When I was working in full time ministry, we would plan marriage enrichment events (seminars, retreats, classes, etc.). I would often talk to older couples who had been married for 25+ years and encourage them to participate. Answers that I heard ranged from “Well, that stuff is just for newlyweds,” to “No thanks, if we haven’t gotten it figured out by now we never will,” to “We’re just fine. Why mess with it if it isn’t broken.” One person even told me, “If you don’t quit telling people they can have a better marriage, you’re going to make them feel bad.” (I’m still trying to figure that one out. Why would you settle for less than what you could have?)
While it was certainly not every couple, there was a large percentage of older couples who had decided that they had progressed as far as they were going to as a married couple. Apathy and complacency (which is very different from contentment) in regard to their covenant marriage partners had been allowed to define what was normal and acceptable. The desire to pursue one’s mate, to try and reach new levels of intimacy, to deepen one’s love for his/her spouse was viewed as unlikely and unworthy of the effort.
Even now, I still regularly hear similar comments from my friends in ministry. They wonder what it will take to get couples that have been married for a long time excited about marriage again; to make them want to see marriage as a calling of God and a way of living the Kingdom-life. What do these couples need to want to keep growing themselves, but also to share with other couples the joy of healthy, Christian marriage?
Now, I certainly don’t believe that participation in a church’s marriage ministry is the only, or even the most accurate measure of a couple’s love and devotion. But for covenant Christian marriage to mean something, for it to be discernable different from secular, civil marriage, then couples who have been married for a long time should regularly be investing in their own marriage relationship even as they are investing in healthy marriages within the faith community.
If you fall into the category of an older couple, or a couple with a long-term marriage, here are a few things to consider:
- Younger couples are looking to you to see what Christian marriage is supposed to look like. Do you and your spouse speak encouragement and blessing into each other’s lives, or do others see criticism and contempt? Do you laugh together often? Is it obvious that you prioritize your mate above other relationships? Do you pray together? Do you practice your faith first-and-foremost with your spouse? Do other couples see you living in forgiveness, and humility, and accountability with each other? Participate in life with younger couples (including church marriage ministry events) — they not only need you to be there, they want you to be there.
- Never stop discovering your mate. When you’ve been married for a long time and you have a shared history, it is tempting to think you know all there is to know about your mate. And part of the comfort of a healthy marriage is being able to know even as you are known. But, when you stop the practice of actively trying to learn about your mate, his/her joys, worries, fears, anxieties, hopes, dreams, feelings, you effectively communicate that he/she is no longer worth pursuing.
- Pursue each other relentlessly. Especially when you’ve been married a long time, it is easy to love your spouse but to not actively cherish him/her. Cherish your mate in a way that shows you believe “till death do we part” to be a blessed promise that you are eager to keep. Pursue each other physically. Pursue each other emotionally. Pursue each other intellectually. Pursue each other socially. Pursue each other spiritually.
Each stage of life brings its own unique set of blessings and challenges. Let each stage of life also bring new ways that you can renew your love for your mate day-by-day. Don’t settle for less than what God can and will give you through your marriage relationship. In doing so, you will show your spouse, your family, your faith community, and the world what an awesome God we serve.