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40 Lessons From 48 Years of Marriage and Family (Part Two)

By Dennis Rainey

In last week’s blog post I shared 20 of the most important lessons I’ve learned about marriage and family. Thanks for reading my reflections and convictions—and for passing them on (over 50 percent of you helped pass them on!).

As I read through these lessons I’m struck by the fact that I’m still learning them after nearly five decades! Marriage and family demand a teachable heart.

So here’s part t wo ... 20 more lessons I’ve/we’ve gleaned …

If you missed part one, you can view that here.

21. Marriage and family are redemptive.

Being married to Barbara and having six kids has saved me from toxic self-absorption. The path to experience marriage and family as God designed is the same path as coming to faith in Christ—surrender—give up your rights to God, spouse and family—serve them.

I have a confession to make. I mistakenly thought God gave Barbara and me six children so we could raise them. I’ve concluded that He gave me six children so He could finish the process of helping me grow up. Nothing has taught me more about self-sacrifice and following God’s Word than loving, leading and training our children.

22. Husbands: Make your marriage a “spiritual greenhouse.”

One of the most important responsibilities of being a husband is to make your marriage a “spiritual greenhouse” and create a climate for your wife to flourish as a follower of Christ. One of my early mentors, Bill Bright, co-founder of Cru, used to say, “Vonette is my number one disciple”.

One of the biggest mistakes I made early in our marriage was not focusing enough on how Barbara was doing spiritually. When we were in the 10-year period of having our six children, Barbara needed me to engage in conversations, care for her soul, and ask what she was learning in her walk with Christ and from Scripture … and be more intentional about sharing what I was learning with her. In addition, I wish I had encouraged her to spend time with a mentor, attend women’s small group Bible studies, and get away on retreats by herself.

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23. Wives: Your respect will fuel your husband and your contempt will empty his tank.

Ephesians 5:33 commands wives to respect their husbands. Ladies, keep in mind that 93 percent of all communication is non-verbal. It’s not just what you say to your husband, but how you say it. As you interact with your husband is your tone negative and your face filled with contempt or belief? When he does something right, smile, give him a hug and an encouraging word.

Barbara’s belief in me as a man has helped me excel. It’s not a blind belief but one that speaks the truth in love. Her opinion of me as a man, husband, and father really is important.

24. Make your home a storm shelter.

I grew up in southwest Missouri and spent many nights in a musty smelling cellar, down with the potatoes and green beans, trying to dodge tornadoes that never hit.

In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus compares the builders of two homes—both homes encountered storms. We should get a clue from what Jesus taught: We’re going to build our marriage, our family, our home in the midst of storm warnings, winds, rains and floods. To make your home secure, obey His words and you will be building your home on a firm foundation.

In nearly five decades together, Barbara and I have experienced some “Category 5” hurricanes which have tested our “foundation.” Barbara nearly died on four different occasions from a runaway heart, beating over 300 beats a minute. Until we got her heart problem fixed I often imagined life as a single dad with six children. Our 13-year-old athletic son was stricken with a rare neurological disorder which took away his ability to run. There was a prodigal. There was the day my dad died. There were short paychecks in ministry. There were challenges in our ministry—a recession, scarce financial resources and issues with people.

Make your home a storm shelter—a safe place to go during the storms by obeying Jesus and fulfilling your marriage covenant for a lifetime.

25. Suffering will either drive you apart or it will be used by God to merge you together.

Scripture teaches that our response to God and His Word is the difference-maker in how we handle suffering and loss. You and your spouse have to decide to suffer together rather than falling apart.

It is a wise husband who gives his wife space and grace to process loss and suffering differently than him. After Barbara had heart surgery I remember wanting her to flip a switch and move on with life. That was easy for me to say. I wasn’t the one who they took away in an ambulance with a heart beating so fast the bed was shaking.

As you experience seasons of suffering, determine that you and your spouse will knit your hearts to God and one another. Remember: Isolation from one another is the great killer of relationships.

26. Loss is a part of life and increases with age.

Over the course of your marriage you and your spouse will experience many losses together. I’m not talking only about loss of parents, family, and friends. You may lose employment and economic security … with age comes the loss of health and eventually independence … you may experience the loss of dreams or hopes.

Losses test our faith and our bond in marriage. How you and your spouse process loss will determine whether you grow old and bless others, giving them life, or whether you grow old and curse others, becoming a bitter crotchety old person. The best book on loss is by Dr. Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised. Read and discuss this classic work as a couple.

