This coming May 29 is an important day on the calendar.  For starters, it is Memorial Day, that day in which we remember those who gave their lives in service to our country.  It’s also the day that Marilyn and I will be leaving for a much-anticipated vacation that will take us to California where we will spend a week hiking in three national parks we have never been to before: Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon.  But this May 29 also has the distinction of marking Marilyn’s and my 40th year of marriage.  I know that’s probably hard for many of you to believe because we still look like we’re in our thirties J, but it’s true.  We did marry young – I was 21 and my blushing bride had turned 20 just a month before – and here we are now four decades, two children, and four grandchildren later still deeply in love with each other, still the very best of friends, and still resting our marriage on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ.

As I look back over the years, there are many things that we – more specifically I – could have done better.  But by God’s grace and with His direction we did a lot of things right.  So without trying to sound like a fellow who knows it all when it comes to this mysterious relationship that we call marriage, let me share with you some of the biblical principles that we have implemented in our marriage – principles that I typically share with couples whenever I do premarital counseling with them.

Principle #1: Build on commitment.  From the very get-go Marilyn and I resolved that we were committed to our relationship no matter what. And we allowed that commitment to be greater than any problem we would ever face.  And yes, there were times when things got a bit rocky and she thought she was right while I knew I was right, but the one thing we never doubted during those times was our partner’s commitment to the marriage.  We knew better than to bring up the subject of divorce in the heat of those tension-filled moments because we know how crafty the devil is and how he can make divorce look like the magic cure-all that it simply isn’t.  Instead it just opens up a whole new can of worms that need to be dealt with.

Principle #2:  Continue the courtship.  Just because we were married didn’t mean that we should all of a sudden stop dating or complimenting one another like we did before we tied the knot.  To keep the fire burning in a marriage relationship a couple needs to spend time together, something that becomes a real challenge when kids come along.  But we made our relationship with one another the highest priority in our marriage next to our relationship with God so that we wouldn’t be staring at a stranger across the dinner table when our kids left the nest.  One word of caution here: You will have to be very intentional about this because it’s so easy for our time each day to get swallowed up by things of much lesser importance.

Principle #3:  Communicate, communicate, communicate.  Years ago I read that in 90% of all marriage difficulties, communication is the main problem.  And this is something that most couples have to really work at because it’s so much easier to stare at a TV or computer screen or cell phone rather than engage one another in conversation.  I was guilty of doing this when we lived in Naples, Florida.  I would work all day and well into the evening, then come home and just want to sit and watch the Michael-Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.  But then one night Marilyn cleared her throat rather loudly and said, “Aren’t you forgetting someone here?”  Much to my shame I had to admit that I was.  So from that point on we resolved that when I came home and the girls were in bed we would sit on the couch and just talk and get caught up on each other’s day.  This can be done other times, like around the dinner table or right before you go to bed, but it just needs to be done.  Like one author has put it: “Good communication is like a lubricant which keeps the wheels of our relationship running smoothly.”

Principle #4: Magnify each other’s assets; minimize each other’s liabilities.  Oh how easy it is to do the exact opposite, especially when you’re stressed or having times of conflict.  I confess that I have been guilty of that more times than I care to remember, especially years ago.  So again, you’ll have to be intentional about this.  And be on guard against using words like “always” or “never” – “You’re always late!”  or “You never do anything around this house!”  Those words cut deeply and are not easily forgotten.  And remember, God made you different from one another for a reason, so that you will complement each other and complete what is lacking in the other.  That’s what the Bible means when it says that the two shall become one.

Principle #5: Major in the little things.  While big things like big gifts and expensive presents are nice, it’s really the little things you do for each other that serve as the glue that holds the marriage together.  So be generous with words of appreciation, tender touches and hugs, helping one another out, admitting when you’re wrong and apologizing, forgiving an offense and not bringing it up again.  Put simply, selfishness and self-centeredness are to have no part and no place in a successful marriage.  Instead, let sacrifice and selflessness be the order of the day around your household and it will pay huge dividends in the long run.

Principle #6: Keep the triangle strong.  Think of your marriage as a triangle with you and your spouse at the bottom corners and God at the top.  Now picture yourselves moving up the legs of that triangle toward the top.  What happens to the two of you?  You not only get closer to God, but you also get closer to one another and He becomes the divine glue that binds you together and keeps your relationship strong and vibrant.  Having seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in lots of marriages over my 36 years in the ministry, I know that I would never want to enter this relationship and face the challenges that it brings with it without the aid and assistance of almighty God.

These are just a few of the principles I’ve learned over the past four decades of being married to the most wonderful, caring, giving human being I have ever known.  I pray that they can be of some service to you in your marriage.  And Marilyn, thanks for the best 40 years a guy could ever hope to have!  How about we make it another 40?

Blessed far beyond what I deserve!