In the beginning of a new relationship, you are in your honeymoon phase. His quirks are endearing, and her work ethic is admirable. Over time, these traits can become the very things that pull at the threads of your relationship. His 5 a.m. internal clock and peppy personality will drive you to question the very meaning of life. You realize her strong work ethic is just a nice phrase for ‘workaholic.’
So, how do you continue to love each other past that seven-year itch after you’ve said “I do” to a lifetime together? NOCO Style sat down with the ‘experts’—couples who have put in those years—to ask them how they did it.
The Harris Family of Fort Collins
In 1968, at just 15 years old, Steve mustered up the courage to blurt out, “Hey, want to go out?” to Sherri after choir practice. It was clumsy but effective: They will celebrate their 50th anniversary in September.
In early 1973, Sherri’s father died, and at his bedside, her mother said something that formed the solid foundation of their marriage: “I just don’t have any regrets. We lived life to the fullest.” So that is what Steve and Sherri set out to do. Nine months later they married in the church her late father pastored.
Over the years they would add a son and two daughters to their family.
“Our sense of humor is what got us through those early years with three children under 4 years old,” Sherri says. “You can’t lose the simplicity of just being friends. Best friends.” And it was this that carried them through trying days to come. When their youngest child was just 10, Multiple Sclerosis paralyzed Sherri from the waist down. She had to put even more trust in Steve.
“He was literally in charge of my life, even where I physically went, because he was the one pushing my wheelchair,” she says. “He kept life fun, even during those heavy years.” Turning routine doctor appointments into a hilarious spin on bumper cars, Sherri was never short on laughter.
“It felt like I lost my identity with the function of my legs. I needed Steve for nearly everything,” Sherri says. But Steve would remind her daily that he needed her just as much. Little did they know, their fortitude would pave the way for their future. Today, Steve runs Marriage Ministries at Timberline Church in Fort Collins and they lead marriage retreats together. When asked what the key ingredients to a happy, healthy marriage are, they both agreed on a few:
Set aside money every week. Save for the unknown. Finances are the second leading cause of divorce, and you can help ease that strain with a financial cushion.
Speak words of appreciation and demonstrate gratitude and kindness every day. “So many people are kinder to a stranger than they are to their own spouse. You will get comfortable with each other and forget to simply be kind,” says Sherri.
Don’t try to change your partner into another you. Celebrate your differences. Opposites attract for a reason. You will even each other out.
If someone must win, no one will win. You are a team, don’t work against one another.
The most important nine words you will ever speak are, “I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me.” Learn to set aside your pride.
Don’t just marry the right partner but BE the right partner.
The Stewarts of Loveland
Kari remembers seeing Jeff in the halls of their high school and thinking, “Who is that cute guy?” Soon after, they found themselves in the same circle of friends.
“We sort of just fell into dating,” she reminisces. “The only time I can recall him being early to a single event in his life was when he picked me up from my house on our first official date. I think he was a whole hour early!”
By 17, they were married, and by 18 their first son, Jeremiah, was born. They learned early on about the importance of healthy family boundaries.
“We were quite young and not everyone was happy about it,” says Jeff. “We were our own new little family unit, and there just couldn’t be any outside interference. We had to learn to lean on each other.”
Years went by while they tried for another child. Finally, when Jeremiah was 6 years old, two daughters entered their world back-to-back, Sarah and Hannah.
Deep in the throes of parenthood, a passion for adoption was growing stronger in Kari. She felt she had even more love to give. “[Adoption] has been on my heart since I was a small girl and I think this was the time in my life where those early seeds came to fruition.” She recalls the day Jeff made the decision to jump into the adoption journey with her.
“It was December 15, 1994. Jeff took me to dinner and told me he would fully support my calling,” she recalls. “He did not feel the pull to adopt as I did, but he did feel the pull to love me in the way I needed, by helping me fulfill my calling.”
In 1995, their first adopted daughter was home. By 2004, Jeff and Kari would have six daughters and three sons, making nine children of all backgrounds and abilities. The last to come home was Zinnia.
“Jeff reminded me that our first home together had a garden of Zinnias. She was the last flower in our garden,” Kari smiles.
Jeff and Kari developed a strong set of values to keep their large family afloat while maintaining a rock-solid marital foundation. They shared a few:
When you are upset with each other, write out how you feel in a letter and then exchange them. Writing something out thoughtfully is better than speaking without thinking. Remember that words are powerful and cannot be taken back.
Every interaction should be filtered through your marriage vows. Marriage is sacred and should be treated as such.
Try asking, “What do you need me to do?” or “How can I help?” instead of blame statements like, “You’re not getting this done.”
Always have a united front. If the world sees a gap, it will wedge its way in.
Be there when it’s important. Life happens and you will miss some of the little moments but make it a priority to be there in the big moments.
“Regularly find that space where you stop taking care of the world and you just take care of each other,” says Jeff.
The LaBues of Windsor
In 1978, Elaine was the ‘new girl’ at work. Glenn noticed her right away.
“He made an awful first impression,” Elaine remembers and gives him ‘the look.’ Glenn rubs his forehead and chuckles, “I whistled as she walked down the hall. It wasn’t my finest hour.”
After months of backpedaling, Glenn’s boyish charm grew on Elaine and won her over. It must have been quite a date because within the year they married, making 44 years this spring.
“We had so much fun dating, even into our married years.” Glenn says and recounts their whimsical ‘Yellow Pages Roulette’ dates. “We would take turns closing our eyes, flipping open the Yellow Pages book and blindly picking a random place. Then we would create an entire day around finding this place. You know, GPS didn’t exist back then so we would often get lost and stop in for meals and check out little hidden gems along the way.”
By the following summer, they had started their family. “Having children changes the whole dynamic of your relationship. Not in a negative way, just different,” says Elaine. Glenn adds, “When you’re dating, you have these love goggles on, and you are consumed with each other. Now, you must shift your focus.”
Soon they were a family of five. “Life got busy. There was work and school and sports. Somewhere in the shuffle we realized we were losing each other,” Elaine remembers. “It’s as if we were on our own islands while physically being in the same room.”
“We started consciously putting each other first. We had to make time for each other to work toward building back up the relationship we once had,” Glenn says. “We were dating again!”
Today, “we get to fall in love all over again,” Glenn beams.
So, what is their secret?
Love is a choice. Feelings come and go so you must continue choosing love each day.
Communication is key. Truly listen before speaking.
“Make decisions together. Don’t go rogue and make a big decision on your own or you’re in trouble,” says Glenn.
Define your roles together. “Marriage is like a machine. You each have separate roles that work together,” says Glenn.
“Don’t forget each other in the middle of a busy life. You still need your relationship once the kids are gone,” says Elaine.
Sharing a strong faith can be important as well. “Above all, pray for each other and keep Christ at the center of your relationship. He is the solid foundation that has kept us strong all these years,” says Elaine.