It is a common theme in fairy tales. The prince or sometimes even the princess falls in love with someone beneath them on the social ladder. They go through great peril to rescue their beloved and at the end of the story, they marry. As the story usually ends with this phrase, "and they lived happily ever after". What we are not told about are all the ordinary days between the wedding and death. We enter marriage starry-eyed and hopeful only to find ourselves surrounded by dirty dishes, laundry, a husband (or wife) that snores, runny noses and skinned knees, bills and a prince or princess that is utterly exhausted at the end of the day.
Perhaps our heroes get through those first few difficult years of marriage. I suspect that often it is because they are so bewildered by the chaos of small children that they go into auto-pilot and simply keep on moving. If they are not careful, their lives become consumed by two things, work and children and if they are not careful there is little room left for their spouse.
The divorce statistics for "empty-nesters" is staggering. While it is assumed that unhappy couples stay together merely for the sake of the children, separating once they leave home, I don't think its that simple. I think there is another problem at work, a problem of spousal neglect. A good marriage just doesn't happen. It takes work and commitment by both the husband and wife. Too many couples focus exclusively on their children and in doing so, neglect one another. In fact, our society even promotes the idea that your children and yourself must come before your spouse. No wonder the state of marriage is so dismal!
Early in our marriage my husband and I discovered the importance of stepping out of our normal routine and taking time exclusively for one another. We were married less than a week before we began our senior year at a college that was hundreds of miles away from family. In some respects that was a good thing because all we had was one another to lean on.
Our final semester was a flurry of study, papers and work. My husband was a full time student who worked from 3-11 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as a security guard and I was student teaching. It suddenly seemed like we didn't have time for one another anymore. We were too busy simply trying to live.
Right before spring break, a friend of ours asked if we could drive him to his parents home in Atlanta for break. Atlanta was about three hours away but sure, we would drive him to Atlanta on Friday.
After we dropped him off, I remember thinking how nice it would have been if we could have taken a little break and stayed away from home for just one night. There had been no money or time to go visit his dad or my mom over spring break. Besides, we would be graduating in just about six weeks. Still, it would have been nice to have taken a break, no matter how brief it was.
My husband must have been thinking the same thing because when we exited the interstate, he suddenly looked at me and said, "Let's not go home tonight. Let's find someplace to stay instead." I opened my mouth to say that would be silly as we were only about five or six miles from home but I closed it again. He was right. We had been under a strain and we simply needed a bit of alone time, removed from the distractions of our normal life.
The next morning, after breakfast, we headed for home. We both immediately noticed that just that brief break, that short moment of taking time for one another, had revitalized us. We had a renewed enthusiasm for finishing the race before us and something else had happened as well. We had given each other the gift of ourselves.
This made such an impression on us that we made a promise to one another, one that we have faithfully kept. At least once a year, we celebrate our marriage by planning an overnight trip. Most of that time, that trip is actually only a few miles down the road but that doesn't matter. What matters is that we mindfully give each other the exclusive gift of ourselves.
Your children grow up, move away and even start families of their own but hopefully your spouse is there right beside you until the two of you are parted by death. Our children are our children but our spouse is "bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh" which God has joined together. Anyone who has lost a spouse, nearly lost a spouse or suffered the pain of divorce knows these are not merely pretty words. It is true. Our spouse is a part of us which must not be taken for granted.
A good marriage doesn't just happen. It takes work by both a husband and a wife.