“I am impressed with a lot of men for their accomplishments. I am most impressed and intrigued by men who have accomplished a successful marriage. You’ve been married for forty years. What is the secret?” he asked.
It was eleven o’clock at night, and we were standing on the terrace of our hotel. We were under a clear sky filled with stars. As we looked out from the terrace, we saw below us the lights of Florence, Italy with the Duomo standing proudly in the middle of the city.
This was one of our stops on our 40th anniversary motorcycle trip. Kathy was in the hotel room fast asleep. Phil, one of our fellow riders, and I were talking as he smoked a cigarette. His question stunned me. I was like a deer in the headlights. I knew this was a moment, the moment, to share great wisdom on what makes a marriage work long-term. Nothing but platitudes raced through my mind.
The Front Door Opened
Then I told him our story, hoping the secret would emerge. The story of our lifelong love for each other.
I met Kathy on a blind date in Denver, Colorado on a business trip. A client introduced us. She was to be his date that night, and my date was a girlfriend of Kathy’s. Her girlfriend didn’t show up. Jared, my client, drove me to Kathy’s house in his red, road-weary Ford Bronco. Hearing the rattling bucket of bolts arrive, Kathy opened the front door. I saw her. She saw me. Our lives changed forever.
We played together for our first four years of marriage. I was working hard in my first startup. She took the time to finish her degree while working part time. It was a great time of love, fun, and companionship.
Then My Dad Died
Shortly after my dad’s funeral, Kathy decided to have children. My mom wasn’t getting any younger, and she deserved to be a grandmother. Kathy and I knew we wanted a family and now was the time to get started. My dad died in February of 1980, and Kathy announced she was pregnant in April. Julia was born in January 1981.
As our family grew, Kathy focused on the kids. I focused on my career. It was an incredible time. Everything in our lives was new. Children, the sale of the business, houses, cars, neighbors, schools, kids’ sports, career opportunities. It was all great.
What I didn’t realize was we were growing apart. I was on the road chasing my ambition, making money, working, attending business dinners, and partying. Kathy was at home raising the children, changing diapers, getting the kids to school, taking them to the doctors, and keeping our household together. We never stopped loving each other through all of this. But we weren’t growing together. Our interests were divided.
Then I Lost My Job
Losing my job was a devastating time in my life. The merry-go-round stopped. Everything wasn’t wonderful all the time. The diversions of job and income were gone. It was Kathy and the kids and me.
Who have we become?
Where are we now?
Where are we going?
These were questions on our minds. Our marriage wasn’t great anymore.
Suddenly, I was forced to look at who I had become. I was not happy with what I saw.
I saw a self-centered, overly-ambitious, narcissistic egomaniac who drank too much to soothe reality. This was a gut-check on my priorities in life.
It was Kathy or me.
It was the kids or me.
It was God or me.
Sadly, each time I chose me.
But Then God Won
I couldn’t behave my way out of this and neither could Kathy. God stepped into our lives and changed us. We both became born again. We were changed. Jesus saved us from ourselves. He saved our love. He saved our marriage. He saved our family.
Kathy and I now had a child-like personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We both pursued this relationship with fervor. We couldn’t get enough of the Bible, small groups, and Christian mentors. Where were these people all our lives?
The more we pursued our personal relationship with God, the closer and more in love with each other we became. This second birth, our spiritual birth, ignited a love for each other like never before.
“I get that you changed your focal point,” said Phil impatiently, “but what is the secret of a 40-year marriage?”
When Phil said the words “focal point,” I wasn’t sure what to say. I was at a loss on how to answer him. Then, as often happens when mulling things over much later, it occurred to me.
The Focal Point Is the Secret
When Kathy and I changed our focal point, it changed our marriage. Before our focal point was our individual needs, wants, and desires. Kathy had her focal point. I had mine.
These different focal points caused a drifting separation in our relationship. We didn’t notice it at first, but over time the distance became almost too great to overcome.
By focusing on the God who created us…
The God who gave us love at first sight.
The God who put us together.
The God who keeps us together.
The God who loves us.
The God who gives us an eye, mind, and heart for each other.
The God who gave us children and grandchildren.
The God who provides for us.
The God who gives us purpose.
The God who is unchanging.
By focusing on our God, we learned to stand firm in our marriage.
With God as our focal point, it all makes sense.
Do You Want to Know a Successful Marriage’s Secret?
Jesus is the secret. Having him as our focal point is the answer Kathy and I discovered. Thankfully.