Loving Advice for the Long-Married

by Julie Barrier

I have two sets of parents. Both couples were wed during the Jurassic period (not really). Both were married almost 60 years. I watched each twosome grow old together.

One pair barely tolerated each other at the bitter end. My folks were sweethearts until death parted them. Mom and Dad had a caregiver in their final years, and they confided that they wanted her to arrive later in the morning so they had time to snuggle and kiss!

My Mom had mid-stage Alzheimer’s, but Daddy didn’t care. He patiently reminded her where to find her shoes and never scolded her for asking the same questions over and over again.

Such long-lasting love!

Yet long-lasting marriages can also become challenging.

My in-laws struggled greatly in their latter years. Although they loved each other deeply, their days were filled with snapping, nagging, impatience, and frustration. Mom-in-law yelled. Pops pouted. At the end, they clung fast to each other and grieved that so many years were wasted in frustration.

“Precious and Papaw” were excellent parents, phenomenal grandparents, and wonderful Christians. They just rubbed each other the wrong way. Their golden years were a bit rusty.

Ancient Sarum wedding vows encourage:“For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and health. For as long as you both shall live.”

My husband and I have taught a bazillion marriage conferences around the world. We explained the “marital satisfaction” scale as fantastic during the honeymoon stage, good during the childhood years, terrible during the teenage years, better as the kids left home and best during retirement-the “golden years.”

We were wrong!

Retirement is not always easy. Marriage can be challenging after partners stop working and spend long hours puttering around the house together. Some couples are healthy, wealthy, and happy. Others are strapped for cash, suffering with debilitating illness, grieving the loss of family and friends, and fearful of the future.

So how do we finish the race with grace?

God promises strength to persevere, but we have to submit to His plan and learn acceptance with joy. Here are three “Scripture nuggets” to revive the romance and survive the challenges:

1. Accept one another just as Christ has accepted you.  (Romans 15:7)

The whirlwind of family life may mask flaws that exist between couples. Toothpaste tubes, chewing loudly and leaving laundry on the floor become battlegrounds. Let’s face it. I have mentioned trivial irritations. However, there are more devastating differences.

We reject each other when one spouse is anxious and the other is carefree. We fight when one partner is disciplined and the other procrastinates.  Jesus accepted everyone, even tax collectors and prostitutes.

Acceptance means loving someone, affirming them and appreciating them whether they change or not.   

2. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

Burdens come in all shapes and sizes. They can be mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual. Some are little backpacks. Some are boulders. A farmer yokes his oxen together to get the job done. That’s why Solomon observed,

Two are better than one…if either of them falls down, one can help the other up…though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

 “Two are better than one…” is Solomon’s way of describing the power of support and protection that marriage provides. The threefold cord is a picture of the amazing bond between God and two marriage partners.

Prayer is the most important way we can bear our partner’s burdens.

Christ is the ultimate “burden bearer.” He took our sins and suffering to the cross. Burden-bearing for an aging spouse may include dressing, driving, or helping with housework.

Don’t try to do life without help. God provides family, friends and church homes to come alongside the elderly.  I have observed that those couples actively develop a support system will find it much easier to survive.

3. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Be gracious, polite and courteous, not rough, rude or blunt. My husband always opens my doors, walks on the outside of the sidewalk, and pulls out my chair. He is as chivalrous as Sir Walter Raleigh.

Be thoughtful and helpful, not insensitive and selfish. Be understanding and compassionate, not callous or unconcerned.

Be patient and tolerant, not edgy or easily annoyed. Be big-hearted, not begrudging. Be forgiving, not vengeful.

Be gentle, not rough or harsh.  It takes energy and effort to be kind.

Only Christ can accomplish such sweetness in us. Many husbands and wives don’t want to go the extra mile. It’s exhausting. But when your loved one is gone, you miss the inconveniences. The extra time is filled with loss and regret. Love while you can. Each moment is precious!

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