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How to Stay Married for 27 Years

by Kim Harrington 


Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.

Genesis 24:67

I've had a reasonably successful ministry over the years. I haven't been invited to appear on TBN or the 700 Club, or anything like that  but I would consider it reasonably successful. Since entering the ministry in 1976, when my wife and I and a few friends opened a coffeehouse on St. Paul's Lower East Side, we've managed to plant three churches in the Midwest; start numerous cottage meetings and one solid church in India (where we served for three years); minister in various areas of the U.S. and world; and raise up and send out into the ministry some 28 couples, not counting the ever-growing band of North Indians that are starting to hit some of the unreached villages of Uttar Pradesh. I'm not boasting, just saying that I've had a reasonably successful ministry over the years.

But I've had a very successful marriage. In fact, I'd have to say that my greatest success in life is my relationship to my wife. One close friend said that I really couldn't take much credit for that, either, as he knows what a wonderful woman my wife is--but if it takes two to fight, then it also takes two to make it work, so I'm going to take a little credit here, too. In all honesty, God truly gets the most credit, as I don't know if our marriage would have lasted very long if we hadn't have got saved, but we did, and the rest is history. We were married on February 9, 1974, and as of this writing have just celebrated our twenty-seventh anniversary.

A good marriage will make your life happier and more fulfilling than you ever thought it could be. There is nothing like it this side of glory: to have a soul-mate, a lover, a best friend, and partner all rolled into one person is the most satisfying and wonderful relationship that could possibly exist. It's a type of Christ and His church

One the other hand, a bad marriage, one that goes sour, perhaps ends in divorce, will hurt you more than you ever thought you could be hurt. Your life will be more miserable than you thought possible. Marriage is like fire: it can warm you and bring great comfort, and keep you alive and kicking under the most adverse of circumstances--or it can burn you irreparably.

Bob Carlisle said in a song a few years ago, "With all that I've done wrong I must have done something right..." Well, again, I don't mean to boast but I thought it might be a good idea to share some of the things that my wife and I have done right over the years, in hopes that you may get a pointer or two that you can use in your own marriage...


1. Choose the Right Partner in the First Place

Make sure you are truly compatible before you say your "I do's" and get bound to a contract that lasts as long as you both shall live, which is a vow that Christians still take seriously, in spite of the soaring divorce rates in our land.

Becky and I were immediately compatible. From the very first time we met we were able to relax with each other; there was no pretense, none of the silly games that members of the opposite sex sometimes play. We became good friends, as well as being attracted to each other romantically. There are a few good reasons for this, that those who are considering marriage should consider.

We share a similar background: though we both lived in the city (St. Paul, Minnesota) when we met, our families are originally from farm stock in western Wisconsin. (When we go to family reunions, there are members of both of our families there.) We come from similar social and economic backgrounds, we have the same ideas of marriage and family, and what to have for dinner--the most serious argument we've ever had in the area was whether to use Miracle Whip or Hellman's Mayonnaise (I submitted to her, the chief cook and have eaten the former ever since). We were both looking for the same thing in marriage, we had the same understanding of what a successful relationship entailed. We both wanted the same things from each other.

If you marry someone from a different background than your own, you're going to have to work harder to make it work. People from different social strata, or different ethnic or racial backgrounds, generally have different expectations of what constitutes a normal, happy relationship. Initially, the differences may be exciting and romantic, but when you try to settle down into a routine, comfortable lifestyle together you may find that you have your work cut out for you. This is not to say you shouldn't marry someone outside of your normal social circles--I pastor a multi-cultural church and know of many successful cross-cultural marriages. But it's all the more important to know you've chosen the right person when you're going into a relationship that will likely present more challenges than usual.

Choosing the right mate is the easiest way to a good marriage. Don't choose on a flashy, fleshy, superficial basis... Hollywood glamour girls don't make such good wives for the most part; good-looking hunks may be as in love with themselves as they'll ever be with you. You don't want to marry someone you don't find attractive, but if one of the prerequisites for your wife is that she be good-looking enough to grace a Playboy fold-out, then you're not using your head.

Don't set such high standards that no one will ever measure up, and don't be so anxious, so lonely that you'll marry the first person that comes along and expresses an interest in you. Again, use your head. This is a decision you're going to have to live with for a long time. Be careful as you make it.

A final note on finding the right mate. Be yourself and you'll attract someone who likes you the way you are. Acting more sophisticated or more spiritual than you really are is not only deceptive, but heart-breaking in the end. When your lover learns who you really are, they might not care for you anymore!


2. Make Honest Communication a Priority

My wife and I have always communicated freely and openly. And as any marriage counselor will tell you, communication is the key to a good relationship. To us it was natural. Both of us are fairly intelligent and articulate, and we like to share of our hearts with one another. One of our favorite things is sitting down and talking together.

A guarded communication style, on the other hand, can really hurt your relationships. People don't know how you really feel, because you haven't actually come out and told them. And don't count on someone, not even someone as close as a husband or wife, to read your signals properly. If you find yourself saying things along the lines of, "if you don't know what's wrong, I don't need to tell you!" it's a sure sign that your idea of communication is way off. People can't know what's wrong unless you tell them. Your mate cannot read your mind, and it's unfair of you to put that kind of expectations on them.

