I write this Musing on the day of the 42nd anniversary of my marrying the most beautiful, godly, inspiring woman I have ever met (and ever hope to meet).
Over the course of the last two weeks or so, though, the subject of the key elements to a lasting marriage keeps cropping up unexpectedly. I found it addressed in no less than three sermons over that compact time period and it randomly popped up in my daily reading on one occasion.
Now, this maybe the result of a syndrome I have observed from time to time. You know the one where you’ve never noticed a particular make and model of automobile until someone brings it to your attention and then you notice them everywhere? (Most recently for me it was the Jeep pickup. I didn’t even know Jeep made a pickup!) Or maybe it’s a style of jewelry. I was completely unaware of a particular line of jewelry until my wife bought a pair of earrings, and now it seems that one out of three women I encounter is wearing that line of jewelry from waitresses to my personal physician just today.
This recurring theme of keys to a lasting marriage could also be God sending me reminders of how I managed to arrive at 42 years of wedded bliss.
Over the years, I have seen many a poll on the subject. The most common responses are:
- Open communication
- Sense of humor
- Common interests
While I value each of these attributes, none of them made the lists presented in the sermons or my reading during the last two weeks. My responses fall more in line with the ones recently offered – although I don’t know I would have acknowledged them prior to this barrage of marital input.
The recent barrage consistently included (although the order varied):
- Putting the aspirations of the other person first
- Chesed (alternatively Hesed)
Repentance: History proves in every long-term relationship, I will screw up. When, not if, it occurs it is imperative that I acknowledge the screw-up, confess the screw-up and commit to altering my behavior in order to avoid a recurrence or relapse. Therein lies the definition of repentance. It’s also much more effective if I acknowledge, confess and commit directly to the other person. It’s not essential, but always beneficial to affecting change in my behavior.
Forgiveness: You’re likely thinking forgiveness is the natural partner of repentance – I repent and she forgives. Wrong! It’s imperative that I constantly live in a state of forgiveness. Not that she is constantly screwing up (she rarely screws up). The forgiveness required of me applies to any act, lack of action, or most often perceived action on her part. It’s common for me to take offense for things I inferred or imagined. She may not even be aware of what random slight I have imagined. It is incumbent on me to forgive. (I’m reminded of a great question – “Have you ever apologized to your wife for something you did or said to her in her dreams?” Yes, I have, and will again should another such dream occur.)
Putting the other person’s aspirations first: I once read of a pastor who always asks in pre-marital counseling, “Why do want to marry him/her?” If the answer is something akin to, “She’s amazing and is everything I could ever want in a partner. If I can spend my life with her, I know I will be happy,” the marriage looks promising. If, however, the answer goes along the lines of, “She is the most amazing person I have ever met. I want to devote my life to making her happy,” the odds go up dramatically. It caught me up short. Am I primarily focused on fulfilling her aspirations or having her fulfill mine? I admit that most of my screw ups have been in service of getting my desires and aspirations fulfilled, often at the expense of hers.
Chesed (or Hesed): I became enamored with the word chesed during a two-hour panel discussion among four highly esteemed scholars I attended about five years ago which was dedicated to discerning the meaning of the word chesed. It is a Hebrew term for which the highly esteemed panel agreed no English equivalent exists (much like shalom, which carries a meaning much deeper than the English word peace). They offered, among other possibilities, love, kindness, unfailing love, mercy, steadfast love, and loyalty. By the end of the session, they seemed to agree that it came closest to aligning with loving-kindness. I fell in love with the term. A spirit of chesed is essential to successful marriage.
You won’t be at all surprised to learn that all of the sermons as well as the written text I encountered in recent weeks also identify these four attributes as essential to our relationship with God, to which I offer three underlying themes:
- Faith is a relationship with God, not adherence to religious practices.
- Marriage and our relationship with God (as well as all long-term relationships) can’t be sustained on superficialities. They must be grounded in commitment, or more specifically covenant. I am reminded of the difference between a contractual arrangement and a covenantal relationship. With covenant, the parties agree to honor their commitments even when the other party doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain. As a pastor I know is prone to observe, “This is why we have a martial covenant, not a marital contract. If it was merely contractual, marriages would rarely last more than a day.”
- Each of us is created in the image of God (imago dei). God is a god of forgiveness and chesed, attributes Jesus consistently modeled. As imperfect creatures created in the image of God, we are called to forgiveness and to extend chesed to others and doing so calls us to repentance and to put the needs of others’ before our own.
Nurturing long-term relationships requires a commitment to these four attributes, and I believe they are the primary contributing factors to a blissful marriage.
Ever thankful for a wife who constantly models these attributes for me,