Founding Pastors Greg and Debbie Surratt have gained valuable wisdom during their 42 years of marriage. Here are just a few of their many helpful tips.
By Greg and Debbie Surratt
1. Opposites attract, attack, but then attach, as they become attuned to each other.
Greg: Recognize that he/she is different than you and try to love the differences.
Debbie: Remember what attracted you in the first place. Greg was adventurous, outgoing, a leader. I was quiet, steady, cautious. We are opposites. You can imagine the conflict this created in a new marriage! As you work through conflict you begin to see your differences as a strength and bond that really does make you better together!
Greg: At first I tried to “fix” her. In my eyes, I was the “pattern” and she needed to be conformed into my image. That didn’t go well! It was very uncomfortable until we begin to see God’s design in our differences. Now we laugh about our differences and talk about the fact that neither of us could function as well without the other.
2. We really enjoy hanging out together, but also occasionally doing our own thing.
Debbie: Give each other space to pursue your own interests, friends, and hobbies. On our day off we typically hang out together. We get a coffee, do some honey do’s, walk aimlessly through a favorite store and get lunch together at one of Greg’s hole in the wall dives. But if he wants to golf or fish or I want to shop or hang with one of my girls we are just fine to do that! This is one of our rhythms and if we get out of rhythm for weeks or even months then we feel it in our relationship and have to work to bring it back again.
Greg: I really like hanging out with her. She is the ultimate low-maintenance friend. We don’t have to plan anything special. Just being together is enough. At the same time, there is not a neediness that manifests itself in smothering each other. Occasionally, we each need our space, and that’s okay.
3. She is always number one on my favorites list.
Greg: I put her number one on my favorites list on my phone. She doesn’t have to be there. There’s nothing legalistic about it. It’s just a reminder of the place she has in my heart. I checked her phone the other day and I was number seven. At least I’m on the list! Actually the truth is, she is not very technical and probably doesn’t know how to change the order.
4. Know the difference between a surprise and a secret.
Debbie: A surprise is something that you both can enjoy, a secret could possibly hurt somebody. I don’t really like to be surprised, but Greg does. He knows surprise parties, surprise meetings, even surprise getaways don’t float my boat. I’m a planner and I need to know the plan. There is one area that I think I would find pleasure in a surprise though. Maybe an occasional piece of jewelry with a little extra bling! For my most recent birthday, I purchased my own ring and sent him a picture. I didn’t want him to be caught off guard when others commented about my gift. After 42 years, sometimes you have to take things into your own hands!
Greg: Secrets are a whole different issue. We have seen countless marriages damaged or destroyed by secret accounts, secret passwords, secret relationships. We have a no secret policy when it comes to anything that might threaten our marriage. We can pick up each other’s phones or computers anytime we want, and have freedom to ask questions. Don’t have secrets!
5. It’s better, if you can, to drive separately to church.
Greg: It’s hard to worship Jesus when you’re ticked off at your spouse! This probably isn’t very practical advice, but as someone expected to deliver an encouraging message on the weekend, it became a necessity at times in our marriage. Preachers know what I’m talking about.
6. When in doubt, don’t.
Greg: Don’t make important decisions without talking to each other.
Debbie: Don’t say hurtful things to or about each other.
Greg: Don’t make commitments without including or informing each other.
7. Good days often aren’t as great as anticipated, and bad days aren’t as bad as you think.
Debbie: Don’t let your expectations ruin an otherwise great day. Sometimes our expectations can be so high that there is no way reality could match up. When the anniversary or birthday celebration wasn’t what you anticipated or the vacation didn’t turn out like you expected, or your child didn’t make student of the month, that’s a great time to practice gratitude. Understand that disappointments are temporary and we can always be hopeful about the future. Greg likes to say that Christ followers ought to be the most hopeful people on the planet.
Greg: You’re going to have bad days—days when the kids don’t listen, bills pile up, or the two of you can’t seem to get along. Bad days can stretch into bad weeks or even bad months. Here’s what I know: if you handle them right, bad days never last. Studies even say that couples who identify themselves in a bad marriage don’t see it that way five years later. Circumstances change, we change, God intervenes. Don’t make a bad day permanent by bailing out too soon. Pain is temporary; rewards are eternal.
8. Make marriage and family a priority.
Debbie: We can compare busy lives with anyone! It would be easy for our family (including our marriage) to be sacrificed on an altar of ministry. We have seen it happen. A key to keeping marriage and family in proper focus is perspective. Ask yourself: Which is going to last longer, this current church or business issue or my marriage and family?
Greg: The answer is obvious. So where should I put my best energy? My marriage and family will last forever. That’s also where the long-term rewards are. We have always tried to put family first. It is a never ending pursuit. Most Saturdays you’ll find us chasing soccer games or birthday parties in pursuit of the rewards that come from family. We would not want it any other way.
9. Stay away from the hot buttons.
Greg & Debbie: We know where they are. Don’t push them! Enough said.
10. Learn to laugh at and with each other.
Greg: While laughing with each other is great, we have more fun laughing at each other. After forty two years some things are just funny!
Debbie: Here is a common pattern: I laugh at something Greg has said or done. This typically is not when he is trying to be funny. It hits me as so funny that I cry with uncontrollable laughter. At that point he laughs at me because I’m laughing so hard at him. It often snowballs into the funniest thing ever over something that wasn’t even that funny to start with. Someone said “Humor can be one of our best survivor tools”. Learn to laugh together!
Greg: The truth is, we learned a lot more than 10 things about marriage in 42 years. We could’ve talked about active listening or the importance of forgiveness. The list could go on and on. But what I do know is that the investment we’ve made in our marriage is second only to the investments we made in God’s kingdom. The rewards from both are indescribable. One of my favorite marriage quotes is attributed to Mignon McLaughlin: “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” We’ve done that over and over, and we’re looking forward to doing it many more times in the future.