How does a marriage survive and improve with time, asks Mary Eileen Andreasen

OLDER couples must have a secret. Their marriages defy the odds and they are often examples of generosity and kindness for several generations.

What do they know that we don’t?

I watch older couples with fascination, hoping for insight. I need to learn from them. I’ve been married for more than 30 years and an empty nest faces us.

Kids have a way of distracting you from your marriage by their wild noisy chaos. These days, there’s no distraction. It’s just us. I’ve already vacuumed three empty bedrooms and shut the door. Our child is graduating from high school this year and the house is falling silent.

How does a long marriage survive and improve with time?

I know a good marriage is the union of two good givers and forgivers, and, of course, I’ve learned that marriage is so much more than glamour and sexuality.

The older couples I know have talked about the need to stay active, try new things and meet new people. They have not lost their zest for living and willingly embrace a quiet but meaningful life. A priest friend calls this “the courage to be boring”.

But there’s something more.

As newlyweds, we had no idea what our struggles would be. We had no thought for the future even though everyone tried to warn us about the gloom and doom of “difficult times ahead”. We didn’t pay attention.

Hard times hit soon enough and came with unrelenting wavelike fury. The unplanned pregnancies, the seriously ill child and the surgeries, the moves and the job changes overwhelmed us.

There also were the moodiness and the restlessness we both fought.

OVER the past 30 years, we have buried our parents and some siblings, paid thousands in tuition fees and walked three of our five children down the aisle.

Our life has unfolded day by day, side by side. We have felt the years zoom by like spectators at a car race. So far, we’ve survived.

But after the years and tears of raising a pack of kids, something maturing is happening to us. We know so intimately about the life of the other that compassion and charity have taken deep, deep roots.

Knowing the hardships and the triumphs my spouse has faced helps increase my respect for him. I have stood witness to the ups and downs of his life, as he has with mine.

This doesn’t happen with all unions. Marriage can be a stormy sea, and often it’s not a faithful partnership. But for caring couples, I think this is the secret.

In stable marriages, couples grow in kindness and respect through the passage of time. They desire the good of the other because they alone know the deepest secrets of their spouse.

I love Thomas Merton’s description of the Christian life as the “school of charity”. It’s also a mantra for marriage.

There’s a quote attributed to the Jewish philosopher Rabbi Abraham J Heschel that says, “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”

Kindness and respect are the pebbles that can slay Goliath. They allow the Holy Spirit lots of room to work.

I want to be around when my husband is elderly to know that he receives good care. He has been a good father and husband, but I know his life has not been easy. We’ve both been tested in the fire over and again.

We know what our journey has been and respect how hard we have worked and the trials we have endured. That’s the secret, I think. As the chant says, “Where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found.”  - CNS

Andreasen has worked in a variety of ministry settings for 20 years.

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