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Marriage Maintenance

Our marriage has also been a journey. An adventurous one. When Ron and I first started out as a married couple, we were sure we were on the right path. Each of us thought we had the best possible traveling companion.

by, Patti Francis, MD

My husband Ron and I love to hike. Give us a day, and you will find us on a well-loved trail near our home in California. Give us a weekend, and we’ll venture further afield. Give us a week, and who knows where we’ll end up. But know it will be a hiking trail which immerses us in the beauty of God’s creation.

 

Our marriage has also been a journey. An adventurous one. When Ron and I first started out as a married couple, we were sure we were on the right path. Each of us thought we had the best possible traveling companion.

 

But every journey has its hills and its valleys, and many journeys involve climbing difficult mountain paths. “My traveling companion could be doing things a bit differently,” we each thought. And, “Is my backpack carrying more than my share of the burden?” Throw in a few kids along the way, and the path seemed to get downright rocky!

 

We embarked on that journey in 1977. I was starting my third year of medical school. Our first little unexpected detour was our daughter Corrie, born a month before I was to graduate. We weathered it pretty well. I started my internship a year later and stretched it out over two years. Erica, our second daughter, was born a month shy of my finishing pediatric residency (I didn’t do well in obstetrics, obviously!), but I joined a pediatric group a year later, of which I’m now the senior partner.

 

Our trail got really steep and rocky once we moved to the suburbs and I became extremely busy with practice, church and the community in which we lived. Ron felt neglected and I felt unsupported. Was this the way it was going to be? It seemed like a terrible future. True, we had made a commitment to God, and to each other, that we were in this for life. Yet how could we endure?

 

So we signed up for a Marriage Enrichment Weekend (MEW) with CMDA. Okay, full disclosure: it was in Hawaii. I am definitely more amenable to change in the context of natural beauty like Hawaii. We learned some tools and realized our marriage was going to take some serious work on both our parts. Though we never brought up the word “divorce,” the way we were communicating was taking us down separate paths. We were both being selfish. (Scott Stanley’s book A Lasting Promise: The Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage really helped us in this area.)

 

Now we’re into our 41st year of marriage, and both of our daughters are married. Recently, our oldest daughter sent us an article on marriage communication! It was a good reminder of the need to keep working on our relationship. A lot has changed since that first MEW in 1992. We’ve read many books on marriage (we try to read one yearly), and we’ve attended or helped lead our church’s marriage workshops. These have been great, but the most positive impact on our marriage continues to be the MEWs. In fact, we joined CMDA’s Marriage Enrichment Commission 16 years ago, and so we are helping to lead MEWs ourselves. This forces us to keep reading and to keep talking.

 

Looking back, here are the highlights of what we’ve learned since our first MEW:

 

  1. We are both sinners in need of God’s grace.

 

We’ll never grasp it fully, but studying Philippians 2:3-4 has helped us lay down our selfish desires and to serve each other: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (ESV).

 

Gary Smalley’s book I Promise lays out how our personal relationship with Christ is of the utmost importance in maintaining the love between us. We have to plug into the source of love, Christ Himself, before we can ever give that unconditional love to our spouse. Gary Chapman’s The Language of Apology is a book that convicted us deeply and which we’re still working on.

 

How are you growing in your walk with the Lord?

 

  1. We need to maintain our commitment to God and to each other.

 

We made a promise to embark on this journey together on our wedding day. That commitment is the glue that keeps us working on a better marriage, even when sometimes I’d rather not. God never gives up on us (just as He never gave up on Israel), so He is able to refuel our love for our spouse as we come to Him in prayer. Marriage researchers have produced an interesting graph on “marital satisfaction.” The line on the graph (a composite of thousands of marriages) heads steadily downward after the wedding until the couple has weathered their children’s teenage years, but then it rises higher than when they were first married. Many couples give up at the downward plunge, not realizing the best is yet to come.

 

How strong is your commitment to God and to each other?

 

  1. We need to set goals to keep us growing together, not apart.

 

Like a journey, we have to get in shape and be prepared for setbacks and detours. I’m dealing with some health issues, and my mom (who is nearing 100) requires a lot of my time. If Ron and I don’t plan ahead to spend time together, doing fun things, then one of us, for sure, won’t be happy. We have been backpacking for more than 40 years and are ready to hire horses or kids to carry the extra loads, but we have to keep ourselves in shape to make the trip. That does take setting goals.

 

What goals do you need to discuss with your spouse?

