“What’s your secret for a long, happy marriage?” That’s a standard question I love asking couples who are celebrating a Big Number anniversary. 

Part of being a pastor is involvement in weddings, and I’m always looking for fresh ideas to use in a ceremony. Also, Patty and I have been embarrassingly happily married for 17 years so far, and I sure don’t want to mess this up.

Several friends of various ages have gotten engaged over Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Effingham recently had a Bridal Fair. Both of these got me thinking about various responses to my standard question.

“What’s your secret for a long, happy marriage?” often elicits serious answers about listening to one another. Not taking your spouse for granted and never going to bed angry are two other common themes. Giving each other some emotional space now and then seems to be mentioned frequently as well.

More humorous advice includes that from a late colleague and mentor who liked to tell an engaged guy, “Young man, no matter what she tells you now, you’ll have nine square feet for all of your stuff. Nine square feet!”

Frequently I’m told that there are only Two Rules that apply. Rule Number One: She is always right. Rule Number Two: If he is confused, he should see Rule Number One.

Once upon a time in a chapel service at an assisted living center, a couple announced that the following week they’d celebrate their 70th Anniversary. After gasps and applause from the rest of the congregation, I asked my standard question, “What’s your secret for a long, happy marriage?”

“That’s easy,” he said. “I always do exactly what she says.” We all smiled and nodded. The service continued.

About five minutes later, at the end of a hymn, his wife stood up and announced, “Wait a minute! He does nothing of the sort!” That was pretty much the end of that chapel service; we were all too busy laughing.

My personal favorite piece of advice for a long, happy marriage is from a widowed saint in her nineties. “There’s only one secret to a happy marriage,” she said. “Nobody knows what it is, though. That’s why it’s called a secret. But every happy couple has their own secret to their happiness, something nobody else could understand.” Pretty sharp lady, eh?

Frequently at rehearsals, there’s a moment when the bride or groom turns to me and asks what they should do with their hands at whatever particular moment in the wedding. “Hold onto each other” seems to be some of the best advice for both then and far into their future.

Finally, weddings have traditionally included a vow to love, honor, and cherish one another. Maybe the best summary of those three is to simply be good to each other.

When I’ve run that “simply be good to each other” idea by couples with joyful longevity, they tend to look at each other. Eyebrows go up. One will smile and the other nods.

I’d love to know your answer to my standard question: “What’s your secret for a long, happy marriage?”

Dr. Joe Scheets is pastor of Effingham Centenary United Methodist Church

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