for bringing us together. Every day of our marriage has been more beautiful and happier than the one before! Whoa! What?
Every day has been more beautiful than the one before? That’s from a storybook marriage and I confess that ours has not been 100% blissful. There have been some difficult seasons in this marriage—usually courtesy of yours truly. Nevertheless, I believe our marriage has been quite successful. I can’t imagine life without Julie and there’s no better mother for our sons, Alex and Andrew. Julie has been my encourager, my patient partner, and my best friend. When God wants to get my attention and tell me something, Julie is often his messenger. So, while the past 25 years have not been storybook-like, I wouldn’t give them up for anything.
In talking with other couples about their marriages, we’ve learned that there are many “secrets to success.” Here are a few based on our marriage.
Commitment to the commitment—Sometimes being committed to marriage isn’t enough. There are times when the relationship can get tough and some people are tempted to consider “options.” However, we consciously chose to remove all doubt, in our own minds and others’, about our commitment. We wrote our own marriage vows and, against the advice of some, included the phrase, “We will never consider separation or divorce an option in our marriage.” I believe that God has honored that public commitment and has helped us through several rough patches without ever being tempted to take those other routes. (Julie can insert jokes here about being tempted to murder.) I’m not advising every engaged couple to make the same commitment in their vows, but I am advising everyone, engaged and married, to evaluate how serious you are about your commitment.
Patience—I commented to someone recently that it seems as though Julie and I have hit our “marriage stride” in just the last few years. It took 20-some years to get to a point where I have a level of confidence and comfort in this relationship that feels…well, the words are hard to find. I hesitate to say, “Our marriage is impenetrable” because it is not. We still need God’s hand of protection over our marriage. It took 20 or so years to get to a point where I am confident in our ability to work through many kinds of problems together (and we still have some to solve). It took 20 or so years to develop our marriage friendship to the point where vulnerability and trust is stronger than a desire for self-protection and caution. Some couples get to this point a lot faster, but I think those are rare. If you’ve been married 15 years or so and don’t feel like you’re there yet, be patient. The commitment and patience are worth the effort! The rewards of this season of marriage are fantastic.
Focus on something bigger and longer term—There’s one more key to success I’ll mention here. It is the need to have an outward focus on something more important and longer lasting than ourselves and our marriage. For us, this outward focus is our two wonderful sons, Alex and Andrew. Every day I thank God for choosing us to be their parents. (Yes, boys, I feel this way even when I’m upset with you for something!) Our focus has been to prepare them to be Christ-following, positive contributors to society. We want them to use their God-given gifts to make a difference in this world, for God’s glory. This, too, is an endeavor requiring patience. We’ve had the parenting job for a little over 16 years. We’ve got two or three years left as full-time parents. Even then, when they move out on their own, we might not yet see the full impact of God’s work through our parenting. We see enough evidence today, though, that God is working in their lives. We envision both of them carrying on a tradition of Christ-following husbands, parents, workers, and community members.
The three keys above are just a few that occur to me today. Are there other keys to success in marriage? Yes. There are many. Others are communication, forgiveness, and a sense of humor. Ask another couple and they’ll identify more. There is no formula for success in marriage, but there are many possible insights and you need to listen to many to find which speak to you and your marriage.
Why am I writing about marriage in a leadership blog? What has our 25 years of marriage got to do with your effectiveness as a leader? Everything! I firmly believe that effective leadership is absolutely dependent on a fulfilling and satisfying personal life. Happily married leaders are more effective leaders. On the other hand, conflict and stress in your personal life undermines effectiveness in your leadership.
I love you, Julie! Thank you for your commitment, your patience, and for having a big vision for our marriage. Soli Deo Gloria