I recently spoke to a college class and early on said something I had not planned to say. It went something like this:
“I’ve been married 38 years, and I wish more people could know how wonderful it is to have shared so much of life with the same person. My wife and I know each other in ways that only time makes possible.”
It wasn’t much, but it was a celebration of years of love and commitment. And I went on to other things. At the end of class I asked what had stuck in their minds. Several noted the “Wheel for Christian Living” I’ve developed, but one woman said, “What you said about your marriage.”
Since then, Trese and I have celebrated our 39th anniversary. We did so at The Oasis restaurant overlooking Lake Travis -- a beautiful place on a beautiful night with my beautiful lady. I call her Lady Trese and my daughters princesses. Forgive me if I’m hokey. (My sons don’t get called princes; that just seems odd.)
I hope something of the beauty of marriage comes through. Do not be fooled; Trese and I have our disagreements, and some have lasted for years, but there is more that holds us together than pushes us apart.
Marriage in general, however, is struggling today. Many people are living together sexually without marriage, and many others have broken their marriage vows of sexual faithfulness.
I focus here on the adultery -- married people having extramarital affairs. It seems to be growing, as countless public figures are being outed for screwing around, and some of them are supposed to be Christian leaders. It may be growing, but it is not new.
Trese and I were watching a PBS special on The Roosevelts -- Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor -- and it detailed Franklin’s affair with his wife’s assistant and the damage it cause to their family.
It seems there was a time when marital infidelity had its foothold primarily among the wealthy. They had more leisure and more contact with the opposite sex. (And that’s who most people are attracted to.)
The working classes, on the other hand, were consumed by long hours and many days of working, often in dirty conditions, with men together and women together. It is amazing that a six-day, 50-hour work week once had difficulty becoming law. Regular folks didn’t have as much time and opportunity to cheat on spouses.
This is no longer the case. All Americans have much more leisure than their predecessors of a few decades back. And many people now work in environments that regularly put them in contact with people of the opposite sex and away from their spouses.
Some men prey upon women, and I guess the opposite may be true, as well. Some want to exercise power and abuse that power; others seem to revel in the excitement of a new, illicit romance.
As someone who has been married and faithful for 39 years, I primarily write to those of you who are new in your marriages. Be careful. Your marriage can be wrecked so easily, and your lives and your children’s lives can be forever scarred. Many of you are even victims of this in your families of origin, where an unfaithful parent broke apart your original home.
Young married people flush with the feelings and romance of their early days together sometimes do not realize the dangers that lay ahead. Honeymoons do not last forever. It is easy for couples to get comfortable and distracted. And when this happens and you work and play around others, attraction can happen surprisingly.
Something must be said that your animal nature will not like. Flee attraction! Get away from the source of the attraction. Physically, get away. Your marriage and your family’s health hang in the balance of your decisions.
Marriage is best and strongest when seen as a commitment of two people for life. It is a commitment built on a mixture of time together, communication, sex, romance, shared interests, encouragement, support, disagreements, and much more. It is not only a commitment, but it most surely is a commitment if it is to last and to last well.
I have said nothing about faith to this point on purpose because I wanted to focus on the practical. But, do not be deceived, faith is the key to holding your life together -- faith in God, faith in God’s Spirit to help, guide, and strengthen you.
A wonderful young man who has trouble sensing the reality of God recently told me of his own unfaithfulness to his wife and the damage it has caused to his beautiful family. God loves this young man, and I’m confident the divine Spirit sent up warning flags inside of my friend. But, the truth is, we need to learn to listen to God’s Spirit before we are in critical moments of life when decisions are made that affect so much and so many.
I close with some words from that most practical of biblical books -- Proverbs.
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you crooked speech,
and put devious talk far from you.
Let your eyes look directly forward,
and your gaze be straight before you.
Keep straight the path of your feet,
and all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
turn your foot away from evil (Proverbs 4:23-27, NRSV).