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Finding a Love that Lasts

As they celebrate 27 years together, authors John and Stasi Eldredge offer up some of their very own love and dating advice!

By John and Stasi Eldredge
Authors of Love and War: Finding the Marriage You Dreamed Of
Available in Hardcover from Doubleday Religion

This year we celebrate our 27th anniversary. Happily, we might add.  27 years. That sounded so ancient when we first got married. Our friends’ parents had been married 27 years. Back then, young lovebirds that we were, we thought couples who had been married seven years were old-timers. Really knew their stuff. This now cracks us up. At seven years, you are just beginning to realize the scope of what you’ve gotten yourself into, how you can’t change your mate after all, and you are wrestling with making the necessary adjustments to that epiphany.

But hey — now that we’ve got almost 27 years under our belts, we feel bold enough to offer some advice on love.

Looking back, we would both say that THE best thing we EVER did for our marriage was to go get some counseling.

Not marriage counseling — personal counseling. We both went, on our own, because we both knew that a marriage is only as strong as the two people involved. We also knew we were both a royal mess, that is to say, we knew we were like everyone else — bringing into our marriage our own personal baggage. Several bags each. Okay, a baggage claim carousel full of baggage. We knew from watching other marriages that the sooner we dealt with all that luggage the better, or it would eventually take the relationship down.

It’s a funny thing, how folks react when we say the “counseling” word. The majority of couples sort of nod and smile, like we’ve suggested eating your vegetables or daily exercise. That’s probably a good thing, the expression on their face says, I think I’ll see if I can get by without it. Because most folks look at counseling as something people do who have “problems,” and so they figure they don’t need it. Counseling is for people with imaginary friends, or who keep one hundred cats in their house. It is a popular idea, among the “counseling is for people who have problems” crowd, that whatever difficulties may come along in their marriage, they can just muscle their way through.


You two might be the exception.

Are you really willing to bet your marriage on it?

You see, the first big shock every newly married couple hits is that marriage is hard. For heaven’s sake — start with a man and a woman, two creatures as different as a polar bear from a hummingbird, add to this the fact that opposites really do attract, toss into the mix your personal backgrounds and bizarre families, and lock all that in the same house for 27 years. Of course marriage is hard. Every relationship has to face some “challenges.” As surely as the sun will rise, the two of you will have some things to work through. Will you live by a budget? Whose family will you spend holidays with? Does the dog get to sleep on the bed? How quickly will you say, “I’m sorry?”

The key to success in marriage is that both partners are willing to own up to their part in creating the current “challenge,” whatever it may be.

This requires two people who are willing to admit they are a mess, and who are also open to that wonderful process we call transformation. You do not want to share a house — which soon begins to feel like a submarine — with someone who refuses to own their part in anything, and, worse, who refuses to change. Dear friends, you do not want to marry someone who is going to saddle you with all the blame.

So, as you look for your future spouse, one of the non-negotiables in our book would be this: “Is this person willing to take an honest look at their life, their style of relating, and the baggage they are bringing into the relationship? Are they open to change? Do they want to become a better person?” Of course, they may say they are willing, until it’s their dog who wants to sleep on the bed or their credit card bill that destroyed this month’s budget. Then you discover all sorts of things about your mate you might not have known were there.

Which brings us back to counseling.

A very good test of a person who is “willing to own their part” and “wanting to become a better person” would be their attitude towards counseling.

Have they ever been to counseling in the past? Are they ready to have someone else look at your relationship? You need other eyes on your relationship, by the way, especially before you say “I do.”

“Willing to look at your life” is a really, really essential ingredient for a strong marriage because when the hard times come — and they always come — it can sure make matters worse when one spouse refuses to own their part. It takes two to tango, as the saying goes. Two to make a love life happen, and two to sort it out when the love isn’t happening.

Which brings us to one of the secrets of life we have learned through marriage.

You will find that there are two types of people in this world. There are two basic ways of looking at life. The first — and by far most popular — is the person who believes that the world is here to make them happy. This sort of person can be a lot of fun to take a cruise with, but they are insufferable in a marriage.

The second type of person is the sort who understands that, “I am here for my transformation.” They accept one of life’s most basic lessons — that we are all under renovation, and the sooner we cooperate with the process of becoming a better person, the sooner we can actually get on to finding happiness. This sort of person makes a very good spouse.

On the whole, people of faith tend to be people who fall into the second category. When someone accepts the fact that the universe has a center and it is not them, that they are in fact accountable to the Person who is the center of the universe, it’s as if they’ve moved from being a toddler to a grown-up. Faith commitments are not a guarantee, of course, but you’ll find they do you help you sort out the kind of person you want to be married to — open to change, willing to own their part in things, reconciled to the fact that the world is not here to make them happy.

And then comes one of life’s great surprises — when the two of you accept this view of life, you actually come to enjoy a lot more happiness! Who knew?!