How does a marriage hold on to such a loving relationship through to the very end?
How do partners manage to keep their love so strong?
…Sandy dove into those loaded, open-ended questions with an instant specificity, as if I had inquired about her phone number or street address. The kind of details you rattle off mindlessly.
“Divorce was never a thought.” Her answer was completely unadorned and matter-of-fact. “A life together forever was our only plan.” They had executed that plan throughout Jim’s lifetime. Marriage was their “plan A,” and that was the only plan they’d had.
The reason Sandy and Jim very rarely argued, but instead listened to each other’s sides intently and calmly agreed to disagree when they didn’t see eye to eye, is that they’d never put pressure on themselves to resolve an issue immediately. As far as they were concerned, they would be together forever, so an agreement could be reached over time. Neither was ever so invested in his or her individual position that they weren’t willing to consider the other’s opinion.
“But it wasn’t just that,” Sandy continued. “It was a lot of little things. We treated each other with respect. We loved as unconditionally as we could. which grew over the years. We compromised a lot; both of us did. We put each other above every other relationship we had.” ❤
Like most complicated things where it’s easy to get derailed, their marriage was successful because they mastered the basics. From that mastery they could weather anything.
“We stayed connected physically, held hands, kissed, danced. We didn’t allow the outside world, even tough things happening at work or with other family, to impact what went on between us.”
At this point, Sandy dabbed her tears.
“Do you have any regrets?”
“Yes, hun, two of them that are with me every day.”
“One night, six years ago, Jim had a terrible dream that seemed so real he woke up and thought I was dying. He shook me awake–I was barely with it--and said, ‘I have loved every moment of our fifty years together. I have loved having you as my wife. I have loved being married to you.'”
“I never got a chance to say the same to him one last time.” Sandy was looking at her hands shaking nervously on her lap. When Jim died, he went in a matter of moments, sitting in their bed. She was just in the other room.
“The second thing I regret is that we didn’t go together. I’d always prayed God would take us together.” she said as her somberness settled on the room. I could hardly believe what she’d just said. I, too, have prayed that prayer in earnest about Keith and me.
To some, it may seem like a weird request. It’s definitely presumptuous to hand God your time card and tell him when it’s time to clock you out. What I could see in Sandy helped me understand why I have prayed the same thing. When your marriage is the nucleus of your life, it gets harder and harder to consider the things orbiting around it without your spouse. If you’ve been married for a long time, imagine yourself making coffee for one or laughing at the TV and looking over to share the fun with nobody. Praying to die at the same time is, at its heart, a plea to forgo suffering. This is perfectly normal.
“I was mad at God for two years because He didn’t answer that prayer. I’m still grieving Jim. It’ll be three years soon.”
She told me that every time she asked God why she was left, what her purpose is on earth, God’s response never changed: “Finish grieving. Then let’s talk.” Every person is different, which means God has different things to say to different people. So please don’t take this as a universal conclusion, just one that applies to Sandy. God is giving her the space to grieve her loss before moving her on to what’s next. God knows her grief, knows that she now has a sort of ghost limb and has to relearn some things.
“Jim and I always put our marriage first. Do you think I’m a terrible person for saying that?” she said as our interview came to a close. There was a solemn air in the room, but there was also a sense of peace.
“Why would I think that?” I said.
“Early in our marriage, we knew that once the kids were gone, we would still be married and have to work on it. So, we decided to pay it forward. We worked in the first year like we wanted things to be in the fiftieth year. I’m so glad we did,” she breathed. “I really do miss him.”
There was a pause of recognition from both us, and then we put our hands on the armrests of our seats to hoist ourselves to our feet. Bonnie, who had been dozing next to Jim’s chair, took her cue and bounced up. No barking this time.
Sandy and I hugged and exchanged our parting words. Part of me wanted to keep talking, but a deeper part knew that it was time, that the right conversation had happened between us. She shuffled me toward the door, which had been locked and dead bolted the moment I cleared the threshold. She got the main door, and I unlocked the latch on the screen door.
I squinted my eyes in the California midday sun.
“Do you know the way out?” she asked.
I knew the way out, and after talking with her. I knew a bit more about the way forward toward a great marriage. Despite Sandy’s loss, there was still possibility in her life. Possibility for beauty and connection. Possibility for sweet remembrance. Possibility for connecting with God and moving forward into the next phase of her purpose. Like the ocean, He had been ever present with her just like the rich story of her life with Jim. Those two things had shaped her and couldn’t be taken away.
I looked at her with earnest, empathetic eyes and said, “Yeah, I can get back to the ocean.”
~Fawn Weaver (Happy Wives Club; 2014)
“We assume that since we’re committed, our relationship is solid and doesn’t require the time, attention, and energy it did in the early, less secure, days. On the contrary, it’s a big mistake to take your partnership for granted and assume that the relationship doesn’t require the same kind of care and attention that it did before. If neglect continues for too long, it can be a recipe for disaster.”
“There is no silver bullet to a love-filled marriage. Sticking to your goals of strengthening your marriage and being a true partner is a life-long endeavor. Go kiss your spouse!” ❤