A death of an old friend has caused some unexpected travel early this week and I will probably be away from anything but a work computer for the next couple of days, so please pretend you are reading this on Tuesday, August 11, the day I intended to post it:
I will be honest: although I do watch television, I find little there of redeeming value. If I had it to do over again (how many times do I find myself saying that?), I might be one of those radical parents who doesn’t allow one in the house, forcing my children to be more creative and resourceful.
But with that said, I will grudgingly admit that, on occasion, there will be a nugget of truth that comes my way via the airwaves. One such little jewel made its way to my brain just recently when some cable sitcom was on in our playroom.
It was a typical scenario that has been done and overdone millions of times on TV, where a husband decides he must take a more assertive role and not allow his wife to run rough-shod over him. In this particular episode, when said husband began throwing his weight, he learned that his wife, who made numerous decisions each day without consulting him, was actually making them with his best interest at heart.
She explained, for example, that, when she had asked him for what time she should make dinner reservations, he had said, “Seven-thirty.” She, however, had made them for eight. When challenged, she explained that she had decided 8 p.m. would be preferable because she knew that, at the restaurant where they would be going, he would have to valet park before that time, which would upset him, which would in turn put a damper on their evening. The point was beautifully made that, although she appeared to be taking an “in charge” position, she was actually just thinking of him.
To this, the bewildered husband could say nothing but, “Oh.”
Oh my goodness, friends, have I been there and done that. I have gone down that road so many times that my foot has a way of just involuntarily making its way to my mouth as I (lovingly) question Wife about decisions she might have made, just daring her to match wits with one trained by education to argue.
A very high percentage of the time I have learned that, just like the sitcom husband, Wife was actually thinking of me in the process.
Wife learned many years ago that she can assert herself better in these little exchanges by giving me a certain look of self-satisfaction, a look that nonverbally conveys that I may continue wallowing in my assurance that I know what she is thinking or what her motivation might be but, at some point, I will be sheepishly returning to her to admit the error of my ways.
In other words, she says it best when she says nothing at all. And she knows it.
Today Wife and I celebrate 25 years of marriage – two and a half decades in which we have had a few of the episodes I have just described but also, I am pleased to report, in which we have had a blast together much of the time. There have been ups and downs and challenges, to be sure – and there still are -- but we are insanely compatible. And 25 years since making it permanent, although we sure don’t agree on everything, we seldom have a cross word.
To give some statistics: As regular visitors here know, we have had three children, two boys with a girl in the middle, one of whom is grown (23), one who is half-way through college (20) and one who has two more years of high school (16). Fertility was never a problem with us. I could relate well to the cartoon in Wife’s obstetrician’s office where two small children are observing an obviously pregnant mother. One of them quips, “It has something to do with my dad looking cross-ways at her.”
I have lost both of my parents during the time we have been married; both of Wife’s are still with us and doing relatively well. I have had a total of seven different jobs since we got married, which I guess is not all that uncommon. One only lasted three months, a total disaster which I don’t even include on my resume. Wife has had about four and has owned two different businesses, one of which she owns today.
We have lived in six different houses, three that we owned and three we rented, and we’ve been in our current one eight years, longer than any of the others. When we moved to Nashville from Little Rock in 1997 we were unable to sell our house there for nearly three years and lived in two different rent houses until we bought our house here in 2001. We now live across and up the street from the house we rented when we first moved here.
We have been abundantly blessed with friends. We still have a strong base of friends back in Arkansas and have also been fortunate enough to develop a number of cherished relationships in the Nashville area and, really, scattered across the country from various times in our lives. We are both “people persons” and we try never to take any of these friends for granted.
Wife is not a pet person but has tolerated two dogs during our marriage. I’m a total sucker for dogs and treat them like children. Our first was a miniature schnauzer who met her unfortunate demise when she got out one night and was hit by a car right in front of our house. We had only had her a few months. Our current canine, Ralph, has now been with us for ten years, a terrier-mix rescue from the Humane Society. He is an absolute joy to me and he has grown on Wife.
We have enjoyed some great travel together. We honeymooned in Hawaii. As a family we did Walt Disney World a couple of times when the children were young, have taken numerous beach vacations and have made journeys to Virginia, D.C., California, Colorado, Alaska and New York, among others. Wife and I agree that there is nothing quite like a family trip together and we have always tried to make it a priority. We have many times deferred home maintenance and other expenditures or purchases in favor of family travel. I have never once regretted it.
When Wife and I started talking about our 25th wedding anniversary and what we might do to celebrate (having only modestly celebrated the previous 24, if at all), I very pragmatically explained to her that, although it would be nice to go somewhere, the house would need all kinds of repairs this year (we’ve deferred about all we can defer) and we still have six years of college tuition ahead of us. In other words, not going to happen.
She gave me that previously described look a number of times and eventually presented me with an envelope in which she had saved a significant amount of cash, which we will use to go on a Mediterranean cruise in October. So, good for her – she knows I would have never taken that kind of initiative – and Happy Anniversary to us.
What is the secret to a happy marriage?
Well, I could espouse a number of theories. A friend told me once not to “major in the minors.” I took that advice to heart, and I think it makes great sense.
I know that I am inherently selfish and have a certain amount of prejudices. I’m not proud of that. But as I’ve lived with another person for 25 years, I have learned what a joy it is to let go of so much of that. It is really fun, and preferable, to defer to my soul mate. I love seeing her happy. And I know she feels the same about me.
No, we don’t agree on everything and, in fact, we disagree on many things. But, when all the dust settles, does it really matter? Not usually. I think we both understand that.
I think our common faith has a great deal to do with our commitment. I know that when we each said, “I do,” our Heavenly Father said, “I do too.” We take that seriously.
In the early years of our marriage we were involved, through our church, in a number of studies about marriage and God’s supposed “blueprint” for it. Funny thing was, the more I got into it, the less I believed in a specific formula as much as a desire on God’s part that we observe His directive to love each other and strive to have pure hearts and attitudes, with His help. Today I am much more concerned with that than how we might fulfill some rigid roles of husband and wife.
I realize that participating in intentional projects and reading commentaries on being a faithful spouse is helpful to some – and please understand I am not in any way putting it down – but for me it was tedious and way too mechanical. I have learned tons more in the past 25 years of marriage by just going through the day-to-day than I ever did from any of that.
As a young lawyer I occasionally practiced in the domestic relations area and would receive referrals from friends and fellow church members. I would at times come upon spouses – both husbands and wives – who I believe totally distorted the Scriptures to try and justify the divorce settlements they thought they deserved. That annoyed me.
What still baffles me to this day are the scores of folks in the Evangelical world who are so quick to quote Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, submit to your husbands . . . ,” but act as if the immediately preceding verse, Ephesians 5:21, the one that says, “Submit to EACH OTHER,” is not even there. No such thing as mutual submission, they say. Hmm, that’s sure not the way I read it.
And there, I believe, you have it. No, I don’t know of any secret to a happy or successful marriage, but I think much of the success in any relationship, especially a marriage, comes down to a mutual deference and submission to each other as the Apostle Paul described in his letter to the Ephesians. He stated it similarly in Romans when he said that we should “give preference to one another in honor.” Both Wife and I are imperfect people and we will not always achieve that, but we stand a greater chance of being content in our relationship when we try.
And it helps, as my friend said, not to major in the minors.
Happy 25th, Honey. I miss you today. Thanks for a wonderful 25-year ride.
I’ll see you on board in October.