By Bev and Phil Haas
We just had some friends tell us they’re ending their marriage. It seems like more and more Christian couples are divorcing. We’ve started talking about what we can do to divorce-proof our marriage. What has helped your marriage last?
Bev and I were married 37 years ago. Looking back now on our first few years, I (Phil) admit I was pretty clueless about what it would take to make a marriage last. Now, after two children, two grandchildren, and almost four decades of married life, I think we both have learned some lessons.
We started a list of what we’ve learned in our years of married life. To answer your question, we chose four of these lessons to share with you:
Make faith in God your foundation.
In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus compared two builders of two homes—both were besieged by storms. We should get a clue from that. Over time our homes—and our marriages—will end up in the midst of storms. The storms that come our way can either push us apart or pull us closer. Bev and I have found that our faith has not only drawn us closer to God over the years, but it also held us together during the struggles that inevitably happen in a broken world.
For seven years we didn’t think we could have children, and then there was a miscarriage. There were challenges in Phil’s ministry and the loss of a job. There was a prodigal child and the day Bev’s dad died. We learned that marriage is for better and for worse and that God can use the worse to merge us together.
You have to decide to keep going through the tough times rather than fall apart. We imagine a triangle with each of our names at the bottom corners and God at the top; as we both move nearer to God, we draw closer to one another.
Never use the d-word.
We know from Malachi 2:16 that God hates what divorce does to the people he loves—but how do you feel about divorce? Bev is from a family that has a long line of lasting marriages. Unfortunately, Phil has experienced just the opposite. He has watched his parents go through the dejection of multiple divorces, along with both of his siblings and his best friend. Whenever Phil’s parents had arguments, they usually ended with a threat that they would divorce when the kids were older.
Early on in our marriage, we agreed to never use divorce as a threat or even let the d-word cross our lips. Instead, we look for ways to use the c-word—commitment. Every year on our anniversary, we say to each other, “If I had it to do all over again, I’d still marry you!”
Accept your differences.
Couples marry one another because they’re different and divorce each other because they’re different. We couldn’t be more different. Bev is an extrovert and Phil is an introvert. Bev uses her feelings to process life while Phil processes by thinking. Bev likes to sleep in when she’s off while Phil likes to get up early. Our differences can go on and on.
But here’s the key for us—we learned to reframe our differences as the means that God uses to complete us. Both of us would say that we are better people because we have been sharpened by the other just “as iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17). Of course the sparks fly sometimes as a result of our differences. But in the end, we have learned to accept one another and appreciate how God has made us so different.
Be quick to forgive.
Colossians 3:13 says, “Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you” (Contemporary English Version). Ruth Bell Graham pointed out that, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”
Forgiveness means we give up the right to punish the other person. Trust us, in a marriage relationship there are plenty of deeds you both are going to commit or omit and injure the other person. You have to decide to let these go once you have forgiven. If you fail to learn this lesson, your marriage may fail.
Worldwide Marriage Encounter recognized John and Ann Betar as the “longest married couple” in the U.S. for 2013. They’ve now been married 81 years. John and Ann told the New York Daily News that there are no secrets to a long marriage, only a few simple rules. John noted, “We just live with contentment, and we just go with the flow.” Ann added, “God seems to have been with us.”
Bev and I aren’t sharing these lessons as a couple who feels like we’ve arrived. We’re still journeying. Compared to John and Ann, we are only at the halfway mark!
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children and they have two grandsons.