Today is my 30th anniversary of my marriage to my only husband.

Today is my 30th anniversary of my marriage to my only husband.

I read a lot of advice on how to stay married, how to be happily married, how to make marriage work.

Most of this advice comes from some “expert” solemnly intoning that if you want your marriage to survive, you have to “work” at it. They usually go on with advice about “date nights” and prenuptial agreements and how to make his and hers careers work and whether or not it’s a good thing to have children. By the time they get through, they make marriage sound like a death march of “work” and rules. Marriage in the marriage experts’ words, sounds like less of life, not more.

Nobody ever asks these how-to-make-marriage-work questions of those of us who’ve managed to muddle through the decades with our one and only life-long loves, raising families, building lives and providing the stability that keeps this nation from falling over from its self-inflicted wounds. I think the reason that no one asks us (aside from the fact that, since we don’t have a degree from an institution of higher learning certifying that we are competent to have opinions about marriage) is that what we have to say is too short, too simple and too flat-out effective to make good copy.

My experience is that when you’ve been up all night with a croupy baby and the family’s tiny bit of spare cash just went to the plumber, date nights become nonessentials. Prenuptial agreements seem a tad silly to people who live from one paycheck to the next. And once you have children, they come first, not your trendy his and hers careers.

What you need to give staying-power to your marriage is … trumpet fanfare and drumroll … love.

You’ve got to love one another. If making your husband or wife happy makes you happy, and if you both feel that way about each other, then you’ve got the makings of a long, happy marriage. If, on the other hand, all you really care about is what makes you happy and you view your relationship with your spouse as some sort of extended sibling rivalry where you compete for who gets what, then you have nothing to offer, because there’s nothing you are willing to give.

My advice, if you want a happy life, is don’t be this kind of person and don’t marry them, either.

Far from making less of life, marriage puts you squarely in the center of it. You can spend decades as a single person, consuming and pleasing only yourself all day, every day, and never really come in contact with life as the organic reality it is. Life lived that way is a form of stasis. It is fun. But it’s meant to be grown out of. There comes a point in every life worth living when it has to be about more than you and what you can get. Life, to be lived, must ultimately be about what you can give.

Marriage changes you in ways that I never considered before I was married myself, ways that I didn’t understand while they were happening to me. The simplest and most important way that marriage re-aligns you and your life is that you are not one anymore. You are two. That means you are not alone, in both the good and bad of not being alone.

Marriage is a blessing. God blessed us with marriage because He saw that it was “not good” for us “to be alone.” Alone has its place in life. Solitude can be a creative, meditative and fruitful experience. But solitude turned sour is loneliness and loneliness that goes on too long becomes despair or bitterness. Shallow, come-and-go relationships cannot break this cycle. We were made for deeper commitments than that. By our very natures, by the incredible male-female complementarity of humanity, men and women were made to complete one another.

But for marriage to be the blessing God intended, both people have to love the other. The husband has to love his wife. The wife has to love her husband. You basically have to be willing to stick your hands in fire for the man or woman who is your life’s partner, your best and sometimes only friend, the one human being you can always count on to be there, to care, and take your side. God gave you parents to get you grown. He gave you a mate for life to get you the rest of the way home.

I went through the usual mid-life thing during which I counted up my regrets and took a wishful look at what I wished I’d done differently. At the end of the day, I realized that everything I’d done, even the things I regretted, had been on the path that brought me to my husband and children. The one thing in my life that I would never change is them. That, on balance, made the rest of it, if not ok, at least something that I could accept.

If you want your marriage to work, love your spouse. Love them so much that when they are happy, that alone makes you happy. Cherish them. Take care of them. Stand by them. And enjoy them.

Your husband or your wife is God’s gift to you, bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh, heart of your heart. Together you make family and home. These things are the best and the fullness of life in this world.

  • Tami

    Very, VERY well said, Rebecca. Thank you for your fidelity and witness. (btw, can’t seem to find the ‘like’ button. Am I missing it here?)

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Tami. I don’t think there is a like button here. I wish there was, too.

