How long have we been married?

photos from The Echo Group, Inc.

Despite what many of us tend to believe before we enter into a marriage relationship, marriage is not “warm and fuzzy feelings” all of the time.  I realized this important piece of information nearly seventeen years ago as I was standing with my husband of less than two weeks in the middle of a grocery store in Northern Virginia fighting over whether to buy chicken or pork chops.  It was a simple solution in my mind.  We went to the grocery store with the purpose of buying pork chops.  Our entire menu was planned around pork chops.  Therefore, walking out of there with pork chops was the only real solution.  However, in my precious newlywed husband’s mind, buying chicken was the solution because chicken was on sale…not pork chops.  At that point in our marriage, we had neither learned the art of fighting nor had we learned how to pick our battles.  And on that particular day in suburban DC, that was a hill on which we were both prepared to not only do battle on, but to fight unto death if necessary.  

Let’s face it.  Marriage is hard.  Basically, after years of living one’s life without having to think about anyone else, a man and a woman are thrust into a covenant relationship where everything one does or says affects the other.  Marriage brings us to the point (or should bring us to the point) where we have to recognize that life isn’t just about us anymore, rather there is someone else we have to consider that is now part of the equation.  Marriage exposes our weaknesses.  It reveals how selfish we are as individuals.  It takes away some of our independence. Yes, marriage does all of these things.  Yet, marriage, in the context in which it was created, is also a beautiful picture of the gift that God has so graciously given to us.  It is an illustration of Christ’s relationship with the Church. A picture of one laying down one’s life for another.  A marriage relationship purifies both parties and enables each person to be sharpened by the other.  It is the vehicle for lifelong companionship.  In short, marriage is both fun and exciting and difficult and challenging all rolled into one.  It’s complex yet simple.  

So, if marriage is not easy, how do people manage to make it work? 

I recently had the opportunity to interview three couples who collectively have been married for almost 150 years.  Terry and Cathy Kemp (44), Tommy and Melita Tomlinson (42), and Rainey and Pat Little (58).  

I asked each couple if they fully comprehended what the commitment meant when they said their vows.  While they all took their vows seriously, they all admitted that there was no way that they could fully comprehend the complexity of marriage or what lay ahead of them on the journey.  They also talked about how their parents had been wonderful examples for them; therefore, they had some understanding of what a committed marriage looked like.  Pat Little went on to say, “We had a desire to have a long marriage, and our love for each other gave us the encouragement to fulfill our vows made at the altar. Our courtship was unusual in that we dated over a period of 5 years—but there were times when we went our separate ways. These times allowed us to realize how much we cared for each other and also helped us become more mature.”

The challenges that these three couples have faced run the gamut from spending and budget planning to balancing work and family time, transitioning with career moves, infertility, and blending adopted children with biological children. 

How have you handled times of conflict in 

your marriage?

Terry and Cathy Kemp:

Giving each other space and time is good for reflection and prayer. Plus, arguments have a tendency to escalate and words get very hurtful, so this is good prevention. (I do enjoy slamming a door when I’m mad, and Terry hates it. He sulls up when he is mad, and I hate it.)

Tommy and Melita Tomlinson:

As newlyweds, we had a sign over our bed that read, "Never go to bed angry at each other." We have always tried to remember this whenever we have disagreements. Honestly, we don't disagree about too many things! But, if we do, we always try very hard to see the other's point of view. 

Rainey and Pat Little:

There have been very few, but we always faced them together with prayer and commitment to finding what was best for our family. We agreed that we would not let something minor become major and always worked through differences with discussion and compromise. Pat said, “The Lord blessed me with a very selfless, humble, and patient husband who always puts others first.”

What have you enjoyed most about marriage?

Terry and Cathy Kemp:

We were so young when we married, so it’s been rewarding to mature together- emotionally, spiritually, financially. We’ve had many adventures together- some planned, like vacations and work trips, some unexpected- like mishaps and accidents. Our three children are what we have enjoyed the most about our marriage. And now that we have grandchildren, the enjoyment continues exponentially.

