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The Secret for a Happy Marriage

January 28, 2013

Is that a great title or what?  It would be even better if now, after 41 years of marriage, my wife and I were about to reveal what that secret is.  Unfortunately this post is more of a confession than it is a teaching moment.  But, hey, even a confession of our confusion could teach someone couldn’t it?  At the very least it might teach you what to avoid.

A few years ago we joined a group of Christian couples to go out to dinner together on Valentine’s Day.  As it happened we were the longest-married couple present.  This came as no surprise to us as we were also the oldest.  But when we went around the table and shared how long each couple had been married and our time came, one of the younger husbands who had not been born when we were married, asked us for “the” secret for a happy marriage.

Peggy and I looked at each other and I could tell that she was as stumped as I was.  I could not for the life of me think of a secret we had.  Frankly I had never given a moment’s theoretical thought to “How to have a happy marriage.” I knew I was happy in my marriage and was pretty sure Peggy was too.  But the secret to how that came about escaped us.  Was it possible that we had stumbled into a happy marriage through sheer dumb luck?

It reminded me of a conversation some years before with a friend who was Christian marriage counselor.  When she asked if we had received marriage counseling before we were married we said no.  She looked at us with a mixture of shock and sadness and offered us free counseling to rectify that oversight.  We had been married 22 years when this offer came so we declined with a sort of “why try to fix something that is not broken” shrug.  Peggy, as the more gracious of the two of us, was the one to turn her down.  As part of that declination she said we were very happy.  The woman scoffed and said “You just think you are happy.”  Later we talked that possibility over privately and decided that we’d take a chance that our apparent delusion of happiness would last and, praise God, thus far it has.

Of late I’ve thought of those two conversations a lot as the whole complementarian-egalitarian debate has grown more prominent in evangelical circles, sometimes in bitter terms.  Could I look back on our 41 years of marriage now and pull out things that, in retrospect, were secrets for a happy marriage even if we were unaware of them at the time?

Well, there are some things that I can see were patterns but I have no clue whether they are secrets or not.  They were certainly not discussed at the time but, in any event, here goes.

–          I have no memory of doctrine ever being part of our decision processes.  We’ve never made a decision with an attempt to be either complementarian or egalitarian.  It’s not that we don’t respect doctrinal truth, it is just that we’ve never had it come up as an issue in deciding what is for dinner.

–          We’ve never thought about gender roles as we make decisions and split up responsibilities.  At various times in our marriage odyssey our roles and responsibilities have shifted but this comes more from the circumstances we were in than any thought as to what the husband or wife should be doing.

–          We’ve never, in 41 years, come to a point where we needed a “tie-breaker” to decide what to do.  If there is a principle involved in decision-making I suppose, for small things, it’s pretty easy to tell which of us is more passionate and/or informed as to the choice to make and we tend to go with that.  For larger decisions we act only after we are of the same mind but I have no recollection of a pattern as to how we got to that point.  I think that we pretty much just sort of talked it out.

–          We’ve been clueless about gender-based needs.  I am told that, as a man, I need respect from my wife; meanwhile, she needs to feel love from me.  As I look at it I feel I’ve wanted both love and respect from her and she has wanted both from me.  Perhaps that cluelessness has actually helped us.

None of these points constitute advice.  I suppose all couples need to work out marital happiness in their own ways.  I am not sure there are specific steps we must take for the “two to become one.”  Maybe the counselor was right.  Maybe our happiness is just delusional.  If so, please don’t wake me up.

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