  • Mary B.

    Congrats on your anniversary! And thank you for your beautifully-written (as usual) advice. My husband and I are both in our mid-twenties and have been married just a tad over three years. I cling to every word of advice I can get on how to stay married…. so far this article has been the most valuable :-)

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Mary and blessings on your new (3 years seems new to me!) marriage.

  • neenergyobserver

    I agree with Tami, unfortunately, my ex (undoubtedly with help from me) screwed it up.

    But hey, CONGRATULATIONS, AND HUZZAHS, to you, my friend, I hope for so many more for you! :-)

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you dear friend. I thought about you when I wrote this. Divorce, I think, is harder than death.

      • neenergyobserver

        You may be right, I’ve only done the one. I will say this though, it’s about 15 years now, and I finally think I’m about over it. It’s hard, alright.

  • Jessica Hoff

    That was so beautiful it made me cry. I wish everyone getting married could read this, and everyone whose marriage is in trouble. A truly wonderful distillation of your experience. By the way, what a beautiful couple you made – and still make, I’m sure. Thank you SO much.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Jessica. Your comment makes me kind of teary, too.

  • Jennifer

    Happy anniversary Mrs. Hamilton! That’s quite an accomplishment. Thank you for the words of wisdom. Keep in mind this is coming from a never been married single gal but I’m glad you didn’t go on and on about the work of marriage. I’ve heard that all of my life. I know there’s work involved but isn’t it supposed to be fun too?! Aren’t you supposed to enjoy the company of the person you swore to God and everyone else that you were going to love, honor and cherish? If it’s THAT much work “somethin’ ain’t right”. Anyway, off my soap box now…

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Jennifer, I agree with you 100%. These “you have to ‘work’ at your marriage” folks are missing the point. BTW, marriage is fun. It also leads to a deeply satisfying and contented life. But you must find someone you love and who loves you back, both with your whole hearts.

  • Tom M

    Good advice! My wife and I just celebrated our thirtieth as well, and I would enthusiastically second everything you’ve said above. Happy anniversary, Rebecca. Ad multos annos!

    (I would be very interested to know your husband’s thoughts on the photo. When she hauled out one of our pics for a party announcement, I was flabbergasted to note that my wife looked exactly the same on our wedding day as she does now. I, on the other hand, now look like a duffel bag with a nose.)

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thanks Tom. Ad multos annos to you as well!

      He didn’t say anything about the photo. Not one word. However, he was beautiful then, and he’s beautiful now.

  • Scott Sholar

    Happy Anniversary, Rebecca!

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thanks Scott.

  • Reluctant Liberal

    Happy Anniversary!

    I want to start out by saying that “If making your husband or wife happy makes you happy, and if you both feel that way about each other, then you’ve got the makings of a long, happy marriage” is exactly right. This principle has been the foundation of my 1 and 1/3 year long marriage, and I expect it to keep my wife and I for much longer than that.

    That said, I couldn’t possibly disagree with you more about male-female complimentarity. My wife and I compliment each other, and THAT complimentarity is the only one that matters. Some women are leaders, and some men aren’t, and if one of those women meets one of those men neither will be doing anyone any favors by trying to fight their own personality. If you’ve found happiness in traditional gender roles, I’m very happy for you. Really. But traditional gender roles would have destroyed my marriage by now.

    Anyway, congratulations again on finding a spouse who compliments you so well. I wish you thirty more years of a blessed marriage!

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you. Blessings to you and your wife, as well.

      As for your “disagreement” I think that we don’t disagree so much as you suppose. I wasn’t talking about “traditional gender roles.” I was talking about the inherent way that men and women complete one another. Men without women quickly descend to the brute. Women without men run in circles. But you put us together and you get civilization. We were made for one another. In my marriage, we’ve switched back and forth many times as to who is the leader. We also each have areas where one of us is far better at something than the other. When you don’t have much (as we certainly didn’t and don’t) you’ve got to use the best of both of you to build the life you want for yourselves and your children. That means playing to both of your strengths. You do remember that I’m a 17-year member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives???? That’s not exactly a shrinking violet, traditional, kind of job, my friend.