27. Communication is the life-giver of a relationship.

Communication is the life blood of a marriage relationship and family.

One of the things we did when I arrived home from work is take a walk together in our garden and yard. We would walk for 10-15 minutes looking at what was blooming and debrief about our day. The kids thought we were just going out there to see the flowers bloom. We were going out there to get away from them so we could have a complete conversation between each other.

Leave the screens in your kitchen, turn off the TV, and take a walk. Reconnect with each other.

Our wedding day!

28. Maximize your wife’s talents, gifts, experience, and passion as you would an Olympic athlete.

Ephesians 5 talks to men about loving their wives as they love their own bodies. Ask God to help you focus on your wife’s life and help her fulfill God’s purposes for her.

Consider completing an inventory of her gifts, her talents, her passions and her dreams. What motivates her? What demotivates her? What are her core competencies? Dream some dreams together—don’t wait until you’re empty nesters to dream the dreams. Start dreaming and discussing them together even in the midst of building your family. Pray for her and her vision.

29. Different isn’t wrong; it’s just different.

Genesis 2:18 reminds us, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him.’”

We marry one another because we’re different and unfortunately, we divorce each other because we’re different. What we need to remember is that our spouse’s differences are new capacities God has brought to your life to complete you.

When we married, Barbara and I thought we knew each other. But we soon discovered that we were much more different than we realized. And we’re still learning … when Barbara and I moved into the empty-nest phase, we discovered that we are even more different than we ever imagined.

Barbara is an artist and as we began our empty-nest years I told her, “Wherever you go, you make things beautiful.” Before I married her I didn’t appreciate beauty. I had no idea how beauty reflected the glory of God. Your spouse is God’s handmade gift and adds dimension to your life. Celebrate your wife as a woman, her many gifts and her differences and how they complement you.

30. Build too many “guardrails” around your relationship rather than too few.

In marriage it’s important to set up some barriers that will protect you from temptations which could harm or even destroy your marriage. One important guardrail, for example, is to agree you will never conceal any purchase from your spouse (unless it’s a gift for her). Too many couples get into financial trouble because one or both don’t control their spending and then try to hide the problem.

I encourage men to not trust themselves alone with the opposite sex. If you need to meet a female colleague for lunch, invite someone to join you if appropriate. I’ve had a friend who won’t get in an elevator alone with a woman. You may think that’s a little extreme, but I’ve been propositioned on an elevator. Share your “guardrails” with your wife and ask her if they are too extreme. (I’ll share a few of my guardrails a bit later in this post.)

31. Husbands should express love for their wives by sacrificially denying themselves.

True love, real lasting love, denies its own needs and seeks the best for the object of their love.

Jesus explains the depth of how sacrificial love behaves when He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:14). Jesus is the ultimate model of this love. The Apostle Paul implores husbands, “… love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25).

Two questions are worth contemplating and executing:

  • Husbands, when was the last time you denied yourself for your bride? Spiritually (by praying for her and for your capacity to love her)? Financially? Helping with the kids, putting them to bed and praying for them? Cleaning the house? Sexually, when she was too tired and needed sleep?

  • Ask your wife: What are your top 3 needs right now? Write them down and ask God to help you care for her needs.

32. Husbands need to double down on becoming an expert in understanding your wives.

(This lesson is from year 48 in our marriage!)

Scripture commands husbands to “live with your wives in an understanding way…” (1 Peter 3:7). Are you engaged in the lifelong process of knowing your wife’s family background, her relationship with her mom, dad, and siblings? Do you know her needs, her mental and emotional make up, her aspirations, and disappointments? Do you know what her soul needs?

As you pursue her in love and seek to know her, you will find yourself living with her in an understanding way—thinking of her, of her wellbeing … instead of thinking about yourself.

Ask your wife one of these three questions (or if you really want to understand, ask her all three):

  • What are you facing right now that I need to better understand its impact on you?

  • Have you been through tough times in our marriage and you didn’t think I really understood what was going on inside you? Let’s go on a date and unpack your answer. I want to do a better job of understanding what you were dealing with and how I could have helped you.

  • Coach me in ways I can become a husband who truly loves you in an understanding way? (If you ask all three call 911 before asking these questions…she may faint)

Yes, it’s year 48 and I’m still asking Barbara to unpack those three questions. HINT: It’s much better to do this early on and then to keep asking her to help you be an understanding husband, rather than beginning in year 25, 40 or God forbid, year 50.

