Paul Simon sang, There must be fifty ways to leave your lover, which was a fun song in 1975, but turned out not to be the life I was interested in. I preferred Dan Fogelberg’s lyric from 1991:
Now that we love
Now that the lonely nights are over
How do we make love stay?
Now that we know
The fire can burn bright or merely smolder
How do we keep it from dying away?
This Sunday, July 28, marks 40 years of marriage for Cyndi and me. (That’s 14,611 days, or 4.4*C, or 38 years with wind chill.) In 1979 Cyndi was 21 and I was 23; in my memory that felt older than it does now.
We ask each other all the time - Why have we stayed married for so long when others don’t? We aren’t so arrogant to think it was all up to us no matter how hard we’ve tried. Too many perfect marriages fall apart, often couples we know well. The truth is, to either of us, no other life looks better, or more exciting, or fulfilling, than staying married to each other. Our love grows deeper and richer year by year and I can’t wait to see what it looks like in 2059 for our 80th.
True to form, I made a list of some of the things that have worked for us. They’re randomly sorted because I’m not smart enough to rank them. I would be interested to hear your own suggestions. What has helped you?
Forty ways to keep your lover:
1. Be proud and brag. Boast about your spouse’s accomplishments in public and let them overhear your boasting.
2. Don’t complain. Never complain about each other to someone else. I don’t complain to my family or friends about Cyndi, and she doesn’t complain about me to hers. It’s hard to say “I’m sorry, I was wrong” once the group battle lines have been drawn.
3. Trust each other. It isn’t easy for any of us to ask for help. Be vulnerable and ask.
4. Be loyal. Cyndi and I see ourselves as a two-member team, back-to-back against all boarders.
5. Grace. Don’t say, “I told you so.” There is nothing to gain from that except to feel like you’re the hero and your spouse is the loser.
6. Flirt. Never stop flirting with each other ... serious, frequent, grown-up flirting. For example, I won’t walk past Cyndi without brushing my hand or touching or bumping her. She has often asked me, when in a store trying on clothes, “Come in the dressing room and feel me in this.”
7. New. Read to each other from new books and share new things you just learned.
8. Listen. Intentionally listen to each other. Cyndi will sit and listen to me read on and on from my journal, especially after I come down from a solo backpacking trip. It’s a rare gift.
9. Dancing. I’ve learned the courage to dance with Cyndi, and she has the grace and patience to dance with me.
10. Together. You don’t have to do everything together; however, we climb mountains, go to yoga class, enjoy study dates at Rosa’s, play music, run races and marathons, and hold hands whenever anyone is praying.
11. Guard. Jealously guard those few opportunities to be close. Back in the day we never let the kids sit between us at church. That was our space.
12. Share. Let your spouse safely share their weirdest ideas, rawest thoughts, and edgiest philosophies.
13. Space. Some of the best advice given to us before we married was to find our individual lives apart from each other. It seemed crazy at the time since being apart from each other was what we were trying to eliminate, but we learned to give each other space. We don’t have to do everything together.
14. Learn. Take every personality test or compatibility survey you find, to learn more about each other, how to take care of each other and respond to each other. Through the years Cyndi and I have learned to enjoy our differences as an asset.
15. Money. Don’t fall into the trap of my money vs. your money. We’ve always treated money as ours no matter whose bank account it sat in. And yet, one of my favorite gifts was when Cyndi bought my road bike. The checkbook she used had both our names on it but she made a point of writing and signing the check, endorsing my new adventure. I told everyone I knew.
16. Always changing. Allow each other room to change through the years. No one stays married to just one person, even if we marry only one person. We all change and grow.
17. Impression. Make it a point to never appear like you’re looking around for a better deal. Not even a hint.
18. PDA. There’s nothing wrong with some public display of affection. Cyndi and I have even been busted in the church hallway. I remember one time at home when one of our teenagers saw us kissing and told us to get a room. I pointed out, “These are all our rooms.”
19. Support. Support each other’s adventures, whether running marathons, or playing trombone and congas, or buying a yoga studio, or hiking the Colorado Trail.
20. Music. Reinforce those deep bonds that first brought you together. Cyndi and I first met in a high school band hall in 1973 and fell for each other at a One O’clock Jazz Band concert in 1976. We’ve played together in the FBC orchestra since the late 1980s and have recently traveled on music mission trips together to Israel, Guatemala, and Hungary.
21. Simple decisions. Work out a system for making those decisions that drive couples crazy, as in, where to eat, or what to watch. For us, the first person makes 3-5 suggestions and the second must pick from that list. We both end up satisfied.
22. Abandon. Give up the notion that your spouse will make you feel completely satisfied all the of the time.
23. Show up. Show up for each other every day.
24. Assume good intentions. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt in all conversations and decisions.
25. Side by side. Cyndi held me and believed in me when I got laid off - four times.
26. Origin Story. Talk often of your early days, how you found each other, why you fell in love.
27. Faith. Our shared faith is one of the first things that drew us together. Through the years our best conversations have been about faith and theology and ministry, and some of our best times together have been worshiping and ministering.
28. Attractive. Work hard to stay attractive for each other. Don’t leave any opening for buyer’s remorse.
29. Friends. Surround yourself with people who support your marriage. Avoid negative people and negative situations.
30. Chores. Take time to make the bed or carry the trash even though you know if you don’t the other one probably will. Small gestures of tact and consideration add up.
31. Advice. Be careful. Unsolicited advice always feels like criticism regardless of your intentions.
32. Songs. Play love songs for each other often. Let them soften your heart like they did in the beginning.
33. Lucky. Each of you should consider yourself the lucky one.
34. Hands. Lots of handholding; especially when driving down the highway.
35. Never assume. Don’t take your relationship for granted just because you’re married. Courting and winning each other’s heart and attention is a lifelong adventure.
36. Friends. Meet each other’s friends and coworkers. (see #17) I assume no one knows me well until they know Cyndi, too.
37. Your song. Whatever your song is, respond to it. Anytime I hear the song Fallen, by Lauren Wood, I know Cyndi is moving toward me with arms outstretched.
38. Rescue. Protect each other from long (or bad) conversations with crazy people. Cyndi was especially good at this back in my government days.
39. Attention. Notice when your spouse enters a room full of people. Cyndi often walks across a crowded room simply to stand next to me within arm’s reach. I always take advantage and pull her in closer.
40. Decide. Make the decision to be in your marriage for the distance. No detours, no turning back, no dropping out, no cutting the course.
Of course, this is only a partial list. My first draft had 60 items. Why don’t you make a list of your own? It’s a worthy exercise to do together. Marriage is the sort of thing where it’s safer to go all in, and it’s dangerous to go in half-hearted.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32