13 Principles For A Lasting Marriage


"Newlyweds become Oldyweds, and Oldyweds are the reason families work." - Unknown

This year my in-laws celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and today my parents hit #54.

Wow!  Can you imagine doing anything for 54 years?

When you've accomplished such a feat, you have authority and insights into marriage that the rest of us "newlyweds" don't have.  My parents don't have a perfect marriage (they'd be the first to tell you so), but they are happy and they have a lasting marriage.

I spent some time chatting with them this week and asked them for their top insights about how to make a marriage last.  These are snippets from our conversation; 13 principles that make a marriage last.

1. Choose well

My mom was 19, my dad was 26 when they married.  Dad says he picked mom out of "all of the good looking girls I dated" because she was willing to "walk with me" no matter what.  Naturally, my Dad, the man with the duct tape Bible,  quotes Amos 3:3   " Do two walk together unless they agree to do so?"  It's a rhetorical question, but he wanted to get the basics right and find a bride who was willing to walk with him regardless of circumstances.

2. Have a Unified Faith

When you can't agree, it helps to have a common link that unites your purpose.  For my parents, that was their shared faith.  Even when circumstances were rough in their marriage, they prayed and worshiped together.

3. Give Grace

You're going to fail.  Your spouse is going to fail.  If you want your marriage to last, you have to know how to give people grace.  The classic definition is "a favor rendered by one who need not do so."  Even when you don't have to do a something for your spouse, you do it anyway.

4. Be a Student of Your Spouse

Figure out what's important to your spouse by putting yourself in their shoes.  This is how you come up with "operating principles" such as "Don't talk to each other when 'Hangry'" or "Observe the '10-to-10 rule.'"

5. Be in Community

My parents were SO young when they married, they will tell you they didn't know how to do anything well.  They didn't know how to communicate, manage money, deal with conflict, raise kids - nothing.  They credit surviving these tough learning curves by getting together with small groups of couples in similar situations (young couples w/o children; young couples with small children; couples with teenagers, etc.).

Marriage isn't meant to be done alone.  You need a community of people around to help keep you sane!

6. Suck it up

While this principle was lived out by both of my parents, the "suck it up" phrase is entirely my father's.  He says he was "stupid" much of of the time, but he knew he didn't want to screw up the marriage, so he had to face his shortcomings otherwise "the marriage was going to get away from me." He said they made their marriage work because during the rough spots they were willing to "suck it up" and "ride it out."

Don't give up.

7. Remove Options

A corollary to "suck it up" is to remove the option for leaving.

My parents never saw divorce as an option, so they never factored it into the potential solutions.  They lived by the fact that they made their vows not merely to each other, but to God himself.  Both will tell you if divorce had been on the table for them, they would have considered it, but since it wasn't an option, they decided to "suck it up."

8. Establish Traditions

Both of my parents brought up the important role traditions played in their marriage.  They looked forward to their date nights and family trips.  They enjoyed the time they had with the "in-laws," and they loved building memories with their children.

In establishing significant milestones in their marriage, they were able to recognize that they were building a legacy.  In doing this, they understood a bigger value in what they were doing and that made the effort more worthwhile.

9. Ask for help

My parents describe their time with a marriage counselor as critical in their marriage.  They describe how "the rough patch" was navigated successfully because they had an outside voice speaking into their lives.  "Don't be ashamed to get help" is a refrain you'll hear them both say.

10. Eat together

Dad said his goal was to always have one meal with my mother every day.  This meant they had to prioritize being home during dinner.  Although this sounds quaint, I realize this commitment to daily, scheduled connection was pivotal in staying together.

Think of how easy it is to miss this basic goal.  If you DON'T get a meal, you better be getting your Date Nights!

11. Apologize quickly

Dad was a bit of hot head, but when you ask Mom about this she talks about how quickly he recognized his temper and apologized.  She said by doing this, he gave her freedom to acknowledge her role in disagreements and helped her to apologize as well.

12. Define your role according to your strengths

Mom talks about how she got stuck thinking that some tasks were "masculine" or "feminine." She says life got easier when she accepted that that wasn't necessarily so.  Leverage the strengths of your spouse and don't let the "norm" set your family plan.

13. Remember that love is not a feeling but a decision.

I remember seeing this motto on our refrigerator for years.  Feelings always follow behavior. So it doesn't matter if you don't "feel" loving, you have to "act" loving regardless.  It's irrelevant whether you "feel" like respecting your spouse, you should act respectfully always.

Of course, when I interviewed my parents, they were quick to say, "I don't know if this will work for everyone, but this is what we learned."

I appreciate them hedging and not wanting to force their thoughts on others, but after 54 years, I think we'd all be wise to listen to their insight.

I am so grateful for their model.

Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad!