Marriage That Endures for the Long Run

A few years’ back, I entered a competitive 10-mile run. I had trained long and hard for it, and at the end of that Saturday morning, I crossed the finish line in sheer exhaustion.

I decided then and there – I’m never doing this again. (And I haven’t.)

But I am so proud of that accomplishment. I finished respectably in my age group, but far behind at least 100 other runners. But you know what – the time didn’t really matter. I was sorely tested, but I finished the race.

I remember starting strong, running smoothly and well. But over the course of those grueling 10 miles, I encountered uphills and downhills. I stumbled over a few obstacles in the road, I even bumped into another runner at one point – but I kept running. Did I want to quit once or twice? Well, yes! But I knew Vanessa and some friends were there waiting at the finish line, cheering me on.

A couple of miles from the finish line, a man running alongside me began encouraging me, and he boosted my spirits. I picked up the pace and even had the nerve to have a little mini-kick at the end! Yes, I finished strong!

So, Kenneth – what has this got to do with marriage and relationships?

Well – everything.

That race is a living metaphor in my memory bank for what marriage is all about – or should be about. Marriage is far closer to a 10-mile race than a sprint. Perhaps an even more apt metaphor is a marathon.

So how does one prepare for a marriage that endures for the long run? Here’s how:

1. Readiness. When training for that 10-mile run, I ran several days each week, building up my stamina. When we dated, Vanessa and I got to know one another over the course of 2-1/2 years. We learned to appreciate – or at least respect – one another’s “likes” and dislikes.” We talked about our pasts – our ups and our downs, our challenges and our triumphs, our faith, and our struggles, our hopes, and our dreams. When we chose to wed, we had both eyes open. It would be very difficult to run a long race blindfolded.

2. Consistency. It’s virtually impossible for someone to run a lengthy race without putting in consistent practice time. Imagine gorging on a pint of Blue Bell ice cream night after night for two months, getting very little sleep, and then trying to run the race alongside others. That would not go very well. At some point, you would most certainly run out of gas.

Marriage also requires consistency – your spouse needs to know that you mean what you say, and you say what you mean. Consistency means you keep going at a steady pace, recognizing at times you may have to slow down – and at times, you may have to speed up. Be trustworthy and reliable - your spouse needs to know he or she can count on you!

3. Enjoyment. That race took me through some changes – at some points, there was lots of open space, at others, there was rough terrain, at others, we were running through wooded areas. During some portions of the race, I was virtually by myself, and at other times, I was in a big gaggle of runners. Marriages also take you through changing scenery – so remember to inhale, exhale, and enjoy the journey. You will no doubt encounter challenges - whether it be aging parents, health matters, money matters, difficult kids…but through it all, you have each other. Have you ever noticed how much faster a road trip goes when you go with a companion as opposed to going alone? Enjoy the ride with your mate.

4. Nourishment. Proper intake is essential for optimal performance. For a runner, hydration is key, along with the nutrition you put into your body. A good marriage also needs to be fed well – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Marriages need daily nourishment – feed one another with encouraging words, pray over one another, and ask “What do you need from me today?” Love each other – even when you don’t feel like it.

Culture whispers to us that if it’s real love, it just shouldn’t be that hard. Culture doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

Marriage IS hard work, and it demands that we embrace the art of compromise. Everything is not going to go our way. But dealing with those obstacles helps build up our marriage muscles. Struggle adds a layer of richness that cannot be found any other way.

Michael Jordan, best basketball player ever (I love Lebron but no – Jordan is the best hooper, no doubt) is remembered for six NBA titles, with two three-peats. He’s also remembered for scoring titles, MVPs, and Olympic Gold Medals, as well as spectacular, tongue-wagging, rim-rocking slam dunks and an obsessive desire to win – no matter what. What isn’t remembered or talked about as much is the fact that MJ didn’t win that first NBA championship until his seventh year in the league – he went home the previous six as a loser. In other words, Jordan had to work, and he earned what he received.

Very often in marriage, we get out of it what we put in it.

For Vanessa and me, as we move toward our 26th anniversary by God’s amazing grace and favor, we didn’t get to this point without some scars, bumps, and bruises. We appreciate the kind words people say, truly, but they are not privy to the work put in.

We have chosen to run this race together. When I ran through that finish line after running those 10 miles, I recognized her voice over all those voices in the huge crowd, many cheering on their loved ones. I recognized her voice because I was used to it, and I was expecting it, because I had heard it many times before.

In our marriage, there is another voice that she and I have come to recognize - the voice of God. We chose many years ago to trust Him with our marriage, because even when we faltered and didn’t know what we were doing, He knew what He was doing. Our marriage has not survived because we “got lucky.” Our marriage has thrived because we see it for what it is – a part of His divine plan to make me a better man and her a better woman.

Luck has nothing all to do with it – for this, we have put in work.

I still don’t plan on doing another 10-mile run. But I LOVE this race – this marriage race - and Vanessa and I are in it to win it! This one is still going, and through readiness, consistency, enjoyment, and nourishment, I’m enjoying the journey.

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