I recently had the opportunity to be around a couple who had 35+ years of marriage under their belt. Watching the way they interacted with each other raised the marriage bar for me.

As we gathered to enjoy a meal outside, Jen came to the serving table to get a plate for Greg. “Greg loves asparagus!” she said, excited to be serving him something he enjoyed.

Later in the evening, Greg brought up Jen’s passion for gardening. “Jen, tell them about the fabulous vegetable garden you grew last year!”

Over the few days they visited with us, they carried on in this way, checking on each other, serving each other, laughing together, and thoroughly enjoying each other. All around were drawn into their circle of warmth and welcome. I was fascinated. I had to find out their secret. Could my marriage look like that after thirty-some years? Please tell me how!

I finally got a moment alone with Jen. “I can’t help but notice,” I said filled with curiosity, “how happy you and Greg are together. How do you keep your marriage so strong?”

She smiled. “Yes, things are pretty good with us! I can’t tell you any one secret to keeping a marriage strong and happy, but I can tell you that we started out like most other couples, madly in love, and then disappointed when the daily grind of marriage wore away at our happiness. We fought and struggled for a while. Things weren’t terrible, but they weren’t great. We gathered some great tips here and there, but”—she paused and put her hand on my shoulder—“the real breakthrough came from John 15:13.”

I was familiar with that scripture. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” 1 This verse usually made me think of stories like Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, or even Jesus dying on the cross—not married love.

She continued, “When we decided to apply that verse to our marriage, we both looked for ways to give of ourselves, even to sacrifice. It was in the little things, like making his favorite meal even if I was tired, him stopping at the store for a few items when all he wanted to do was get home. Holding our tongues when we had a nasty comeback.

“It was also in the bigger things, like letting go of some of our personal endeavors in favor of a family goal, or getting behind each other’s personal dreams. When you think about it, there are endless ways to give.”

And so I did think about it, and I saw a lot of room for improvement in my relationship with my husband. It takes effort to make someone else happy, to show that “greater love.” But I like that the trend of my marriage is changing. Our decision to try to give more than we take has set us on a path to deeper love and greater happiness.

  1. NLT