How to Stay Married for 70 years

IMG_1018*Last weekend my Mom’s family celebrated the 70th Anniversary of my grandparents. Throughout the weekend, I wanted to develop a summary of how it could be possible to be married for 7 decades. In other words, what does it take to stay married for 70 years? So I asked my grandparents, asked some of the guests, and reflected deeply on my 19 years of marriage for some clues. Here’s the summary of the six primary principles that emerged from those conversations and thoughts— It’s overly-simplistic, and I’m sure in the years ahead I’ll enrich this list, yet this is deeply-good and deeply practical advice stemming from my grandparents’ 70 years together:

#1. Simply Live The one conditional factor that makes it most possible to be married for 70 years is the simple fact that a couple must live long enough to be married that for that many years. (What? You were hoping for a deeper/reflective point than this? This is a pretty important ingredient, don’t you admit?) My grandparents were married in their early 20s and are still going. Sadly, many people are widowed by the time they reach their 90s. Death is certainly a nasty enemy to the longevity of marriage. And yet, my grandparents, interestingly enough, talk openly about death, have made plans for it, and aren’t going to be surprised by it. They recognize that most of the people they’ve known closely in life (e.g. friends and family) have died or are in their final seasons of life. They have been given the opportunity to treasure their 70 years together… and so they have counted it a privilege. (*Note: I could make some comments about eating a healthy diet to live long enough, but my grandparents have had their share of red-meat, coke and mcdonald’s and avoided doctors over the years… so I’m not sure any healthy living tips are going to make this point any stronger.)

#2. Live Simply One reason my grandparents have been able to stay married for 70 years has to do with their simple lifestyle. They avoided the unsettled yearnings for “more”– a temptation to which so many people fall prey. A marriage that is constantly dissatisfied with its circumstance and that always “needs something else” is a discontent relationship. My grandparents have embraced the secret to living with much or living with little through practicing a lifestyle with contented hearts. They weren’t desperate consumers. They didn’t need to live from one “fix” to another. They were content to live simply.

#3. Stay Young My grandparents laugh and smile. They enjoy “little” things like playing cards and puzzles, rides in the car and watching football games, talking about their day and sharing stories, telling jokes and being with friends. During their life, my grandparents ran a grocery store business, raised three children, cared for their own parents, have dealt with the deaths of loved ones, and have prepared for final transitions into care-facilities and even burial plans. With this in mind, no one could ever rightfully claim that their life was without stress or without demands. They have not been protected from the miseries or complications of life. They have not been wealthy and they’ve not had a remarkable retirement income for last 30 years. And yet, somehow, they’ve lived with a youthful sweetness and fun-lovingness for as long as I have known them. Being child-like is not a phrase that many adults would want to have associated with themselves. But I find their simple youthfulness to be inspirational.

#4. Enjoy Each Other & Enjoy Others My grandparents are most in their element when they are sharing life. My grandparents don’t desire to be alone for very long. My grandpa, even with the pain of shingles, still loves to entice you into a game of euchre. My grandma still reaches down to the floor to play with a puppy or play with a great-grandchild. They both love conversation and meal-times and swapping stories and talking about life. They enjoy road trips with friends and loved ones. And their eyes sparkle and their mouths smile when they see others. They cherish each other and look out for the other and tell the other how they look and how they feel. Their conversational-life contributes to their long-life, their content life, and their youthful life.

#5. Deepen in Faith – My grandparents, especially in recent years, have shown a pattern of deepening in their faith. At over 90 years of age, my grandpa, for instance, is engaging in Bible Studies with more free passion and application than perhaps any other time in life. That sort of deepening focus leads to an enriched confidence as life enters its twilight. A marriage where a couple is pursuing to be in right relationship with God is a forward thinking and other-oriented relationship. A deepening faith encourages humility and integrity and love— elements necessary to a life-long marriage.

#6. Don’t Divorce – The killer of a lifelong marriage is divorce. For my grandparents it was not an option. It wouldn’t be. I understand this is a sensitive topic to many people, even many people close to our families. Divorce is messy, it is painful, it is emotional, it is gut wrenching. Some circumstances are beyond repair and out of the control of one or both of the spouses. I’m not insensitive to the real realities and difficulties of marriage. Generally speaking, however, to be honest, in our society today, divorce is too easy. “Marriage” is committed to trying to walk together through those difficulties and “divorce” is not. Some people dismiss the marriages of people like my grandparents as being “from simpler times” or “old-fashioned” expectations. That’s not fair to the 25,000 days of dedicated work they’ve put into their relationship… and it’s not an accurate picture of the decades of circumstances surrounding their walk together (e.g. WWII, Cold War, assassinations, Vietnam War, the 1960s, Disco music, family stresses & hurts, not to mention the everyday scenarios that emerge from living with another human being for 70 years).

**Thank you, Grandpa & Grandma— Gene and Madeline, for your legacy. It was such an honor to honor you last weekend. May Kathy and I have 51 more years together (19+51=70) so that we could smile together at our 70-year-old wedding photo just as you have at yours. May the Lord bless you in the twilight years ahead with deeper love than you have even yet known. Thank you for inspiring me.

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