Two Secrets for a Lasting Marriage

It’s no secret that adults with divorced parents have trouble staying married. Many succeed. Many don’t. But past president Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn recently celebrated their 76th anniversary and offer a couple tips for success.

#1 Give each other space

“We give each other plenty of space. She has a lot of interests that I don’t share, and I have a lot of interests that she doesn’t share.”1 Rosalynn said, “Jimmy and I are always looking for things to do together. Each (person) should have some space. That’s really important.”2

When I counsel couples, I stress the importance of self-care—individually having time to do what refreshes you, and couple-care where a fun/relaxing time is spent with each other—without the kids. Both are critical to the success of marriage.

A Psychology Today article echoed the latter point noting that “people tended to engage in more enjoyable activities, like socializing or watching TV, with friends and less fun ones, like cleaning or caretaking with partners or children.”3 Combining the two encourages bonding like this, “His mouth is sweetness itself; he is desirable in every way. Such…is my lover, my friend” (Song of Solomon 5:16 NLT). Mutually invest in this area and you greatly increase the odds of success.

#2 Don’t go to bed angry

The Bible says, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,” (Ephesians 4:26 NIV). My wife and I are heading toward our 39th anniversary and I can safely say this verse is easier now than it was in the early years. Given the average US marriage ends in 8 years or less6, anger (which is a major issue for adults with divorced parents) needs to be addressed early on. See other article/podcasts on this site to dig deeper on anger.

#3 The unmentioned secret

The Carter articles neglected to mention the key item that has kept the President and his wife together all these years: a strong and mutual faith in God. The president was open about his faith in Jesus Christ while president. He is quoted as saying:

While all else may change, God’s promises remain firm.”

I believe that anyone can be successful in life, regardless of natural talent or the environment within which we live. This is not based on measuring success by human competitiveness for wealth, possessions, influence, and fame, but adhering to God’s standards of truth, justice, humility, service, compassion, forgiveness, and love.”4

I have never been disappointed when I asked in a humble and sincere way for God’s help. I pray often.”5

The positive effect of active faith on marital satisfaction, longevity, and children’s success is well documented in the research.

But when all is said and done, the Carters chose to do these things. They didn’t just happen. They chose to honor God. They chose to take the steps to protect and strengthen their marriage. They chose to give space to each other and they chose to allow forgiveness and love to cover their anger.

May we all choose the same.

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  3. Love the One You’re With, Psychology Today November/December 2021