Tommy and Melita Tomlinson:

It's really hard to pick just one thing, but our friendship, partnership, and the family that God has blessed us with are among the things that we treasure most about our marriage. 

Rainey and Pat Little:

We have enjoyed living a shared life with our best friend and our family.  (Pat) The years have flown by and there has never been anything but happiness from my commitment 58+ years ago. Having a wonderful husband and a great father to our four children has been a tremendous blessing from the Lord.

What advice would you offer to an engaged or newly married couple?

Terry and Cathy Kemp:

Know that when you are marrying someone, you are also marrying their family. If you cannot love your in-laws and their family values, there will likely be discord ahead.  The verse about not letting the sun go down on your wrath is good advice. It forces you to address issues and not let them fester.  Also, whatever problem you are facing, there is so much to be thankful for- so counting your blessings daily is also good advice. One day at a time, sweet Jesus.

Tommy and Melita Tomlinson:

We would tell them that marriage is NOT a 50/50 relationship! If you think that way, you will always be trying to keep score. Instead, marriage should be one where both spouses are willing to give 100% to the relationship. When you look at it that way, each of you are always putting the other's needs first. 

Rainey and Pat Little:

We would tell them to be friends, to want the best for each other, to communicate freely and openly, and to be one in Christ.  In addition, never put your head on a pillow at night until you have solved any problem that has developed that day. Focus on the minor things so that they don’t become major things. Learn to be patient with the one you love and don’t try to change him/her. Remember you fell in love with them with all of their faults as well as good qualities. Continue to “court” your spouse and show the same enjoyment when together as a married couple as you did when dating.

What advice would you go back and offer to your newlywed self?

Terry and Cathy Kemp:

Recognize what is most important early on.  It’s not your career or material things.  It’s each other.  In addition, know that the adjustment and transition to marriage is hard. Cut yourself some slack.

Tommy and Melita Tomlinson:

If we knew then what we know know, Tommy would tell the newlywed him to be on the lookout for ways to help around the house, without being asked. It's a partnership, after all, and the husband should not always expect to be waited on hand and foot. (Even if that's what your Mama did!) And Melita would tell her newlywed self to be more upfront in expressing her thoughts to her husband. She should not expect him to read her mind about something, and then get upset if he doesn't do or act like she wanted him to. She should just tell him upfront.

Rainey and Pat Little:

Be more open; don’t try to “keep it all in and man up” so much.  In addition, enjoy every minute of your marriage as the years go by so quickly. Focus more on the spiritual than the physical life. Save more for those fun retirement years!!

What do you think are some specific reasons for the longevity of your marriage?

Terry and Cathy Kemp:

Commitment. Divorce was not an option. We moved 300 miles away after our wedding so we had to rely on each other for survival.  It’s really true that love endures all things and that putting your spouse before yourself is the way to true and lasting love.  Considering how little we knew and how young we were, our marriage must have been ordained by God!

Tommy and Melita Tomlinson:

We believe one of the reasons it has lasted is because neither of us EVER thought that it wouldn't work! What I mean by that is, we did not enter our marriage with the idea that if it didn't work out, we could end it. We both believe marriage is a lifelong commitment. Another important reason for the success is that we both agreed that God should be and IS at the center of our marriage. 

Rainey and Pat Little:

Shared faith in God 

Love for each other

Respect for each other

Patience and understanding

Seeking the Lord and His will for our lives


The one piece of advice that each couple addressed at some point throughout the interview is that a married couple should never go to bed angry with one another.  That actually comes straight from scripture in Ephesians 4:26-27. “And don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.” The NLT Bible commentary states the following about those two scripture references:

The Bible doesn’t tell us that we shouldn’t feel angry, but it points out that it is important to handle our anger properly.  If vented thoughtlessly, anger can hurt others and destroy relationships.  If bottled up inside, it can cause us to become bitter and destroy us from within.  

Though each couple worded that piece of advice slightly different, the message is the same and seems to have worked in helping their marriages remain healthy.  The rest of us might want to take note; there seems to be some wisdom in that advice.  

By the way, in case you were wondering, we left the store that day with chicken.

Ashley Taylor