Secrets to Relationships that Last

As I was packing in preparation for the possible forced evacuation of our home after Hurricane Michael, I heard an odd ping when I banged my left hand against a counter. As I examined my wedding set, there was a gap in the engagement band that looked as obvious as a missing tooth. I sunk to my knees in frustration and despair to look for the diamond that had fallen out as I bemoaned our losses. I didn’t find the stone and gave up, thinking that the small diamond was the least of my problems.

It took me a day or so to resign myself to yet another loss, but my perspective shifted as I made the decision to change my focus. Something is lost, but something is gained every single day. I was reminded that in all things, I have always looked for the good and tried to find the lesson. As a young businesswoman, I embraced Earl Nightengale’s thought that “with every adversity, there is an equal or greater gift. Keep looking for the gift”. I later realized that like all truth, this principle is found in the Word of God. Consider “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose”. (Romans 8:28)  Add to that the promise that “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it”. (Philippians 1:6)  These are words to live by!

Building on the Rock

I have clung to the rock of faith for a long time. Today marks the 41st anniversary of our marriage. Jim and I have been together since the dawn of time it seems – we started dating when I was 15 years old! That’s a lot of living. There have been good years and bad years. There have been buckets of tears, barrels of laughter, thunderous anger, and showers of forgiveness. There are the three most amazing gifts; our daughters and son, who have grown into fascinating and fun adults – our favorite people on earth. And now the amazing addition of their spouses and our five grandchildren leaves us in awe and wonder.

Our Family

Through all the ups and downs, we have remained faithful to one another and committed to our marriage. How is this possible with two imperfect, impatient people? The immeasurable grace of God, that’s how. We have become rich in all the things money can’t buy. And we have always had more than enough of all the rest. How can that be? The invisible hand of God has been made visible so many times in practical ways.

The past two years brought the biggest physical battles of our lives. Jim was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in Dec. of 2017. He endured surgery, chemotherapy and radiation that was absolutely brutal – and he’s a tough guy. I recall the shock and dark realization that he might not be around in the years ahead. I couldn’t even imagine life without him. In Sept. of 2018, we had the fantastic report that we had won the battle. The period of celebration was cut short by the devastating blow of Hurricane Michael’s Category 5 winds.

Most of my friends have probably heard more than they want to know about the challenges that have come our way after the storm. The ecological impact of the destruction of millions of acres of trees is far-reaching and resulted in flooding around our home that is not located near any body of water. FEMA declared the aquifer to be responsible for the floodwaters that still lap on our back steps 11 months after the storm. Like so many homes of people in Panama City, our house is unlivable.

So what do lost diamonds, life-threatening disease, and a hurricane all have in common? They are tangible reminders that when we consider what truly matters, we are blessed beyond measure. Our marriage of 41 years is a miracle. When we have love, we have everything that matters. Circumstances change and life can be tough, but love can carry you through anything.

Since relationship and communication skills are  always a focus in my professional life, it seems fitting to share some insights gained from our enduring marriage. It’s not like I know everything and have it all figured out, but I’ve learned some things – all the hard way.

Seven Tips for Enduring Relationships

  1. Look for the best in others. Focus on their qualities, not their faults. This requires the lens of love. Using a magnifying glass on the shortcomings in others is disastrous for a relationship.  
  2. Forgive easily and often. Grace is not some theological term or just a word in a famous song. It is the life-changing manifestation of love that overcomes being offended. It’s freedom. It’s fabulous.
  3. We are designed for connection and we are stronger when we walk in unity with others. Valuing the relationship precedes doing the hard work to stay connected.
  4. Unity only happens when you have a shared vision. This doesn’t mean you have to want exactly the same things. But it’s vital to open your heart and communicate what is important. Supporting one another’s dreams is vital.
  5. Speak – that’s called communication. You know yourself mostly by your thoughts. Others only know you by your actions. Remember this when you feel misunderstood. You have to do or say something for others to know how you feel.
  6. Be willing to wait for things to get better. Sometimes many months (even years) are required for people to heal.
  7. Express appreciation. Whatever that looks like; words, notes, hugs, gifts, quality time, or practical acts of service and kindness – keep doing it. Even if the other person doesn’t reciprocate. You can’t out-give God and love wins.

The diamond that was lost this year can be replaced, but I’m not sure I want to do it. The missing stone has become a reminder of the irreplaceable stones we have built in 41 years of marriage. The picture is the memorial stones the priests took out of the middle of the Jordan river when the Israelites crossed into the promised land. God said, “‘These places of the greatest pain, the greatest despair, trauma, and hopelessness are becoming some of the greatest pillars of “stones of remembrance” in the lives of My people.” (Joshua 4) So be it.

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