Holding Hands: What I’ve Learned in 35 Years of Marriage

Snuggle Bunny and I celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary this week. Where did the time go? More importantly, in an era in which a double nano-second constitutes a “long-term relationship,” how did we make it thirty-five years?

First off, we’re waaay too young to be that old.

Second, it hasn’t always been easy. Marriage is hard work. It’s the union of two imperfect, self-centered, hard-headed people with feet of clay. Throw in some job losses and “down-sizing.” Too much month at the end of the money. Four kids. Health issues. A couple cross-country moves. Misunderstandings, the untimely loss of loved ones (three parents in just over a year), and the usual trials and tribulations of life, and you’re in for some major stress.

How have we kept it together for 35 years? Here are some key ingredients, suggestions, and lessons learned over 35 years:

  • Make Jesus Christ the center of your heart, home, and marriage. Like this. Sung at our wedding in May 1983. It still rings true today:

  • Pray for your spouse daily. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve muffed this over 35 years. But I keep trying. You can, too. Incidentally, the person whose heart will be most changed when you pray for your spouse is yours. (Don’t ask how I know that.)
  • Cultivate a sense of humor. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Develop your “funny bone” and exercise it often. Look for things to laugh about. If you can’t find any, I might lend you some of mine. If you ask real nice.
  • Be slow to anger and quick to forgive. Another thing you can’t do on your own. It takes Jesus. Trust me on this one.
  • Learn and use those three little words: “I was wrong.”
  • Give your spouse room to grow, stretch, and learn. Allow them the freedom to fail. When they do, be the first person to pick them up, dust them off, and cheer them on to the next endeavor or adventure. Be your spouse’s #1 fan.
  • Show an interest in and participate in your spouse’s hobbies and interests if at all possible. Is he a football, baseball, or basketball fan? Into NASCAR? Boating, hiking, fishing, camping? A history buff? What kind of books or music does she like? What’s her favorite cuisine, color, movie, style, or get-away spot? How does your spouse like to spend his or her down time?

Snuggle Bunny and I love the Great Outdoors. We’ve spent more time around a campfire singeing perfectly good marshmallows than I can shake a charred stick at. We’ve also hiked millions of miles over most of the western U.S. and quite a few Eastern Seaboard states, too. (Well, okay. Maybe not a million. It just feels that way.) The idea here is to adventure together. Savvy?

Also (throwin’ these in for free):

  • An ounce of Hershey’s is worth a pound of cure.
  • Flowers. Don’t ask me to explain this.
  • Honesty is the best policy. (Don’t confuse this with undue harshness or acting like a jerk. Tell the truth. In love.) Also, be trustworthy.
  • Love without commitment only goes so far. Like, around the block. Commitment lasts forever. Don’t confuse the two.

  • Snuggle Bunny and I have worked hard to implement and maintain what has been derisively dubbed The Pence Rule. By people who don’t get it. Like, whenever possible, we avoid being alone with someone else’s spouse or a member of the opposite sex. It’s called protecting our marriage pro-actively. It works. For 35 years. And counting.
  • Don’t take each other for granted. Ever.
  • Say “I love you” every day. Find creative ways to express your love and appreciation for your spouse in ways that’ll speak to their heart. (Did I mention Hershey’s?)
  • Realize that marriage vows are vows, not suggestions.

07 May 1983

On an eighty-degree evening in southern California in 1983, Snuggle Bunny and I promised to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health….” We’ve seen plenty of all of the above. But we made solemn vows “to have and to hold… until death do us part.”

Not just when things are going great. When it’s all moonlight and roses, champagne and fireworks. Because guess what? The last couple to “live happily ever after” was Snow White and Prince Charming. You’re neither. There will be times when your spouse seems as attractive as an overcooked cabbage. As prickly as a porcupine. Is galactically irritating. Selfish. An insensitive clod.

Well, guess what again? So are you. So get over it. Choose to honor your marriage commitment and hold fast to your vows. Even when you don’t “feel” like it. Maybe especially when you don’t feel like it.

If you need professional help, get it. Remember #2. Also remember that you have an Enemy. The Thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. That includes your marriage. Be on guard. Be prepared to fight for your spouse and your marriage. Take the gloves off and do it!! Like this:

Finally:

  • I still have a lot to learn.
  • If I live a thousand years, it still won’t be enough to deserve the good man who gently won my heart so many years ago. And still has it. Hey, Babe. This one’s for you. Happy Anniversary!

One day, far away, you gently won my heart
And one night, by candlelight, we made a vow to never part
And then it seemed just like a dream
When wide eyed, side by side
We faced the future holding hands…

Everyone’s favorite pup, Kimber the Magnificent, returns next time. Stay tuned!

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