“Keep the fire lit in your marriage and your life will be filled with warmth.”-Fawn Weaver
This past August, my husband and I celebrated a milestone in our lives – our 30-year wedding anniversary. Three decades! Over 10,000 days being married. I’d calculate the hours and days, but that may overwork my calculator!
Of course, our anniversary was an exciting observation for my spouse, myself, our children and our parents. I wish my dad had been here to celebrate, but I know he was smiling from heaven. I remember when I was a little girl, he stated that he would choose my husband. And when I shared with Dad that I was engaged, he was ecstatic. At the time, my soon-to-be-husband was stationed in Alaska. He proposed to me over the phone, and I received my engagement ring via UPS. I had to pry the package out of Dad’s hands, reminding him that it was addressed to me.
My husband and I met on a blind date, arranged by friends of ours, who had just met in college. Home for the Christmas break, my friend and her boyfriend described three of their friends they wanted me to meet. I chose the soldier, who was home on leave, and who was stationed 14 hours away via plane. Why? Well, should the date be a disaster, the possibility of ever running into each other again was incredibly slim.
Of course, we hit it off famously, and our story began.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Separated for nine months, we planned a wedding from afar and learned a lot about each other through letters and very expensive phone calls from the mainland to Alaska. After we were married, we lived a fairly routine military life: many moves, two children born in different states, then out of the Army and back home. Two more children entered our world, then the 9-11 terrorist attacks changed our family’s world – and back to Army life, this time as a Reserve family.
Our life together has been dotted with challenges: job losses, financial pain, military deployments, burying loved ones, disappointments.
Our life together has been amazingly blessed: Four children, the addition of our oldest children’s spouses, granddaughters, laughter – lots of laughter – strong faith, survival of the tough times, weddings, birthdays, graduations, confirmations, baptisms, seeing our children’s talents, watching them grow into amazing adults. Hands-down, we would say, “I do,” all over again.
As we got closer to our anniversary, I started reading blogs and comments about other long marriages. I wondered if there was any “secret” and if so, how did my husband and I rate among these folks. Honestly, I became depressed. The more I read, the more I witnessed pain and despair from people in long marriages, ending their lives together. Twenty, thirty, even forty years. I kept reading, trying to see why those couples fell apart, and panicked: could that happen to us?
Straight up answer – yes, it could.
Realistically, it could happen to anyone. And with the stress of a military marriage, just like the stress in any other high-adrenalin occupation – police, firefighters, etc. – a couple’s odds of marital failure are increased. Families of first responders and families of the military deal with fear of injury and death - for the most part on a daily basis. There is physical separation, missed holidays, lonely anniversaries, solo-parenting at special events – the list is endless. Additionally, these families deal with injuries, PTSD, loss of colleagues and other job-related issues.
So, my quest continued. Is there a magic formula for keeping it together? How do some marriages last, and others unravel? At some point in any relationship, there are bound to be arguments, hurt feelings, betrayal of trust, financial distress, illness and disease, and a host of other problems. So, I kept reading articles, blogs and commentaries. Some stories were so profoundly sad, and others – less in numbers – were inspiring. It seemed that there was so much negativity toward marriage, I wondered why anyone even bothered.
Recently, though, I have started to see some encouraging blog posts. One was from a man who was divorced, and he laid out a plan for other men to follow. It went viral, as he described how he hurt his spouse, and what he’d do differently. Another recent post was a young man whose father gave him advice – basically, that by treating your spouse well, your spouse will reciprocate. In a nutshell, treat others as to how you want to be treated – age-old advice that is true in any circumstance.
Out of all my research and reading, I did not find any one particular piece of advice for sustaining a long-term marriage. From what I gathered, mutual respect, trust, love and forgiveness were some of the key components. Noteworthy were the articles and books about how men and women think and view the world in different ways, and many times not understanding our differences makes for difficult times. I think that respecting each other and our differences goes a long way in better communication – another key ingredient to strengthening our vows. And from a few folks in the medical community, the need to understand, acknowledge and support the physical and emotional changes men and women go through during their lives, especially mid-life, is another critical area of focus. And, of course, supporting each other’s dreams, careers and ambitions help bolster the couple.
As a military spouse, our families are subject to frequent separations due to training, temporary duty assignments and deployments. In fact, in the past eight years, my husband and I have spent four wedding anniversaries apart. Service members leave home, and the spouses are left behind to keep the home fires burning. Whenever I hear this phrase, I picture a pioneer woman, literally keeping the fire burning – handling her role as well as her spouse’s. It brought to mind a metaphor, and I believe, it sparked an a-ha moment – a frequent occurrence lately for this mid-life writer…
Marriage is like a fire. It starts out as a spark, and as the flame grows, it becomes hot and, sometimes, unpredictable. Once it settles down a bit, it becomes “perfect.” The heat begins to level off, and the fire is soothingly warm and comfortable – somewhat predictable. However, it still needs to be tended. Add a log or two, and it will keep burning. By becoming complacent, and carelessly letting it burn down too far, there is danger of the fire going out. However, even if there is just a little heat, the embers, which are cooling down, can be regenerated. It isn’t too late to save. Stoke it, add a little oxygen, then add another log, and the fire will return. It may need some prodding, but with patience and time, the flames will grow. Is it easy? Not at all. One can easily forget to toss a log on the fire when busy and away from the fireplace. It can become a hassle to keep the fire burning, but if it isn’t attended, the fire, at some point, will die out.
It isn’t easy to be the tender of the fire. It takes time, and sometimes there is only one person to keep it going. But, when it is well-tended, the rewards are amazing. There is warmth, comfort and light. There is satisfaction of keeping it going, even through the difficulties and the moments that it seemed impossible.
And, ultimately, there is joy in sharing something so very precious, so very life-sustaining, so very comforting.
Do you have any thoughts on how to keep a marriage strong? Any favorite metaphors? Feel free to leave a comment.
© Lynne Cobb – 2014