On a Wednesday evening 50 long years ago, before the church choir practiced, a couple wed in a simple ceremony. Today, they remember grumblers grumbling that they had to wait for the brief wedding to wind to a close before climbing into their accustomed spots in the choir loft. The pair can no longer recall who played the organ for the ceremony. During the reception, the groom’s sister stroked the piano’s keys. Pictures help tell the rest of the story.

As the couple celebrated 50 years of marriage together, four loved ones who attended their original nuptial ceremony came to remember and rejoice. Fifty years ago, one was 3, the other 5, the eldest 7. Together with their mother, they had thrown handfuls of rice, long before birdseed or bubbles evolved into trends. The fourth who joined them in celebrating their Golden Anniversary was their maid of honor. She has always been by their side. Together, they are inspiration.

Marriage is no simple matter in this present age. Statistics are statistics. People are people. Studies show contemporary marriages disintegrating. But studies also show that the longer a marriage lasts, the more likely it is that it will continue to grow. Moreover, studies show that the couples who maintain those long-lasting marriages are more likely to live longer and better.

Those who live out lengthy marriages are blessed and live as blessing. “What’s your secret?” To a long life … to a happy marriage? My spouse and I know the gift of parents whose marriages are at least 50 years long. We look on them and see common threads:

» First, space. My husband’s parents both grew up in close quarters. They both know the value of having a little bit of space. She has hers. He has his. My parents are much the same. They share space, but they also enjoy use of and spend time in different spaces in different ways. In some ways, this sense of space translates to their respect for each other’s passions and interests.

» Appreciation of the other’s unique attributes. My father is quite good at supporting his wife in her crafting and creative spirit. Mom encourages Dad in his woodworking, rebuilding and tinkering habits. My husband’s parents encourage one another in their own social commitments and community efforts. Each makes allowances for the other’s quirks and good humor.

» Faith and commitment. Both couples have long-standing belief in and commitment to God. They come from faith communities and remain steeped in the values of those connections that shape their respective home lives. They live committed to each other, to see the other grow to his/her full potential and to help their families of origin, choice and community develop with their support.

» Enduring patiently and forgiving well. Honestly, my parents know how to squabble well. I reckon I’ll always be able to hear in my mind’s ear my mother getting after my father when he says something a bit too … well … himself. I’ve heard my husband’s parents quarrel, but they argue respectfully and acknowledge one another as unique selves. “Never go to bed angry,” I’ve always heard it said. My husband and I are a bit too much fire and stubbornness to achieve such a goal. We follow the lesser-known second half of the quote: “Stay up and fight.” We are both fully aware that we have seen our parents model the practice of forgiveness well.

» Laughing together and honoring each other’s stories. These two couples know well how to laugh with one another, to laugh with others and to laugh at themselves. How many times has each listened to the other’s stories? So that the other can surely fill in the empty spaces when the first begins to see memory fade. We know where our parents come from and where their ancestors came from, as well. Those stories of survival, success and suffering give witness and shape to our shared lives.

What makes a long, healthy, well-loved marriage? What have you seen? What have you known? What do you live?

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Longing to breathe deeply and to walk with others as they seek to meet their longings, C.A. Rollins writes and invites you to reflect with her at carollinswrites@gmail.com.

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