“I’m going to marry that guy,” I whispered to my friend in church when I first saw Tom; I was 16; he was 17. How could I possibly know? I have no idea… but I have spent my life thanking God. Tom now grins and says, “She chased me until I caught her!”You will remember I mentioned in the previous blog a house painter in Austria must complete three years of learning and practicing before he can become a professional.
Many more than three years are involved in being married successfully. It takes a lifetime of learning the subject…
“When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer (pleasure) his wife whom he has taken.” Deuteronomy 24:5 Amplified Bible.
Isn’t that incredible advice? Did you know that was in the Bible? Um..m. Perhaps there is something to this intentional time of learning how to live in a marriage relationship. Many things are learned by observing, by example… but not marriage. If this were easily passed down from parents to children, Tom and I would not have survived as neither of us had lived in a strong, healthy loving atmosphere. And our children surely would have learned how to love and ‘marry’ from our positive, growing relationship . Not so. Two of our children are divorced; one after 25 years, another after 22 years.
I am sitting here at my computer reading articles on the reasons for divorce. I crumble in sadness, in helplessness. Why do so many fail in achieving what they so long for? One study interviewed 26 couples to discover the reasons for divorce. What is interesting in this study is all 52 individuals had completed a Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program before marriage. Fourteen years later their reasons for divorce were the same as most other statistics show.
If there were books on marriage in 1964, I never found them. But I began reading every Reader’s Digest article, every mention of marriage in our church’s magazine, Home Life, and other secular magazines. Ladies’ Home Journal had a segment every month on, “Can this Marriage be Saved?” I devoured every word. Charlie Shedd was one of the first pastor/author/husband/lover I found in the 70s. His books are still available; Letters to Karen and Letters to Philip answer the question, “Daddy, how can I keep him/her loving me forever?” You will enjoy these!
I had no experience, no example, but I was determined that my marriage was not going to be a copy of my parents. What else could I do but begin to read, to observe other relationships, to take advantage of every possible lead I heard concerning how to do marriage.
Tom and I signed up for every event on marriage; we joined discussions and shared with other couples seeking to learn. We taught classes at church when we had no idea what we were doing. I smiled that many of you remarked you will be following these next four chapters. You will make it! Through these years I have learned most couples who have a good marriage are eager to participate in any conference, to read a new book… anything to strengthen an already strong relationship.
Early in our ministry, I joined a group of women to do hands on sewing for an orphans’ home. While we sat around the tables, sewing on buttons, mending torn clothes, I listened as the ladies voiced delight that their husbands left town on Monday and returned home on Friday. I was a young wife with four little children and loved Tom coming home in the evening. Older women who should have encouraged me, now caused me to wonder what marriage was all about.
Somewhere early on this journey, I realized I must know this frog-turned-prince. New books surfaced with the years, and I read each one to understand my role in marriage. If I learned only one new idea or thought from a book, it was worth it. I learned to “study my man”. I have encouraged women for years to find something new about your man every day. What a job this can be! I am still learning!
Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, is a game changer for couples committed to communicate with one another. We will mention this in other chapters, but for now, Tom and I have used this in seminars and counseling sessions. It is a must to understand emotional love. We were speaking love, but didn’t understand this principle completely until 1992 when the book was published. I just Googled the best books for marriage in 2021… guess what…? Five Love Languages is at the top, almost 30 years later. Some of you do not enjoy reading, and so, if you only can read one, I would suggest this book as a priority.
I read to Tom as we traveled, with or without children asleep in the back seat. Today most books are on audio or you can listen to a podcast. In these days of technology, learning how to love is at your fingertips.
One attractive lady scheduled a time with Tom and me in Vienna. She and her husband were on the verge of divorce. She sat and cried, “He brings me beautiful gifts all the time, but I don’t want or need anything else. I only want him to spend a little time with me.” How sad… they had no idea of each other’s emotional love language. His was giving/receiving gifts, and hers was a desire for quality time. (The five love languages, according to Gary Chapman, are: Words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch.)
You may have heard of the Enneagram Personality Test; it’s a system of personality testing that describes nine patterns in how people interpret the world and manage their emotions. You can find this on line. Some employers currently use this for job applicants. I mention this as one avenue to help you understand and know what makes your spouse act and react as he or she does. Other personality tests are available… Myers Briggs, DISC for example. Tom and I have learned through each.
The only way to love—is to know how. It doesn’t just happen. We told our children marriage will be the hardest work you will ever do, but we failed to intentionally show them how to find the one gift we desired for them.
“Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.” Proverbs 23:12
Marriage is life… a blending of two rivers, with bends and curves, turbulent waters at times, crashing around the debris and garbage of life, but always flowing. Have problems come? Losing an infant son, the same issues raising teenagers you have, changes due to Lyme disease, crisis with Q-fever that robbed me of a year… a year I felt I was losing my mind, but Tom would not let me go, prostate cancer… and on and on.
I cannot remember 57 years of mornings, but I remember this morning, and it was beautiful. Marriage is today… Is every day great? Of course not, but when it is not, I always know that tomorrow is coming.
Disclaimer: there is no way to share 57 years of learning. Already I wish I had written many more nuggets…
… still learning…
Next week… in making your marriage LAST… Accepting your gift.