Cherish the Thought: A Reflection on Marriage in Midlife

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For our twentieth anniversary celebrated this summer, my husband and I met in the same space, on the same steps, at the very same time of the very same day as our original ceremony and renewed our marriage vows.

This time though, the church was empty. There were no flowers, music, or attendants. The priest was different. And no party was planned for afterward.

It was very different. 

Nothing about that moment differed more, though, than the two people standing there, the span of our twenty years stretching between us as we held hands.

As a bride of twenty-two, I pledged my love and loyalty to a young man I had known my whole life. It was the stuff of movies, or at least CW TV shows (we were childhood friends cruising bayou islands way before Dawson and Joey).

Twenty years ago, we chose to finish growing up together and be together as life put us through its courses. 

And it has. 

Living abroad, graduate school, miscarriages and high-risk pregnancies, a layoff, starting a business, a parent’s illness, and death. Moves and renovations. Recessions. A pandemic. Life’s storms. 

But there was more.

Our entwined families, incredible friends across the world, beautiful memories of tours of crumbling palaces and strolls through markets, hilarious misunderstandings that made for the best stories, beautiful babies growing into incredible people, a home we built together, the rises and falls of tides of friends and faith and fortune.

These things pulsed between our clasped hands.

Earlier that morning, when I asked my husband if he would marry me again, from one knee, offering a morning cup of coffee in place of a ring, I hesitated even to suggest it. “The first ones took,” “A vow is a vow,” and other thoughts of not wanting to be silly or cliche all rattled in my overactive brain.

Later on the church steps, we stood there for what our friend and priest called a “booster shot,” an updated review of God’s blessing on us, what we would need to reach forward together.

The same vows. Very different people.

Looking back, marrying at such a young age meant we grew towards one another as we entered adulthood together.

Now, as seasoned adults in our fifth decade of life, I heard the pledges and the vows again in our mature voices. The weight of what I had promised as a young woman, né girl, struck me as I considered how we had already loved one another through different stages of life.

Here in midlife, as well as ”mid marriage,” the words of our vows were heavy that afternoon, echoing through the empty church.

We have known lean and fat years, so richer and poorer now means much more than vague possibilities; we have nursed each other through uncomfortable illnesses and inconvenient surgeries, so sickness feels just as vivid as health, and a near-death experience a few years back had brought us closer to “until death do us part” than we were ready for.

The word that caught me this time around– one that twenty years earlier I had quickly repeated as part of the script– was “cherish.”

Loving each other has come easily; honoring each other is non-negotiable, but cherish?

Cherishing another person requires not only protecting them lovingly but valuing that person dearly and intentionally holding them close in mind constantly.

Can I definitively say I fulfill the vow to cherish him day in and day out? What does that look like in the mid-marriage stage of life?

As I dwelled on the word, I realized that unlike loving, honoring, keeping, and forsaking all others– marriage vows which are visible actions, easily recognized and measured– cherishing is so inward that we can’t really hold one another to it. Rather, we must hold ourselves accountable. And we have to trust that the other is doing the same because the failure to cherish one another is a slippery slope towards the cliff of indifference or neglect.

Am I cherishing him? Day-to-day chaos can impair our intention to do so—especially the chaos of midlife–the pulls of family and work in every direction but together.

This time my vow was as much to myself as it was to him. In the next twenty, I’m holding myself to cherishing the man who chose to grow towards me.

“How to Cherish” is a messy checklist, and each couple’s list is likely unique. If I’ve learned one thing in twenty years, it’s that every marriage is as unique and varied as the two people who enter into it.

But I am making a list of what it means for me to keep him highly valued in my mind and held dearly, and I’m sharing it with him so that he can be aware of my intentions towards him. I’m also keeping it on the forefront of our life–reminders in places I’ll see them– to remember that this vow, like the others of the marriage ceremony, should take precedence to otherworldly obligations of life’s busy-ness.

Let’s use our PMC community as a way to build each other up with ideas to fulfill the vow to cherish our spouses.

Use the comment box below or on the Facebook post to share ideas for meaningful actions that lead to cherishing our loved ones.

Ideas for Actively Cherishing Our Spouses

  • Stoplight meditations: Use traffic signals as mental signals to think actively about your spouse. Green: a thanksgiving; yellow: a need; Red: put a worry or fear to rest.
  • In the morning, if you wake first, spend the first couple of minutes looking at your partner. Reflect on their contributions from the day before.
  • Complete a chore you know your spouse doesn’t enjoy and tell them you did it for them as a gift.
  • Reread old letters from one another. Quote the letters in texts to each other.
  • Go through old pictures. Share them with each other with memories associated with them.
  • Reach out to a friend from the early days of your relationship. Often these people knew you well before life became super complicated. Spend time as a couple with that person, recalling who you were back then.
  • Go for a wellness check-up with your pastor, priest, or counselor.
  • Make plans for your future. Planning a trip even in the distant future, preparing an emergency fund, or even completing your estate planning can be a time to think about who you want to be in the future and how you want to prepare for it together.
  • Label a map with your adventures.
  • Plan a bucket list of new adventures and goals.
  • Look over old calendars recalling past events together.
  • Make your lock or background screen on your phone an image of your spouse. Add a special ringtone just for them.
  • Make a “stubs jar” to save mementos over the course of the year from event tickets and movie stubs or special dinners out.
  • Have new photos taken. Be sure to ask for a few couple photos that don’t include the children. Update your office photos of your family.
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Laura Soule Boyles spent an idyllic childhood around the brackish, grass-lined shores of Bayou Davenport in West Pensacola, surrounded by siblings, cousins, and neighborhood friends. Laura has lived abroad and loves to travel, but now resides spittin’ distance from her childhood home with her husband, three children (ages 9,13, and 15), chocolate lab, bunny, and an axolotl (just google it). The family enjoys home projects, boating, and time with the next generation of cousins. An educator for twenty years, she loves sunrises, coffee, Alabama football, books, babies, and Jesus.

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