A Marriage Built To Last: Lessons Learned From My Grandparents

BY: - 21 Dec '10 | Home

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By Edward C. Lee

The Christmas holiday season always makes me think of my grandparents.

My grandfather, Buddy, and my grandmother, Thelma, were married on New Year’s Eve, December 31st 1935. They had been married 59 years when my grandfather passed away in his garden with his hands neatly folded on his chest and a smile on his face in 1994. With a nickname like “Buddy” it goes without saying that he was the friendly, giving type of person that everyone loved.

For as much as we all loved him, his passing gave the family time to really get to know my grandmother in deeper ways than we had to that point. Of course she dealt with her bouts of loneliness without her soul mate of almost 60 years by her side. But in those years she did not just survive but she thrived and grew in her independence until she passed away in 2008. One minute she was laughing with some friends at her assisted living facility over lunch and minutes later she had a stroke and was in heaven.

I love the way they died: happy, fulfilled, well-respected, well-loved and content. I aspire to live a life so that one day I might die as well as they did (think about that one for a minute). Yet as thankful as I am for how they died, it is the way they lived that has shaped me and my views of what is important in marriage.

So as I reflect personally, as I always do this time of year, I want to share some of the lessons my grandparents modeled in front of me as they persevered through their 59 years together.

1. Maintain a Light Spirit in Heavy Times

In the later years of my grandmother’s life I would take every opportunity to find out what life was like for her and my grandfather through the 1930″˜s, 40″˜s and 50″˜s. She would often share stories of traveling from Pennsylvania back through parts of the South to get to Florida. She would tell of the network of people and lodging arrangements they would have to make to ensure that her, my grandfather, and their two small children were safe as they travelled through the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida during the 1950s. Yet, given the backdrop of every story – danger, near misses, hiding, racial cruelty – she always told them with bursts of laughter woven into the seriousness. She could laugh because in the seriousness of what they faced they learned to remain light hearted. They did not turn on each other, but they stayed together and found ways to laugh through the heaviness of what they experienced. They never allowed the oppression to press them out of their character or turn against each other. In retrospect it fits with the advice my grandmother would always give me, “Give your wife a kiss, everyday, just love her even when you are mad, hold onto each other and you can get through anything. A hug and a kiss every day. Just hold onto each other.”

2. Avoid the Urge to Blame

In the mid-1980’s my grandfather was fixing the lawn mower in his basement and noticed some water from a recent storm had gotten into the basement. So he went to get a rag to wipe it up. Unfortunately, what he thought was water was actually the gasoline from the lawn mower. As he returned and knelt down to wipe up what he thought was water, the furnace exploded in his face. The force of the blast was so powerful that it knocked down my grandmother who was all the way up on the 2nd floor. Yet my grandfather whose face was inches from the blast did not have even a hair on his head singed. It is pretty amazing that he made it out of there alive. Perhaps even more amazing that there was never a word of blame spoken or expressed between them about the fire.

For the next year they lived in a cramped two-bedroom apartment. Every thing that could be salvaged from what remained of their three bedroom 2 story with a basement home was jammed in this tiny two bedroom apartment – box upon box, from floor to ceiling. Yet there was never a word of complaint. My grandmother never said, “How could you have burned down our house…” not a word. She never blamed him, instead she supported him, cheered him on and just forgave. She later shared with me that she was more concerned with getting through the ordeal together than placing words of blame. Her reflection of what was most important to her at that painful time has been a point of challenge to me. There have been times in my marriage when I just want to say, “this is your fault!”. But grandmom is right, love and support are far more productive at keeping the family together than blame.

3. Sacrificial Living and Giving

With the exception of the day that he died, my grandmother, never, ever drove herself anywhere if my grandfather was around. He just would not allow it. He would stop what he was doing – set aside his own agenda, change out of his work shoes clean himself up and take his wife wherever she needed to go. I remember watching this as a child and thinking it odd that he would always cater to her this way. What was most peculiar to me, is that I never heard her ask to be taken anywhere. Grandmom   would just announce where she was going and he would insist that he would take her. Now, I   understand, this was his way of pampering her and making sure his wife was taken care of. I am not advocating in this day and age that you drive your spouse everywhere – I certainly do not. However, it does present a challenge to look at your own agenda and look at what can be set aside to give sacrificially to and for your spouse.

4. Lose the Scorecard

There were times during family gatherings that he would get frustrated. At these times   he would quietly steal away to another room. Within a few minutes I would peek in on him, just sitting there, literally twiddling his thumbs, with his eyes closed. As a young boy, I would wonder what he was thinking about, why doesn’t he just tell her how it is and how it is gonna be – like a man is supposed to. But I can now see that in marriage it is not always about what you can say, but the ability to treat your wife (or husband) with respect even when you have been…not fairly treated. I always want to reach for the choice words or the areas I know my wife is vulnerable to attack from. But to pass on the attack and find peace and balance within yourself is marital maturity. Lose the scorecard, lose the need to win individually and start winning personal peace.

My grandparents marriage was by no way perfect, but it was durable. I pray these reflections will prove to be challenging and valuable as you plan and think about what the upcoming year holds for your marriage.

How about you BMWK, what has worked for you in building a “durable” marriage?

