The primary quality a baseball player needs in order to be selected for the Hall of Fame is longevity. They are not chosen because of one-time feats of greatness like pitching a perfect game or hitting four home runs in one game, or even short term spurts like winning the Most Valuable Player one year. It is possible to be the best player in the game for three or four years and still not be chosen. Everyone inducted into the Hall of Fame had a relatively long career of very good baseball. In fact, I think one of the requirements is a ten year career.
Since longevity is a valuable thing, I am celebrating a major milestone in life that is a consequence of longevity – a fortieth wedding anniversary. Reflecting back over those four decades, and yes, I can remember that far back, I have a few ideas about why our marriage worked when the majority of marriages don’t.
- Failure was never an option
In the movie Apollo 13, when it appears the astronauts were in desperate trouble and unlikely to make the return trip, the leader of the team seeking solutions uttered that memorable phrase, “failure is not an option.” This is a great attitude to have during many experiences of life, but it is especially valuable in marriage.
When Sharon and I first got together, we both went into it with the conviction that we would spend the rest of our lives together. I can honestly say that the possibility that our marriage might not work never entered either of our thoughts. We knew we were in it until the end.
This made much of life easier. Whenever we had a disagreement, no matter how serious, we knew we had to work it out. Such an attitude takes away a lot of options. You can’t get mad and storm out of the house for a week, or you can’t threaten to leave when you don’t get your way. When both of you know that failure is not an option then you can focus your efforts on finding a solution.
Several years ago as I got out of my van in a hotel parking lot, I noticed a flat tire on my wheelchair. It was getting late on a Saturday evening so I quickly found an auto repair place nearby and explained my problem. The young man looked at the tire and surmised he could not replace it nor would any of his inner tubes or tire patches work. After a few minutes he said, “I’m afraid there is nothing I can do.”
I looked him in the eye and said, “You’re not understanding what I said. We are going to fix this tire tonight. We have no other options.”
He went back to work on my problem and within a few minutes found a solution. It is amazing how often we can be successful when we take the possibility of failure out of the equation.
It doesn’t require a special talent to stay in a relationship – just an unbreakable commitment from both partners.
- Make your spouse a priority over your children
This is difficult for some because it is easy to think that our children need us to protect them, even if it means losing the marriage. However, the reality is that the best thing you can do for your children is to love your spouse.
I have three terrific sons. The reason they are so great is not because they have a great father – it is because they have a great mother and father. The best thing I have ever done for my boys is to love their mother and give my best to make her life successful.
This is true for both men and women. It is probably harder for women since we typically think of mom as the primary caregiver of children. However, if she is not completely committed to making her marriage work, her children will have a much more difficult time.
Sometimes this will require focusing on your spouse rather than your children. You are not doing your children a favor by striving to meet their every whim and ignoring your marriage partner.
Sharon has been the most important person in my life for 40 years. I love my boys, their wives, and their children, but none of them has ever had a priority over Sharon.
- Be completely honest in sharing yourself, but be kind enough not to share everything
Every marriage begins with secrets. It’s impossible to reveal everything about yourself until you have lived together for a long time. However, over time it is important to be completely honest about yourself. In order for a marriage to endure we must know each other. The danger of dishonesty is that eventually the truth will come out and if the truth is opposite of what you have claimed then you have lost trust.
Don’t pretend to be something you are not. Share your fears and failures, your dreams and hopes. In doing so you allow your spouse to love the real you. I am always surprised by those TV crime shows when the police tell a wife something shocking about her husband that she did not know. I don’t think there is anything about me that Sharon would be surprised to learn – she already knows it.
She knows my weaknesses. She can immediately spot when I lose interest. She is not afraid to remind me if I am being rude or insensitive. She is willing to call me out when I exaggerate a story a little bit too much, but she also knows when to allow me to embellish something because she knows I enjoy a good story.
Being completely honest, however, does not mean that you tell everything. There are times when kindness suggests keeping your mouth shut. An obvious example – Sharon asks how I like her new shoes. Does it really matter that much? Obviously she likes them or she would not have bought them, and as far as I’m concerned, her opinion about them is much more valuable than mine. There are times when kindness trumps honesty.
There is one more thing that must be understood before a marriage will achieve longevity. It only requires one person to ruin a marriage, but it takes two people to make a marriage work. In other words, Sharon and I have made it to forty years because we both did what was necessary. If either one of us would have given up then both of us would have failed. I have known individuals totally committed to a spouse, but their mate did not share that same commitment, and the marriage always fails.
Forty years have gone by in a hurry, and in some ways it doesn’t feel like I’m old enough for that to be the case. In other ways, the time has taken its toll.
During our wedding ceremony in 1974, Sharon and I lit a “Unity Candle,” which signified two lives become one. However, we forgot to extinguish the individual candles so my father joked that the two became three. In forty years the two has since become fourteen and counting. There have been some great benefits to longevity. Perhaps someday we will make it into the Marriage Hall of Fame.