There are two basic types of communicators. The open, direct kind, and the subtle hinter. Open, direct people have better relationships -- it's just as simple as that. They pretty much say what they mean and mean what they say. They make friends easily and solve problems with a minimum of difficulty because, due to their style of communication, there is less chance of misunderstanding. They're not afraid to communicate openly and honestly.

The more guarded, subtle kind of communicator is forever dropping hints (most of which fly over the heads of others), and also reading more into the statements of others that was actually intended. This makes for misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Practice saying what you feel--not rudely, but honestly... "I'm not really happy about you going out with the boys again... I mean, I trust you, but it makes me feel like you're not finding your satisfaction in me." It works a lot better than the silent treatment (which was invented by a kindergartner); and it's much more effective than a whole new series of manipulations and plots. If you're married to a hinter, spell things out, make sure you're communicating properly... "what you're saying is that you'd really rather have me stay home tonight, right?"

Did you ever watch the Honeymooners or I Love Lucy? Both were classic cases of miscommunication between spouses. Lucy was always plotting something to bless Ricky, or teach him a lesson, when she should have come right out and said what was on her mind. Ralph and Norton communicated well with each other, as did the two wives, but they never seemed to be able to speak honestly with their own spouses until things had reached crisis proportions.

Learn to communicate more effectively. Talk in bed at night. Get to bed early enough to leave you time to talk--fellowship with each other instead of Jay Leno or David Letterman. You'll notice the difference right away in your marriage.


3. It Helps if You Discover God and Grow in the Lord Together

This is related to being compatible; it's about being spiritually compatible. Nothing can cause more friction in a Christian marriage than differing ideas about spiritual things: one person believes in the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the other doesn't, and such like. Denominational differences can cause trouble even among nominally religious couples, but if you take your faith in Christ seriously there will be major flare-ups over this kind of thing.

My wife and I were saved together, baptized in water together, filled with the Spirit together, went to Bible school together, entered the ministry together, grew in the Lord together. We walked hand in hand through each step of our spiritual adventure. You may do this whatever your situation is as a young married couple, however. You're entering a new life together--share it, enjoy it... together! Keep doing new things, having new adventures and experiences. Don't hang on to the old--you know, like bowling night with the boys--as much as discovering new things with your spouse. Don't make your husband or wife feel as though they have to compete with your past, but instead, create a new future together and leave the past behind. "A man shall leave his father and mother" (the past) and cleave to, cling to, be bonded with, his wife. That's the biblical formula and it works.


4. Practice Affirmative, Supportive Speech

Just as positive speech can strengthen your faith and your relationship with God, so it strengthens your relationship with other people. It's hard to feel positively about someone who is continually criticizing you, correcting you, nagging you, or even putting you down. I tend to be rather critical by nature--or maybe by training--but at some point early in our relationship I decided not to criticize my wife. I always call her beautiful, praise her cooking, and focus on her good points. She was actually raised in just the opposite kind of climate. More often than not, her dad, a frustrated alcoholic, called her "dummy," and she didn't need that kind of garbage talk from me. Now, after 27 years, she almost believes me when I tell her how wonderful she is!

You don't marry a person to change them. This isn't a project like rehabbing an old house, or rebuilding a car or motorcycle. Some women (and a few men, too) seem to act like "I couldn't get who I wanted so I'll make you into him."

Receive your spouse unconditionally once you've decided to share your life with him or her. Don't have a trouble-shooter mentality--always looking to fix the imperfections. It just makes for more friction. Relax a little and watch love start to work wonders on the areas that really do need to be addressed.


5. Absolute Commitment.

Becky and I have covenanted together--divorce is not a part of our vocabulary. No matter how serious the disagreement, no matter how angry we got, we have managed to exercise enough restraint to never bring up that word--it is simply not an option. We have agreed, long in advance, to work out our differences, not to split up over them. The Lord instructed us early on to never "let sun set on our wrath," but to work out today's problems today. And it has worked in a culture where the statistics are against us.

Divorce is a sin with very painful repercussions--it is simply not an option for the serious Christian. Your home should be haven of security in an unstable world.


6. We Practice Decision-Sharing

I know that the Bible says "wives, submit unto your husbands as unto the Lord," but I've never had to "pull rank" on my wife. We make all our decisions together. If we don't see eye to eye on something we talk it over until we come to a consensus. It's not worth having your way if you have to force it one someone you love. It's not about rights and legal authority, it's about relationship. I not only want my wife to go along with my ideas, I want her to support them from her heart. You don't get that by saying, "woman submit!"

I had a friend who married a rather simple-minded girl, and as a result he did most of decision-making for the family--the grocery shopping, everything--he just didn't trust her to make wise decisions. And he lost her.

You need to seek each others' input, make every decision jointly. If God is speaking to you He can touch your spouse's heart, too. There were a few things I knew my wife wouldn't immediately go for (buying a Harley some years ago, becoming missionaries to India...) but God spoke to her before I even brought it up for serious discussion. Make joint decisions and both of you will support them.


7. Finally, Respect and Honor Each Other, be Unquestionably Loyal

This kind of undergirding will give any marriage the edge it needs to be successful. Curb your wandering eyes and thoughts, direct all your sexual and romantic attention to your spouse alone. And no jokes at each other's expense, no talking to your girlfriends about what a crumb you husband is. Always speak well of each other, and you'll be speaking well of your self, and your marriage.

Make this thing work, folks, you're in it for the rest of your lives.


Copyright 2001   Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.


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