Edward is an Ordained Minister, Bible College Professor, Pastoral Marriage Counselor, and Author of two first of its kind marriage books, Husbands, Wives, God: Introducing the Marriages of the Bible to Your Marriage and the soon to be released e-book, Husbands, Wives, God: 52 Week Devotional. To learn more about Edward and   Husbands, Wives, God go to edwardclee.com or follow on Facebook at Husbands, Wives, God.

About the author

Edward Lee wrote 69 articles on this blog.

Edward is a husband, father, founder of Elevate Your Marriage Marriage Coaching, author of three books: "Elevate Your Marriage", "Husbands, Wives, God" and "Husbands, Wives, God Weekly Devotions." He is also the Pastor of LongView Bible Church in Owings Mills, Md. Visit Edward's blog at: elevateyourmarriage.com


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13 WordPress comments on “A Marriage Built To Last: Lessons Learned From My Grandparents

  1. CoaCoaKure

    I wish I had those words of wisdom before my marital problems ended in separation. I love this article…so true! I especially identified with the portion about keeping score cards….honestly, no one wins when score cards are kept.

  2. Pingback: A Marriage Built To Last: Lessons Learned From My Grandparents « Divorced…And I'm OK With That

  3. Crltnmnly

    Wow earlier today I was just saying how much the holidays made me miss my late grandparents and then I come across this article it was like the person who wrote this article was reading my mind. My grandparents were married for over 50 years and there marriage was a textbook picture of what marriages should be like. But our marriages are tested today in ways that they never could of imagined back when our grandparents were born I will always keep the advice that my grandparents taught me as a child on how to treat a wife If I ever got married even if I thought I would be too young recieve such advice, I’m going to keep my grandparents wisdom as a guiding force in my own marriage and let their memory continue to be a source of inspiration in my marriage for years to come !!!!!

  4. Mom

    What an accurate moving description of Mom and Dad’s marriage. What an awesome Christmas gift to our family! We love you and are humbled by the many ways that the Lord is using you! Continue to trust in Him and lean not to your own understanding, like your grandparents.

  5. Carla Tatum

    This was a great article and very inspiring. I share many of the same memories and many more (the author is my Big brother) but as a young Christian wife and mother in an expanding blended family it is easy to lose sight of all the wonderful examples of marriage that you have been exposed to throughout your life.

  6. Dianne M Daniels

    Such a beautiful article…I see a lot of my parent’s marriage in your story as well. Unfortunately, my maternal grandfather passed away before I was born, so I never met him, and my paternal grandparents were unknown to me. I believe they passed away before I was born as well.

    I love all the ‘principles’ in their story – how they made their marriage work through thick and thin, but the one that most stands out for me is ‘Losing the Scorecard’. I have been guilty at times of ‘keeping score’ – tracking how often I feel I do ‘more than my share’. That’s something I have to stop, and I’m making progress in that area.

    My husband of over 20 years and I each have a role to play – and we do pretty well at it, considering we’ve been married more than 20 years now. I do have to ‘check myself’ occasionally because of the old habit of ‘scorekeeping’ but the more *ahem* mature I get, the easier it is to forget the score and just concentrate on being happy together.

    The division of labor may not always be perfectly equal, but with the two of us having diverse talents and strengths, education and wisdom, we always end up complimenting each other.

    That is what runs through the story of your grandparents’ marriage – they COMPLIMENTED each other – the two of them together making far more than what either could accomplish alone.

  7. Leekm

    This is a wonderfully inspiring article. It compels me look at how I approach my marriage in similar situations. We all should have such great examples as this in our families and/or networks to teach us how to treat our spouses and truly be in it for the long haul, not bailing out during troubled times. Very powerful!

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When In Doubt, Hold On Tighter

BY: - 23 Dec '10 | Home

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by Aja Dorsey Jackson

If there is one thing that I’ve learned from couples that are much further along in their marriage journey than I am, it is that you will have some rough times.

Sometimes you will have some really rough times. And sometimes you may have days, weeks, or even months that cause you to doubt your relationship and make you feel like you want to leave.

In fact, I believe that it is highly unlikely to find a couple that has been happily married every single moment of their marriage. But I think the biggest difference between the couples that made it through and those that didn’t often isn’t the problem at hand. Sometimes it’s simply the fact that they didn’t let go.

I have seen many couples that you never would have guessed had been at the brink of separation or divorce at some point that are happily married today. Despite their differences, they didn’t give up, and were able to reap the benefit.

If you are feeling those rumblings of doubt over your relationship, instead of taking the opportunity to withdraw or let go, use that time to hold on even tighter. Have a vision for your marriage and fight for it. Set all of your differences aside for just a day and be as nice to your spouse as you possibly can. Fake it “˜til you make it if you need to, but do what you must to make it. I can’t claim to know everything about making a marriage work, but I do know that the sure way to make it fail is by giving up.

In the end, every marriage is different and there may be some that cannot, or should not be saved. But it is better to know that you gave it all that you had, than to give up and wonder whether you left before you got to the very best part. Marriage can be a bumpy ride, so to make it through you’ll need to grab on to love and hold on tight.

Have you been through a time where you wanted to leave your marriage? What did you do to make it through the rough times?

Aja Dorsey Jackson is a freelance writer and public relations consultant in Baltimore, Maryland. Find out more about her at www.ajadorseyjackson.com or follow her on twitter @ajajackson.

About the author

Aja Dorsey Jackson wrote 212 articles on this blog.

Aja Dorsey Jackson is a freelance writer and marriage educator in Baltimore, Maryland and author of the blog and book, Making Love in the Microwave.


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