      • Reluctant Liberal

        And see, that’s mostly a fair response (I think the monastic life would tend to disprove the brute-circles bits of what you said). But talking about gender complimentarianism masks people complimentarianism. It sounds like you and your husband did a fantastic job negotiating flexible roles with each other throughout your marriage. Each couple has to work together to do exactly that, no matter their respective genders. But that didn’t get top billing in your post. Gender did. That seems backwards to me.

        But again, congratulations! Thirty years is a huge accomplishment, and while I’m too argumentative to leave it at that, I don’t want to over shadow how awesome you and your husband are!

        • Rebecca Hamilton

          I think you worry too much about “roles.” What’s important is the person; your wife or your husband. What matters is not some formal imposition of roles, or even of role-less-ness; it’s the love and giving between a man and woman who are committed to each other throughout life and whatever it may bring them. If the mutual love and commitment are strong, they’ll work out the rest of it.

  • Sus

    Rebecca, I love your wedding gown. The sleeves are very similar to what Kate Middleton wore. 30 years is something to be celebrated. My parents just celebrated 50 years. I’ve been married 17 years. I had to laugh about date night. When our kids were tiny, we had no money or sitter so date night often consisted of folding laundry because I was behind on it.

    I hope you get 30 more!

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Sus, your date nights sound like what ours were! The wedding gown was different from any of those I saw at the time I chose it. Actually, my husband picked it. I narrowed it down to two, one with a big swishy skirt and this one, and let him decide between them. He fell in love with this one at first sight.

  • Rev. Katherine Marple

    HAPPY ANNIVERSARY! Just love seeing married people loving being married. God Bless!

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thanks Rev Katherine!

  • http://www, Patty

    Beautiful article..I especially how you described your “only husband” when I told my only husband he liked it too. You stated things so truthfully. I can remember my mother giving advice before I got married and although said differently the message was the same. And it worked, for us we have been married for 33 yrs. Happy Anniversary – may you be blessed with many many more happy years! Patty

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Patty, and many more to you and your hubbie as well.

  • Art Chartier

    Happy Anniversary!

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thanks Art!

  • rachel

    Happy Anniversary Rebecca and very good advice. My husband and I just celebrated four years of marriage back in October and during that time, many things have happened to us, some good, some bad. However, we still keep going strong. He is my best friend and soulmate who I get to cry, laugh, pray, etc with. He’s amazing and I am so grateful for him. We are still childless and that is one of the more painful aspects. We hope that some day we will have children although we are getting older (I’m 35 and my husband is 43). God bless you and Multos Annos!

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Rachel. I went through the sadness of infertility, too. My children are answered prayers. Literally. I will pray for you and your husband that God will bless you with little ones.

      • rachel

        Hello Rebecca, Thank you for the prayers. We need them a lot. This is a very painful part of our marriage

  • Jessica Renshaw

    It helps to marry the most unselfish, tender, fun, loving man in the world. Makes it easy to respond in love and to apply that modeling to one’s own life. It has been 8 years now and I really, really hope for the sake of you single women out there that I didn’t get the last one!

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I think I’ve raised a couple of them … and they’re still looking!! :-)

  • Wendy

    Congratulations on your 30th wedding anniversary, Rebecca! I love hearing about couples who are beating the odds in such a loving manner. Your advice is wonderful! It’s been 29 for us, and I agree that choosing to make the other partner happy makes the couple happy!
    Blessings ~ Wendy

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Wendy!

  • Manny

    Oh I missed this. Congratulations Rebecca, and many many more. My wife and I have been married over 21 years.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Manny, and congratulations on your happy marriage.

  • Roz

    My marriage to my first husband lasted 26 years until his death from cancer. During his illness, a friend of mine was going through a painful divorce. At one point, she apologized for having called me for support while I was in the middle of such a challenge. I realized then that I wouldn’t have traded places with her for the world. Painful as it was, my husband and I were going through this together. Yes, divorce is harder than death.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I agree Roz.