Focus on the Family: Staying Married for Life


Today, as my  mother often said about her marriage to my father, “We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re on our way, and most importantly  we’re still together.”  

by Karen O’Connor 

I kissed my husband John goodbye, waved as I backed down the driveway and drove off for a weekend public speaking engagement. His last words rolled across my mind.

“Be safe and have fun. I realize when you come home you’ll be a new person. I’m looking forward to the changes I’ll see.”

We had talked the night before about not taking each other for granted – in other words, assuming we knew all there was to know about one another – and about the importance of supporting each other as individuals with ideas, dreams and goals of our own.

Yes, we are a married couple but we are also individuals – a man and a woman who have talents and gifts of our own. Changes and challenges were inevitable and we wanted to accept rather than resist them. We committed to working on our relationship so we would not grow complacent.

I can say today, as my mother often said about her marriage to my father, “We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re on our way, and most important, we’re still together.” She and my dad had walked side by side and climbed over a few boulders, as well, for more than 60 years.

The following suggestions for staying married for life (and happily so) are based on observations, conversations and trial and error in my marriage. They work – thanks to my parents’ example, the advice of people I admire and the counsel of an older married couple, Robert and Grace, who befriended my husband and me many years ago.

Perhaps they will work for you too; practice it and then experience the rewards and results in your marriage.

How do you keep it together in a marriage?

Be Available

Being “there” for your spouse is what being married is really about. It takes time to get to know another person. If you’re not available, it can’t happen. Our friends Tom and Jenny go out for dinner every Friday night and they have done so for more than 30 years. When their children were young, they had their parents over to watch the kids. Nothing but a serious illness keeps them from this weekly date where they focus on one another in a relaxed setting.

Peter awakens his wife Christine each morning with a cup of her favorite tea. The two then sit in bed together and talk over their plans for the day.

Carol and Alan work together in real estate—a business with unpredictable hours and lots of driving. One works in the field, the other in the office. “Believe it or not we rarely see each other during the day so we’ve made a point of having lunch together,” said Carol. “Nothing gets in the way of that one hour when we can talk, plan, laugh and debrief.”

And Mary and David bought a karaoke machine when they spend their time together each night before going to bed. “The couple that sings together stays together,” Mary joked.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Be Attentive

Have you ever walked up to someone at an event, and as you begin talking, he or she nods and makes polite sounds, but is clearly elsewhere in spirit? He scans the crowd while he’s standing with you. Or she peeks around your shoulder as if to say, “I wonder who else is here.” It’s chilling to be on the receiving end of such treatment. It’s bad enough when it occurs at a social or business gathering, but it can be devastating in a marriage.

To be attentive, one must pay attention! Look your spouse in the eye. Listen for your mate’s heart, not just for his or her words. This is an area of challenge for almost everyone. We lead such busy lives that many of us have made a habit of doing more than one thing at the same time. We make phone calls while driving, cook with one hand and scribble a list with the other, cut a child’s hair as we help our mate with the monthly finances.

Later we wonder where the years went and why we don’t feel as connected to our husband or wife as we hoped we would. We long for another hug. We wish we could laugh and play more. We notice a growing distance between us. If this is true for you, take heart. It’s not too late. Regardless of how long you’ve been married, you can learn from those mistakes. Each of us can choose today to start paying attention to the person we promised to love and cherish for a lifetime.

Be Aware

A friend of mine had a successful restaurant business for 20 years. He credited it to his weekly round-table meetings with his employees. “He knew his people would not be effective if they were carrying around emotional baggage,” said his wife, Anne. Each Monday morning Frank invited them to share anything that might interfere with them doing their job. “At the end of the meeting you could feel the change in the air,” she said. “Employees felt closer to one another because they knew they weren’t alone. Other people cared.”

This custom inspired me. I started practicing it with my husband. Instead of assuming I know what’s going on with him when I suspect something is upsetting him, I’d ask if he’d like to talk and if so, I try to listen and empathize rather than rush in with a pat answer.

Be Appreciative

“Thank you.”

Two words spouses don’t hear often enough – from one another:

  • “Thank you for being my love.”
  • “Thank you for working so hard for our family.”
  • “Thank you for supporting me.”
  • “Thank you for being you.”

Gratitude is not an option. Give thanks in all circumstances.

The more we express our appreciation toward our mates, the freer we become of negative thoughts and emotions toward one another. Resentment and judgment cannot exist in the same space with appreciation.

“Gratitude is the rosemary of the heart,” wrote 19th century writer Minna Antrim.

How little it would take to sprinkle rosemary into the lives of our spouses. A simple ‘thank you’ every single day would do it!

As we become available, attentive, aware, and appreciative toward our marriage partners, we are building a relationship that will last a lifetime – and happily so.


This article was extracted by Focus on the Family Malaysia with permission.

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