Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. [Romans 12:10 (NLT)]
Today is my 49th wedding anniversary and, as I was looking for material for a message about marriage, I came across a 2010 article from the New York Times. Titled “The Happy Marriage is the ‘Me’ Marriage,” it asserted that marriage is no longer about putting the relationship first. People in what the author calls a “sustainable marriage” have spouses who “make their lives more interesting.” In something called “self-expansion,” partners “sculpt” each other “in ways that help each of them attain valued goals.” As for sculpting my partner, I may have sanded off a few of his rough edges in all these years but no relationship is sustainable when we’re trying to change our partner instead of ourselves!
I then linked to “The Sustainable Marriage Quiz” where questions were to be answered on a scale of one (not very much) to seven (very much). According to the author, the higher the score, the happier and “more sustainable” the marriage would be. It asked questions about how much our partner increased our ability to accomplish new things, increased our knowledge, resulted in our having new experiences, or was seen as a way to expand our own capabilities.
The article and quiz seemed to put the burden of our growth on our spouse. Granted, our spouses should motivate and encourage us—that’s what love does. Nevertheless, it remains our task to improve ourselves and become more accomplished, knowledgeable, interesting, and capable. The responsibility for our happiness and growth falls squarely on our shoulders, not those of our spouse. I think of the character in Jerry McGuire who said, “You complete me.” Becoming complete is not someone else’s task; it is ours!
No relationship lasts if it becomes stagnant but I wonder how long anyone can sustain an effort to keep giving one’s spouse new experiences, skills, or knowledge. As much as I love adventure, there is something delightful about doing some of the same things again and again with the person I love! The article cited research done at universities and I suspect the subjects were younger. Their concept of a “long-lasting relationship” was probably quite different than mine. When I think of a relationship as “sustained,” I think in terms of several decades not just a few months or years.
Although I believe the happy marriage is the “we” (rather than “me”) marriage, the truly sustainable marriage has a third party in it—God. As my husband and I have grown in our faith, we have grown in our love for one another. The more God-centered our marriage has been, the richer our relationship and the happier we have become. At close to half a century together, ours is not just a long-lasting relationship, but also one that is truly satisfying and sustainable. It is sustained by the grace of God through prayer and hard work. It is sustained by the effort we each make every day to love one another in a way that both meets our needs and honors God. It is sustained by thinking “we” and not “me.” It is sustained by a commitment to make the marriage work and by remembering that “love never gives up.”
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. [1 Corinthians 13:7 (NLT)]
The question is asked, “Is there anything more beautiful in life than a boy and girl clasping clean hands and pure hearts in the path of marriage? Can there be anything more beautiful than young love?” And the answer is given. “Yes, there is a more beautiful thing. It is the spectacle of an old man and an old woman finishing their journey together on that path. Their hands are gnarled, but still clasped, their faces are seamed, but still radiant; their hearts are physically bowed and tired, but still strong with love and devotion for one another. Yes, there is a more beautiful thing than young love. Old love.” [author unknown, found in “Stories for a Faithful Heart” compiled by Alice Gray]