Two couples I know are celebrating 60 years of marriage right now. They are very different twosomes but they also have a few things in common with Helen’s and my 42 plus years together, ingredients that from what I have read and observed are quite important for long-term marital and other close relationships, although by no means essential.
A common background
We all live with polarities and need and value them. We hunger for both security and stimulus, time and life inside our front door and beyond it, character traits and interests we have in common as well as skills and qualities that make us unique and which we can contribute to the common good.
Helen and I have come to realise only on later reflection how our growing up set us and most of our contemporaries up for a long and harmonious friendship and marriage. We were raised in a sizeable Christian community of Dutch migrants; it had shared values and beliefs and this enabled us to meet many prospective mates, some whom would be very, very compatible with us! It’s a privilege and a joy for us to revisit our “home territory” in southern Tasmania from time to time and reconnect with so many who are “still together” and feeling fulfilled in lots of ways. Like so many others we chose a mate (usually largely unconsciously) who met many of our longings and needs and did not disappoint us, because there was so much we already knew and shared.
Beliefs and values in common
These ingredients for a happy marriage were not something Helen and I recognised in our youth: we took them for granted, as do most people who grow up in what is often termed “a sheltered environment” but can also be described as “a good nest”.
It is a sad feature of public life today that universities have had to include a course called “ethics” in (for example) their engineering degree, and that we hear government financial watchdog voices reminding the business and finance worlds of the need to be principled as well as successful. We grew up with a mostly sensible and certainly durable faith and array of values.
Lifelong marriage based on Christian commitment and values may seem narrow and repulsive to some, but (as I see it) by most measures there is little that gives society greater benefits. Everybody can list at least a few blemishes and drawbacks of organised religion (whether it be Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Calathumpian), but it’s rare to find somebody who has a word of criticism about those who are credible in their following Jesus Christ and doing the kind of things he did.
Helen and I have tried to reflect what people admired, loved and respected in Jesus Christ: that’s a high and in a sense a totally unattainable goal, but it’s what we have I believe done together in a sincere and recognisable way since the 1960s. The respect and trust we enjoy confirms how lucky / blessed we have been.
Because we have found it impractical to follow a very relational Jesus in isolation from real red-blooded people, we have made Christian community in several of its forms an integral part of our lives and work. It is just too easy to say: “Jesus yes, Jesus’ people no!”
Our main regret about this is that we sense a degree of difficulty relating meaningfully to people outside the school, church and aged care communities with whom we spend much of our time outside the home and family. But we also realise that our work, personalities and shaping contribute to where and with whom we feel most comfortable and effective.
There are at least two ways Helen and I have tried to reflect Jesus in his being “the man for all others”.
In our heart attitude and by our reading we have been able to accept almost everyone we have met on our life path or who has crossed our path. And (perhaps just as importantly) we have helped, challenged and guided the Christian communities we have belonged to, to also want to welcome, understand, accept and be of real help to people who may in some ways be different from us.
For me, blogging has been second and more recent way of meeting and working with people outside our personal paddock. Helen has done the same for much of her life through her school networks.
Time for preparation
Helen and I regarded our years of growing friendship before we “tied the knot” as a time of testing and trying. By the time we married we knew each other quite well, although it is certainly true that “all of life is learning”.
We accepted the Christian standards of “marriage is ideally for life” and “sex and marriage being like a horse and carriage” (belonging together). Our life experience has not given us any reason to doubt the benefits of those standards, however demanding, unpopular and unfashionable they may be. And for many, they may in fact be unattainable.
For Christians, the most intimate parts of our sexuality run parallel to the heart of our faith, and so they enrich each other. I can understand and also respect that for people without that profound Christian truth and commitment, our sexuality can express itself and enrich our lives in a variety of ways. But I can’t get away from the fact that cost and benefits come together – often, and notably in this wonderfully powerful and enriching part of our humanity.