Simple Steps to a Lasting Marriage

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: I read in one of your articles that you have been married a long time. Just from your experience, how can a couple maintain a happy marriage for such a long time?

I wrote the following article in response to the above question several years ago. Someone expressed appreciation for the article, so I decided to rerun it. I guess you might call this an anniversary article, since this coming Friday, August 28th, we will have been married 49 years. Other than committing my life to Jesus, marrying my wife is the best thing I ever did. I will proudly admit that 49 years is a long time, but the time has gone by so very quickly. Since you asked for my experience, that is what I will give you. I cannot prove that what I am about to tell you has any empirical basis.

The first thing that comes to mind is that when my wife and I got married, we married for life. The idea of divorce was not allowed in our vocabularies. We used to tell people we were “stuck,” but in a good way. Divorce just was not an option, so we would have to work it out. It was a mutual commitment.

Secondly, if marriage is to be happy, meaningful, and lasting, you have to work at it. We have been married a long time, but we have worked at it. There have been high points and low points, but never did I ever consider not being married to my wife. So, the only option is to work to continually make it better. I have often said it is like a puzzle—you work at it until all the pieces fit together. I work at trying to figure out my wife, and she probably does the same.

Third, it is very important to strive to eliminate selfishness. When you marry, you agree to live for the other person, not your self. I know that flies in the face of all the “self” theories that have flourished over the past fifty years or more. Instead of self-actualizing by getting more education, or a better job, or greater prestige, it may take the form of a better marriage by living for the other person. It’s amazing how reciprocal love is. I am reminded of an article by Michael P. Horban titled, Marriage License a Learner’s Permit. It’s all about living for the other person. I will share it with you for your enjoyment.

It’s a wise groom who has to be dragged to the altar. He knows what love is. It’s death. If the lovers don’t know this, they’re headed for trouble. Never will you have your way again. You can’t be happy if this other person isn’t. No matter who wins the argument, you lose. Always. The sooner you learn this, the better off you’ll be.

Love is an exercise in frustration. You leave the window up when you want it down. You kiss when you have a headache. You turn the music down when you like it loud. You learn to be patient without sighing or sulking.

Love is doing things for the other person. In marriage two become one. But the one isn’t you. It’s the other person. You love this person more than you love yourself.

This means that you love this person as she or he is. We should ask ourselves frankly what that impulse is that makes us want to redesign a person. It isn’t love. We want the other person to be normal, like us! But is that loving the other person or ourselves?

Love brings out the best in people. They can be themselves without artificiality. People who know they’re loved glow with beauty and charm.

Let this person talk. Create the assurance that any idea, any suggestion, any feeling can be expressed and will be respected.

Allow the other person to star once in a while. A wife’s joke doesn’t have to be topped. Don’t correct your husband in the middle of his story.

Cultivate kind ways of speaking. It can be as simple as asking them instead of telling them to do things.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Married life is full of crazy mirrors to see ourselves—how stubborn, how immature we really are. You may be waiting for your wife to finish because you never lift a finger to help her.

Love is funny. Its growth doesn’t depend on what someone does for you. It’s in proportion to what you do for him or her.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected].