Over the years, we have been honored to attend several significant anniversary celebrations. I often tell the story of the 60th wedding anniversary of Susan’s grandparents. Guests had been asked to refrain from bringing gifts, and the celebration was focused on friends and family. After the celebration we gathered at a cabin belonging to close friends and the family presented the couple with a single gift. Susan’s grandmother had been complaining that her coffee maker wasn’t working properly and didn’t make good coffee. We had all heard her go on about the coffee maker and it made sense to go together and purchase a new coffee maker for the occasion. Coffee is a part of the fabric of social life in North Dakota. When we lived there, people often simply gave us a cup of coffee when we visited, without asking whether or not we wanted a cup or where or not we drank the beverage. It was just something that was done. Coffee hour after church meant coffee - plenty of it. So a new coffee maker seemed like a nice gift for the occasion. Susan’s grandmother opened the gift and made a big show of being excited and surprised. “How did you know we needed a new coffee maker?” she asked. Her husband of 60 years turned to her and said in his droll way, “Why didn’t you complain about the car?” Everyone laughed.

At anniversary celebrations, especially after long marriages, a common question is “What is the key to your successful marriage?” I’ve heard plenty of different answers over the years. One we comment on is the husband who said that the key to their marriage was that they decided, before they married, to make sure that they would stay together for the entire initial adjustment period. When asked how long that period is, he said, “Near as I can figure, something longer than 50 years.” We heard that comment in the first year of our marriage and we’ve sometimes referred to it as a joke over the years.

Other couples speak about the hard work of marriage, taking time to resolve conflicts, sharing the chores associated with parenting, having common interests, enjoying recreation together, and many other qualities that are important in sustaining a long-term relationship.

Our wedding anniversary falls just after the summer solstice. We’ve heard plenty of times about our choice of the shortest night of the year for our wedding. That has never been a problem for us. We are also married on every other night of the year, including the longest. Marriage is so much more than the ceremony marking its beginning. It is a lifetime of sharing big things and little things, of listening and learning and growing together.

Today is our 48th wedding anniversary. The numbers are getting up there, but we’ve got a couple of yeas to go before marking 50 years, which I assume will involve a bit larger celebration. Over the years, we have been apart on the day of our anniversary some times, but we have always found ways to celebrate, even if our celebration has to be moved a bit to accommodate busy schedules. I remember the wedding anniversary when I was in Hawaii and Susan was in Idaho. I was chaperoning a delegation of youth attention the Western Regional Youth Assembly of the church. She was holding down the fort at home, caring for our children, who were too young to attend, and covering our work at the church. On our 25th anniversary, members of our church arranged a special cake for the coffee hour after worship. It was supposed to be a surprise. It was. I was there to lead the service. Susan, who at the time worked only 9 months of the year, had gone ahead with our children to Montana, I stayed behind, planning to begin our vacation after worship. So Susan wasn’t there to celebrate with the congregation.

There have been many, many other anniversaries over the years. Some stand out. Others blend with the memories of other occasions and celebrations.

I have decided, however, that I need to give a bit of thought to the question of what makes for a long and successful marriage. We’re likely to get that question in a couple of years when we celebrate our 50th. The problem is that I don’t know the answer to the question - or at least I know that it isn’t something that I have done. Looking at friends and family who have not enjoyed long marriages, or who have experienced divorce, about all I can say is that we were so lucky to have found each other early in our lives. We were young when we married. As it has turned out, we found exactly the right person to marry. The longer we have been married and the more time we are given together the more grateful I am for having Susan in my life. Each year has brought new joy to our relationship. I know how fortunate we are to have each other in our lives. But saying that the reason we have a long-lasting and satisfying relationship is luck seems a bit trivial. Somehow it seems like I should have a better answer to the question than that we were lucky to have met when we were young.

Promises are important to both of us and we knew that about ourselves before we married. We also trusted our partner to keep the promises that we made at our wedding. We have been fortunate to be able to work together professionally all of our married lives. We have deep respect for each other’s professional work and capabilities. The fact that we have worked together has meant that we have gotten to spend more time together than some other couples. That has been a blessing for us. We have learned to work together and to share responsibilities. We are good at handing off jobs to our partner - a skill that is every bit as useful in being parents and grandparents as it is at work.

I guess it is a good thing that I’ve got a couple of years to think about my answer to the question. I really don’t know the answer. I do know that we have been exceptionally fortunate.

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