Guys, remember how women spell ROMANCE? (See #19 from last week) Clue: It rhymes with friendship. Check out her needs for romance here, from our number one series, Creating a More Romantic Marriage.

33. Wives generously use your sexual power in your husband’s life to affirm him.

I think one of the mistakes we make when we read chapters 5-7 in Proverbs (which includes a father’s advice to a son about women who are sexually aggressive) is to believe that sexual power over a man is limited just to a woman in the streets.

I think Proverbs 5-7 gives women an interesting glimpse into how to encourage and bless her husband—by speaking love to him in the language that would encourage him. I know you already know this, but men spell romance … (see #19 from my first 20). If you want to know more take a few moments and listen to “Your Husband’s Needs for Romance” from our number one series, “Creating a More Romantic Marriage.”

34. Determine your core values as a couple.

In the early years of our marriage, Barbara and I went on a 3-day retreat together. We both got alone individually and wrote down the top ten core values we each wanted to produce in our children.

Then together we agreed on and prioritized the top five core values for our family. Those five values helped us not compare our family with others and to live life on purpose with focus on what God called us to do. That project helped us be united as a couple when faced with decisions regarding children’s activities and how we spent our time and money as a family.

If you want to add some fun and excitement to your marriage why not surprise your hubby with a Weekend to Remember marriage conference ... check out dates and locations here.

35. As I get older, I want to laugh more with Barbara, gripe less, and be found guilty of giving her too much love, grace, mercy and FUN rather than too little.

A couple of laughs a week is not excessive. Some who read this may just need to go do something fun … something you did when you first dated (besides make out).

36. Cultivate a biblical view of God that will guide you all of your days.

As many of you know, one of my all-time favorite quotes is by A. W. Tozier, “What comes to mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.” Your view of God, of who He is and the blueprints of His Word, and your relationship with Him will guide you as you slog through many valleys and experience a plethora of mountaintops in your marriage and family.

37. Spiritual and relational disciplines found in Scriptures and forged early in marriage will determine the kind of marriage relationship you will experience as you near the finish line.

Psalm 127:1 tells us, "Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it." Make a contract with God as the Builder of your marriage and family.

The payoff is big: “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches” (Proverbs 24:3-4).

38. Children are a blessing—like two scoops of homemade ice cream. Grandchildren are like a banana split with three scoops, hot fudge, fresh Arkansas strawberries, caramel and salted pecans.

God is BIG on children. He created them to be generational “image bearers.” Psalm 127:3-5 spells out what He wants us to know about their value. They are:

  • A heritage

  • A reward, a gift

  • Are like arrows in the hand of a warrior

  • A quiver full of those arrows results in a blessed man (and woman)

I always wanted a pony growing up but instead I settled for a cocker spaniel named “Little Bit” and a beagle that went by “Champ.” Our kids had even more pets: a couple of rabbits, a cocker spaniel, a black retriever, a flock of chickens, pheasants, and a parakeet.

Now hear me on this: I love pets, but God never speaks of them with the same generational dignity as He does these image bearers who start out as a child.

Enjoy your pets. But when it comes to having children, don’t listen to the world—they’ll warn you how much they will cost you financially, emotionally, and, of course, yes, they represent a risk. Instead, ask God for your marching orders in terms of how many you should have and how to raise them. ( I know this is a tough issue for some couples. They want children but haven’t been blessed with them. When I get to heaven that is one of the questions I want to respectfully ask God: “Why didn’t you entrust a child to those who wanted one?”

We have no regrets. We are humbled that God chose to bless us with a quiver full.

39. Your marriage is a significant part of your legacy.

My mom’s parents, O.T. and Bertha Rhea, were married over 50 years. As a 6-year-old I recall their golden anniversary celebration and have the cake topper in my home office. What a legacy they gave their seven children and grandchildren.

40. A great marriage is hard work, but it’s worth it.

I just received a comment from the first post on “40 Lessons from 48 Years of Marriage” on Facebook. It was from a mom and her autistic son who both had attended her daughter’s (his sister’s) wedding.

At the rehearsal dinner her son stood, addressed his sister and gave some brotherly advice. He said, “Marriage is hard. Get a hobby.”

Regardless of the tough times your marriage has been through, the payoffs and benefits are well worth it. I recently told Barbara over 48 years ago "I do" and Im still saying it. I love you!

Thanks for reading this epic length blog post. One last thought…

We've passed the silver anniversary (25) and, if God allows, we are "going for the gold on September 2, 2022. Stay tuned!

Dennis Rainey

Psalm 112:1-2


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