Reflections on a 58-year-old marriage | Eastern North Carolina Now

Lib Campbell: Above
    Tom and I got married on a cold December Wednesday in the Ayden Christian Church at three o'clock in the afternoon. It was December 29, 1965. I was 19. He was 20. In our fifty-eight years of marriage, we have learned about life and each other. Starting as friends and lovers, we have grown to a comfortable place of deep friendship, irreplaceable companionship, and cherished marriage.

    "With all that I am and all that I have, I honor you." These words of promise in the marriage vows define one of the primary elements of a long-term marriage. We promise all that we are to the marriage. Marriage is not 50-50%. It's 100 - 100% when it works.

    There is no secret to a long marriage. There is hard work, the building of trust, a growing love, a guiding faith, a deepening friendship and a shared value system. Everybody has bumps. I used to tell people that some years are better than others. Now I can say some decades are better than others.


    Marriages last when we live on a growing edge together. Both partners celebrate the other; jealousy between spouses is petty. All persons are called to live into who they are meant to be. Each of us has different gifts. We cannot begrudge the gifts our spouse possesses. Animus grows when we deny our spouse their personhood.

    It helps to stay alive. Long life is a blessing that a lot of people are denied. Growing older has its challenges. That's why laughter and good humor become more important as we age. Denial of aging is a waste of energy and time. Plastic surgery makes us look.... well, plastic. Save the money. Spend it on a good vacation.

    Early bugaboos in a marriage revolve around money, holidays, and parenting. Over the years I became comfortable with debt. Large debt. We have gone to the bankruptcy edge a few times. We always knew we could survive economic catastrophe. I had taken enough home economics classes that I knew I could feed us for about 37 cents a meal. I knew how to sew and how host a party on the cheap. I always knew we would be fine.

    Holidays were a bit more challenging. Until the Christmas after our first child was born, we rotated Christmases between his family and mine. At Thanksgiving of 1969, Tom announced to both families that hereafter we were going to be in our own home for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

    Everybody was welcome at our house, but our children would grow up with their own traditions. Parents came with cots and blankets. Even when the house was basically unheated they came. Chattering of teeth was on the menu. Now with grown grandchildren living in places far and wide, adaptation with a positive spirit is a way of navigating the new norms.


    Good parenting is a learned skill. We tend to parent as we were parented. I lived an "I trust you to do the right thing," childhood. I knew curfews and limits. I knew right from wrong. I knew kindness and generosity. There was very little top-down management from the parents. It was only when I heard "Elizabeth Anne" that I knew I was in trouble. Tom grew up in a more authoritarian household. Compromise is the way that worked for us as parents. Our children seem to like us, at least most of the time. And we say to ourselves, job well done.

    Both Tom and I are full up with opinion about all things. We thrive in opinion, working to be informed, discussing and writing what we think. And we have not shied away from speaking our truth, even to those who call us ugly names.

    In a Wednesday morning Bible Study I visited, the leader was cherry-picking New Testament Pauline passages on divorce. Women all over the sanctuary were headed to the exits in tears. I remember thinking that self-righteous piety is not helpful in affirming what marriage can be.

    In years of counseling couples struggling to keep marriages going, one thing I figured out. Nobody, not even God, wants any of us to stay in a marriage that is abusive and dangerous. Honor and cherishing are part of the vow we make. But mental illness, addiction, meanness, and desire to dominate, diminish and deride makes a marriage no longer tenable or safe. Submission is too often used as a whipping boy.

    We have lived through time in a Greek hospital, cancer, saggy bottoms and fat - lots of fat. Still, we have come out on the other side with thanksgiving for the marriage and family we have. Our way might not work for others, but it's worked over half a century for us.


    In your New Year reflections, count those ways you have honored and cherished your spouse and all people around you. If you find yourself living in a sea of broken glass and don't know how to move through it, you have my contact information. Happy New Year!

    Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist pastor, retreat leader and hosts the website: She welcomes comments at
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