I overheard a conversation while I waited in a long line for a community event. Harsh accusing voices rose from a husband and wife who disagreed over an issue concerning their child. A bystander abruptly joined the conversation and commented to the mom, “I’m glad I’m divorced; I don’t have to endure that arguing any longer. I get to make decisions for my child without any friction.” My shoulders slumped and I sighed. A light bulb went off in my mind and I knew this was something to ponder. Oh, to be alone.
I’ve had many thoughts about togetherness and aloneness and their results. My husband, Tom and I lived weekdays apart for a year and a half. He’d taken a job in another state and I stayed home to take care of important matters, such as our daughter’s wedding and helping out with our first grandchild. I was surprised and a bit concerned to find how relatively easily we adapted to living alone week after week. Sure, we looked forward to our time together. But in between we learned to adjust quite well to an independent self-serving routine. Even sleeping alone had its advantages. Let’s just say that for me, it was a much quieter, restful sleep. Acclimating again to the sound of snoring wasn’t easy.
Soon after I moved to Columbia, Tom and I drove to Lowe’s to purchase a dryer. We turned into the parking lot and I rolled my eyes at the unorthodox roundabout way he maneuvered into the parking spot. I said, tongue in cheek, “If you would just do everything exactly like I do things, and you’d say things exactly like I say them, you’d never bug me and we’d get along perfectly. “We laughed, and I realized I’d stumbled upon my Achilles’ heel—selfishness. There exists in all of us a natural impulse to do things our own way.
Selfishness rears its head in all human relationships, but it shouts in marriage.
Occasionally married couples live apart for a season because of jobs or military deployment. I chatted with a friend about such scenarios we’d seen through the years. She said, “You know, I can see how living apart could be easier.” I thought, of course, it’s easier to be alone—you only have yourself to consider. Sadly, some of my acquaintances who chose to live separately, eventually divorced.
Some husbands and wives live alone in different geographical areas. Others live alone even while under the same roof. I worry about them all. A marriage’s default is separation. No one needs to work to focus on themselves. We have to work to keep our marriage covenant the priority. I’m afraid couples don’t know how easily they can lose what was once the Most Important Thing. Marriage isn’t an organism that magically keeps two people together. It’s an organism that requires its parts to work in a coordinated fashion to keep it going.
Marriage is under attack in our world, and the divorce rate is high. I sometimes wonder why people still want to marry. I suspect their desires are somewhat like mine were before I married. I wanted a man to love me and make me happy. I was a follower of Christ and I’d read the Bible and various books about marriage. I knew a lot, I thought. But how would my desires (for me) benefit my husband? Did I begin that very important relationship thinking, now I get to really serve another person up close. I finally get to wash someone’s dirty underwear and clean up the mess someone leaves in the kitchen.
I may need to hold my tongue, change the way I squeeze the toothpaste tube or load the dishwasher.
While nothing has revealed my self-focus and self-preservation like marriage, absolutely nothing has brought me more purpose and joy. Our marriage isn’t perfect, but it has gotten better and better over our 35 years together. We’ve gradually learned to surrender to Jesus and put each other first.
Marriage is a covenant of unending and unmerited love for another person. Being married is a wonderful opportunity to grow in Christlikeness as we adapt to each other. For Tom and I, our deep camaraderie and companionship developed over time. A smile here, a kind word or loving touch there—even when you don’t feel like it—and you’re one step closer to real oneness.
Marriage is one of the most beautiful and meaningful arrangements divinely appointed to humans.
I’m sad when I hear news of another divorce, even if I don’t know the people. I want to beg couples to not give up because I believe, so often, they may be on the verge of a beautiful relationship after they’ve weathered storms together.
Billy Graham shared his secret of staying happily married to the same woman for fifty-four years. “Ruth and I are happily incompatible.”