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So one week from today Sue and I will celebrate 54 years of marriage.

Got “hitched,” as we said back then, at the ripe old age of 20 on 5/27/1967. Couldn’t even wait til June of that year like our friends were doing, let alone taking an extra year and actually finishing college and turning 21.

As you may infer, we weren’t terribly skilled at postponing gratification. Pretty bad omen for anyone getting married at any age, I suppose.

But here we are 54 years later. Still kicking, but not quite as high. And, yes, we did learn how to postpone gratification over the course of time while essentially “growing up together.”

This many years gives us a little credibility with which to offer a few tips on how to stay married until death parts us. There’s little I’ve done in life for 54 consecutive years except for marriage. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my 5.4 ways to go about staying married for life.

1. Practice living in a covenant more than just a contract. Contracts involve getting what we want to receive from a marriage. Covenants involve giving what we need to exchange for a marriage. Has to do with extending grace, or unconditional love. Nothing is so necessary in this world. And marriage is the best possible means to that end. Even the parent who may love you no matter what is unlikely to live as long as you do. Because unconditional love lasts til the end of our lives, so will covenantal marriage.

2. Practice living with compassion more than just passion. Passions deal with liking each other, and that’s important. It’s good to have something we like about each other. But like and love aren’t the same. Like is a reaction. Love is a response. Love is both important and essential. We fall in and out of like. Nobody falls in love. Love is never blind (like is always blind). Love is something we decide to do with eyes wide open, even seeing all the things we don’t like in the other person. Compassion always loves. Passion always likes. We want passion but we absolutely need compassion.

3. Practice communicating more than just assuming. The recipe for arguments in marriage is to misunderstand each other. And the recipe for misunderstanding is to assume. Assume you’re being heard without having to speak.. Assume you’re hearing correctly without having to ask. Best ways to start arguments in marriage. But the best way to reduce (notice I don’t say prevent) arguments involves communication. Listening by asking if you’re understanding your partner's feeling. Then using I-statements to clarify your own feeling. “I feel _______when _____________because” is as close to perfect communication as we’re ever going to get, alongside active listening in itself.

4. Practice character more than just being a corrector. Character is what we do when no one else is watching. But it’s more than that. Character aims to hold ourselves accountable first. The world is full of correctors who like to hold others accountable and offer to correct everyone else’s faults for them. If we are practicing character, we work at correcting ourselves first in order to build enough credibility to offer some small correction of others. Character involves walking the walk first and talking the talk second. Then walking the talk third.

5. Practice celebrating more than commiserating. In today’s world, we can look back and find plenty to complain about. Some couples I have worked with both in marriage therapy and in pastoral care over the decades have only been happy when they were miserable. The best way to look at our past together in marriage is with one part tears and two parts laughter. And while it’s easy to lament the worst of times together, it’s essential that we celebrate the best of times together. For a B do it every year, an A- monthly, an A weekly, and for an A+ marriage do it daily. "The best part of my day with you was __________."

Okay, and now comes the .4 after the other 5. And it goes something like this: practice accepting that you’re going to make a lot more outs than hits. Just as a GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) in baseball would be beyond blessed to hit .400 in way of batting average, so the greatest marriage of all time will have plenty of bad days, or even weeks and sometimes years. Yes, years. Roses have many more thorns than buds. But we don’t get the good without the bad in life. So think in terms of .4 or about 40% success-rate where your own marriage is concerned. Forget perfection! Try to bat .400. That’s a lot of hits to celebrate at the end of any season. The outs are just part of the game. Nobody wins ‘em all. Even the happiest marriage ever has plenty of unhappy moments along the way.

From our 54 years together in marriage, these 5.4 ideas for others to consider practicing are the best I can manage for now. We’re not ready for death to part us yet, so I’m still figuring it all out! Because marriage, more than anything else, is the practice of life-long learning. It is the Continuing Education provider that just keeps teaching.......until death we do part.

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