I know, I don’t look old enough to have been married for forty years. Oh…that wasn’t what you were thinking? Never mind, then.
While our marriage and family life haven’t been without a struggle here or there (which were all my fault; that’s my story and I’m sticking with it), our love hasn’t just survived the challenges that come with being married while in ministry; it has grown and deepened along the way–to the extent that I list our marriage as a major ministry success. So since I am sometimes asked how Robin has managed to stay married to me all these years, I offer my best guesses as to what has done the trick for us:
1. Date night. From the very start, we have reserved one evening a week to date each other. To focus on each other. To remember why we fell in love in the first place.
2. Boundaries. I wrote a whole post about “Boundaries for Pastors,” so I won’t belabor it here. But careful boundaries have protected us both, and deepened our mutual trust.
3. Days off and vacations. I know some ministry couples who rarely take days off and seldom take their vacation time from the church. I think that’s foolish. You can’t give good things to your spouse if you’ve spent it all at the church.
4. Retreats and classes. Over the years, the lovely Robin and I have taken periodic marriage retreats or enrichment weekends. Those things have given us invaluable help in (for example), learning each other’s intimacy needs, conflict-management styles, and learning styles, among other things. They’ve helped us to gain deeper understanding of each other and make adjustments along the way.
5. Premarital counseling. We never had premarital counseling before our wedding. But we’ve provided it for scores of couples–and each time we do, we brush up on our own skills.
6. Frequent renewal of vows. On our thirty-fifth anniversary, the lovely Robin and I renewed our vows behind a waterfall in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. That was fun and wonderful. But we do much the same thing at every wedding we attend, holding hands and silently renewing our vows as the couple getting married recite theirs.
7. Mutuality. Our marriage has never been a hierarchy but a gift-based partnership (1 Corinthians 7:4, 11:11-12). We each have clearly defined responsibilities and roles, but in our marriage these things are based on the way God has molded us and gifted us. We try to outdo each other in love, respect, kindness, and self-sacrifice…and we both end up winning.
I could go on, of course. The lovely Robin’s beauty, grace, and patience should top the list, no doubt. But these seven things have gone a long way toward enabling us to go a long way—more than halfway to our seventieth anniversary.