Wow. Today marks my Aunt Janet and Uncle Jay’s 70th Wedding Anniversary. Seventy years! Next month, my husband and I will celebrate our 32nd anniversary, not quite the same milestone and yet still something to honor. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to make a marriage last and how anyone achieves “very married” status.
My Celebrancy work brings me into contact with couples who are poised at the beginning of their marriages. Planning a wedding is formative, I realize, in helping couples define for themselves what values they wish to build into this new joint endeavor. Through creating a ceremony together, with its writing of vows and selections of readings, music, and rituals, a couple discovers more about each other and themselves. Hopefully, this mutual dedication to a common cause will be just the first joint effort in a long, healthy marriage.
Of course, a long marriage isn’t necessarily a good marriage. Some enduring marriages unfortunately seem like old abandoned houses: rotted at the foundations, surrounded by long-dead trees and overgrown gardens, and only upright because a powerful wind hasn’t blown the shambles over, yet. Like a house of cards, one wonders how much longer the thing can stand.
Yes, we all know couples who have stayed married over the years out of “mutual disinterest.” “It’s easier to stay than to go,” they tell us, with a sad, slow shake of the head. These are the neglected marriages.
Just as heart-wrenching is another type of failed marriage, the sudden awakening. These people simply open their eyes one day and think: “I don’t love this person anymore. So why are we still married?” Over long years, they have slowly grown apart until, suddenly, nothing holds them together. Instead of forging bonds to each other, they have, usually through carelessness, been shedding them. For these couples, there is now no reason to stay and every reason to go.
So what is the recipe for a long AND good marriage? Each new marriage cuts its own path, finding its way across obstacles, changing direction when the need to do so arises. Perhaps what contributes most to a successful, loving marriage is that we choose to journey every day with this person, that we commit to this work of marriage-building while never losing sight of the love that brought us together in the first place. Marriages must change and grow as we ourselves do. But they must never lose the spark that first brought two people together.
I love the spark I see in my aunt and uncle’s wedding picture! They still share this spark today. But surely my aunt and uncle’s love for each other now is nothing like it was in 1945 when they married. How could it be? They have each lived a full life together, and such living changes a person. From their wedding day forward, life meant adjustment. They left their hometown to begin their married life in a new area. They worked hard. They lost a baby. They raised a family. They have both suffered together through major health crises, employment changes, and other challenges. Who would be surprised if their courage flagged at times, if they occasionally lost their shared vision, lost their passion for a life together. But I believe people who maintain the “spark” always find a path back to the road and grasp hands. Together they keep walking in the same direction, regardless of the difficulties.
And there has been sunshine, too, in my aunt’s and uncle’s marriage. Their long lives have thankfully brought them stability, success, and sweet family. They still live together in their own home with the help of their own children and grandchildren. Great-grandchildren, too, are constants of their days. Good neighbors check in and say hello. They practice their faith and are nourished by their spiritual community. Best of all, they enjoy each other’s company. They spend time together. They talk. They share the moments of their lives.
Their 70 years of marriage have changed Aunt Janet and Uncle Jay, but have also brought them closer and made their lives far richer than they might have been without one another’s love. After so many years, they have become very married.