My parents, Edward and Carolyn DeBerry, recently celebrated 40 years of marriage! Wow, Dean and I are only at three years; 40 seems so far away. Growing up in a household with my parents gave me a great example of what a godly, spiritual, and loving marriage looks like. Although my relationship is different from my parents' relationship, we have learned a lot from them. Since they are celebrating this milestone, I thought it would be a good time to sit down with them to talk about what has made their marriage so successful.
After talking to them I came to realize that, overall, there were three big things that contributed to their successful marriage. First of all—and I think this is an obvious one—they had Christ at the center of their relationship since the beginning (Matthew 6:33). Secondly, they committed to each other and didn’t let material things, other people, or finances come between their relationship (Ephesians 5:31). Finally, they enjoyed each other‘s company and found ways to have fun even when kids came into the mix.
I asked them how they built their spiritual foundation and marriage. Even though my mother was not a Christian when they got married, she knew, because of conversations they had, that she would be worshiping at the church of Christ come Sunday. It wasn’t long before she was baptized into the church. They knew that they were going to worship together, even though my mom had to leave her mom at the Baptist church she grew up in. Later she told me she made that decision because my father expressed that everyone in his household was going to be committed to God (Joshua 4:24). I can speak from experience to say he did everything in his power to make sure my sister and I had our own relationship with God.
My father said, “when you have Christ at the center of your marriage, He will save your marriage. I am a better husband and a better father because of my commitment to God. My commitment to God will not allow me to treat Carolyn wrong. My commitment to God will not allow me to be a bad father. Our commitment to God is what drives our commitment to others.”
This principle comes from Matthew 22:34-40. Our love for God compels us to love others including our spouses. Once a spiritual foundation is built within a marriage—even when bad times come—the foundation on Christ will keep you together.
Power of Communication
It is easy to let material things, finances, or even family distract you from your marriage. I asked my parents how they didn’t let this happen and the biggest thing they stressed was communication (Colossians 4:6).
My mother said, “it has a lot to do with our goals and communicating with each other as to what is important to our family. You invest in the things that you value. We value family, friendship, and experiences. Early on, we did not have a lot of money. We spent our finances on travel and Sunday dinner. We wanted to have people over because we valued those friendships. We did not feel like we had to impress anyone with our home.”
From early on in their marriage they communicated what was important to them in terms of how they want to spend their money. My parents put an emphasis on travel and experiencing new things which led to my sister and me loving to travel and experience different cultures and foods. This is what they determined was important to them, so they did not get caught up on what other families were doing with their money (Luke 12:15; Matthew 6:19-21). Every couple is going to be different, but what is important is that you communicate what is important to you and do not let others distract you from your decision.
My father told me that material things should be discussed during the courtship phase and that warning signs should be taken seriously.
“Courtship is meant to be an evaluation prior to marriage, and many people are not taking advantage of this phase. They rush into marriage and ignore warning signs that this person may not be the correct partner for them in life.”
When it comes to material things, other people, and finances getting between your marriage, it all comes down to good communication. Preferably, this is something that needs to be discussed prior to marriage.
Maintaining the Friendship
Yes, it is a lovely thing to grow old together, but we all know of an old couple that spends their time bickering instead of enjoying their time together. I asked my parents how they managed to enjoy each other's company once they had kids and once they were empty nesters. The easy answer is that they are each other's best friend and they found ways to maintain that friendship (Amos 3:3, Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
My mother said, “we dated throughout our marriage, even when we had kids. We did our family trips, but we also got away—just the two of us—even if it was just for a long weekend. We kept our friendship, and we made sure everything we did did not revolve around our children; as much as we loved them, we continued to date each other.”
My dad's answer was a little different, but still had the same theme of friendship: “When we had kids they became our priority. We were all in, we supported them and we were excited about what they were doing. We were band parents, we were basketball parents, and we were excited about it. Supporting our kids was enjoyable to us and it was a bonding experience for us because watching our kids play in the band or play basketball became like a date for us. But you still have to have some alone time, as well.”
The goal is to have Christ at the center of your marriage, and everything else will happen as it should. These tips are what works for many, but every marriage is different—it is all about the effort you choose to put into it.
My father stated, “people say that marriage is 50/50, that's wrong. It is 100/100. You have to be ALL in. There will be times when one person doesn’t have all of their 100, so the other partner has to give 150. The problem starts when the same person is always giving 150 and the other person is always giving only 50. It has to be reciprocal!”
There you have it. Marriage is a full commitment; if you want yours to last, you have to put Christ at the center and be ALL in (Ecclesiastes 9:10).