“It doesn’t matter where you go in life, what you do ….. it’s who you have beside you.”  Anonymous

I accidentally left myself all of twenty minutes to get ready for my wedding on December 16, 1977. The Oversleeper begins his day in the move-it-or-lose-it mode, and my best friend, Dale, and I having been “moving” with hardly a breath ever since. We married very young with foolishly little experience or education to prepare us for the rough seas ahead: a separation and near divorce, a firstborn with severe disabilities, multiple interstate moves, repeated periods of unemployment, numerous hospitalizations and surgeries, lost pregnancies, oppressive debt, business failures, sibling divorces, parental and family deaths, and, for nearly twenty years, a job which required frequent, unpredictable, often extended separations. There is no way our union should have survived over four decades of such dramatic ups and downs, spurts and starts, rain and sun, collisions and repairs, trouble and peace, heart-rending losses and hard-won gains. Yet our exclusive club is tighter and more exclusive than ever.

And this triumph, I believe, can be credited to the principle of “belonging”.…

It seems obvious to me, after years of intimate contact with thousands of hearts, that humankind comes into this life with the innate desire to “belong”. It is the driving force in all our psychological landscape. What we long for is a complete sense of belonging—ultimate security and acceptance. We find this in our mother’s arms as infants, but we search and ache for it all the rest of our lives. It is the beating of a spiritual “heart”—the pain of feeling apart, separated. If this sacred aching is treated with understanding and tenderness by our families, we gain some comfort and peace and relative security in this life. On the other hand, if this longing is fueled by cruelty, neglect, and betrayal by our families, the hunger can become so wretchedly acute that it either drives us to foolish choices in a desperate attempt to fill it, or to depression and hopelessness.

I have thought a great deal about how this all relates to marriage. Marriage is clearly the greatest opportunity in this life to experience, at least in human relationships, a satisfaction of our ancient longing. Sensing its potential, everyone aspires to it one way or another: that sense of full belonging, that “pure relationship”, as Anne Morrow Lindbergh puts it. Of course, there are many who promote shortcuts to achieving this great-thing-that-we-desire-above-all-things, and if one buys in, one may, for a time, feel a sense of “belonging”. But when the “shortcut” runs its course, and it is finally admitted or discovered that in our hunger for emotional security, the relationship was actually established on the very principles of insecurity, our heart struggles against itself to ever completely rest again. We know intuitively that we have yet to experience the authentic human love we are desperate for—a love akin to God’s: constant, committed, consistent, merciful, long-suffering, patient, hopeful, eternal.

The only kind of marriage that can come close to that kind of love (and therefore to the belonging that we are looking for), is a fully reciprocal, long-term union: one that pays the high price to create trust and irrevocable commitment. Deep, quiet security can then take root, and as it does, emotional fortitude and freedom spring up. This is the great miracle and purpose of marriage and life in general—to stretch us through hard times and hard things into becoming “one”. It’s there, in that place of unity, that we experience the deepest joys life has to offer. 

Above all my blessings and trials—which are more numerous than can ever be counted—I rest in, and thank God for, the partner who, after forty years, I can say “belongs” to me, and to whom I truly and willingly “belong”.

Here are the ways we merged and matured over time (and recommend to others who want a “belonging” marriage): 

  1. Study “living” love. Watch others who exemplify love in their marriage and other relationships. If possible, get to know them and spend time with them. Make note of how they interact with others, particularly their spouse, and how they react to the unexpected or to disappointments in life.
  2. Study historic love. Read about or watch films about those who have accomplished loving marriage for a lifetime. Look for the ways they coped with their differences and difficulties, yet continued to “belong”  together.
  3. Study true, proven principles. Make finding, understanding, and applying the general principles governing relationships an intentional focus of your life. We go to school for years to learn a trade or profession, but expect to just figure out for ourselves that which is most advanced and complex of all: successful marriage.
  4. Develop a spiritual life. The richer your connection with faith, whatever form it may take, the more resilient, peaceful, and secure you will naturally become despite life’s difficulties, and the more committed you will feel to your spouse.
  5. Prioritize family. By consistently exemplifying the message, “I am here for you”, you give your children and Loved One the greatest possible gift you can give them: security in their relationship with you.
  6. Strive to help others “belong”. Reaching beyond yourself to care sincerely about and to serve and accept others, as they are, will increase your own sense of “belonging”.
  7. Forgive. Life is life-giving only when we allow ourselves and others to change and to grow past the past. A heart holding on to condemnation or contempt, especially toward spouse, will never know the full peace of “belonging”.

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