 

  1. We have had some traveling companions on many of our journeys who hold us accountable along the way.

 

One such couple is also on the Marriage Enrichment Commission and we have similar personalities. We laugh when they argue, because we could be having the very same issue at another time. And they do likewise. It’s nice to know we are fellow strugglers along this sometimes glorious—but sometimes rough—road called marriage. I also have a few close girlfriends I can ask to pray for me when I’m struggling on a ledge and want to jump off. They pull me back into a safe zone.

 

Who are your traveling companions who can pray for your marriage?

 

  1. We need to persevere in prayer with God’s Word.

 

Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith….” Praying together is an off-and-on practice in our marriage. I need to trust that God is working in Ron’s life to show him how important it is. Couples who pray together have a less than 1 percent divorce rate! Who wouldn’t want that statistic on their side?

 

Can you start praying or reading God’s Word together daily?

 

The Bible is God’s love story for us. And marriage is a reflection and a taste of how amazing that love is. Marriage started in the garden and ends with the wedding feast of the Lamb. The fall happened in the garden, so it’s no surprise that the deepest struggles of life will occur in the most primary of human relationships. Marriage is the battleground of sin, and it’s the place where the cross is revealed as the only hope for life and joy. Marriage can be a testimony of how two sinners can receive God’s grace and reflect His glory to a broken world. And that, my fellow travelers, is a journey worth taking.

 

Get Involved

CMDA’s Marriage Enrichment Weekends provide healthcare couples the opportunity to nurture and grow in their marital relationships. These weekends offer a comfortable, get-away-from-it-all setting, allowing couples to communicate and experience a deeper appreciation for their marriage partnership. For more information and to register, visit www.cmda.org/marriage.

 

About the Author

Patti Francis, MD, is a practicing pediatrician who has been in private practice for the last 35 years in Lafayette, California. She has two adult married daughters. She has been married to Ron for over 41 years, a result of serving on the Marriage Enrichment Commission for more than 20 of those, she is convinced! She loves to hike, backpack and take wildflower pictures wherever she travels. She has been involved in CMDA since her first year of medical school at Boston University School of Medicine.

 

                                                                                                                                                           

 

 

SIDEBAR

 

God’s Purpose for Marriage

by Sally Puleo

 

What is marriage, anyway? Just a piece of paper? Some see it as a romantic fusion of souls. That is, two hapless halves have found each other at last and now they are whole. Others see it as a clear-headed, business-like merger—a contract fulfilled, a checklist of responsibilities. Still others see marriage as a rite of passage—a step on the path to happiness.

 

Which view is correct? Maybe none of them. Maybe, though, all of them, in the sense that each holds onto some truth. And there is a deeper truth still, that God designed marriage and He designed it for a purpose. And so, if we miss God’s intention, we set ourselves up for disappointment and unrealistic expectations. Our ears will then so easily hear the whisper, “Maybe you just married the wrong person.”

 

My favorite book subtitle is Sacred Marriages by Gary Thomas: “What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?” That is, the crucible of marriage is uniquely designed to burn away our selfishness. Perhaps the message of Christ’s forgiveness can only penetrate the heart of a spouse when an injured spouse offers “undeserved” forgiveness. And if a couple, with God’s help, is able to move forward out of a challenging season, their marital history becomes a sacred history, wrapped up in redemption. The very ingredients of a healthy marriage are the things we need for a growing walk of faith.

 

The early years of Rob’s and my marriage were, for me, a roller coaster of emotions. With small children to care for, his busy dental practice collided with my work as a nurse. My fatigue wore away my ability to enjoy, and sometimes even to endure, my husband.

 

One day at my work at a nursing home, a dear elderly patron began to reminisce about her more than 60-year marriage. Had I heard her right?

 

“Sixty years?” I blurted. “How did you do it?”

 

She smiled. “I had some good years and some bad years.” I left the room convicted that my approach to my own marriage was shallow. I couldn’t handle a difficult week, let alone a bad year.

 

I’ve never forgotten that encounter. God had shown me He was using my marriage as sandpaper in my life so I could become more like Him. The calloused, rough edges were being softened. May we who are married adjust our perspective to see God’s purpose for our marriages as we strain toward the finish line. Our Savior longs to say to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

 

About the Author

Sally Puleo is a nurse who is a missionary associate with the Assemblies of God. She has been married to her husband Rob, a dentist, for 32 years, and they have four children and two grandchildren. Currently, Sally and Rob are the chairs of CMDA’s Marriage Commission. When not traveling for mission work, they both enjoy living on a quiet dirt road in New Jersey in a town where the deer outnumber the population.

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