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Dr. Meg on How to Make a Marriage Last

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Dr. Meg Meeker

I figured with a milestone anniversary like this coming up, I might have a thing or two to share about marriage. So, I let some members of my team ask me a few questions about my and Walt’s relationship. I decided to get as real and personable as possible. Because let’s be honest, real marriage is hard. But it can also be beautiful.

When and how did you and Walt meet?

Walt and I first met at medical school. I was actually engaged to someone else at the time, and I hate to admit this, but the minute I saw Walt for the first time, I slipped my engagement ring into my pocket. How fickle is that?

 I’d been engaged for two years and found myself postponing the wedding repeatedly. My parents disapproved of the engagement for very good reasons, but as a 22-year-old, I refused to agree with them even though I knew they were right. (Parents, take note.)

Call it love-at-first-sight or simple immaturity, but I was smitten with Walt. He was two years ahead of me in medical school and my brother, whom I adored, was best friends with him. Knowing that my brother approved of Walt gave me permission, if you will, to fall for him the first time I saw him.

From that moment on, we spent almost all of our free time together.

What is one of the greatest challenges you’ve been through as a couple and how did you get through it? 

One of the biggest struggles we’ve been through stemmed from selfishness and our strong wills. Walt wanted to do missionary work in Africa after medical school, and I wanted to do a surgery residency in Boston.  

We tugged at one another and even talked about divorce because we couldn’t agree on what to do, and we weren’t able to see what the other wanted or needed. We just focused on what we wanted–a disastrous formula for any marriage.

As a fourth-year medical student, I became pregnant with our first child, Mary. We were thrilled. Her birth changed everything in our lives. We stopped looking at what we wanted as individuals and started focusing on our needs as a family.

Walt chose to do something extraordinary that changed my future and my selfish outlook on life. We were finishing our time in Cincinnati where we went to medical school and preparing to do residency—work that demands 90 hours a week. 

One day Walt said to me, “I don’t think it’s fair to Mary for both of us to be residents at the same time. I can go first and you stay home, but I’m concerned that after four years of my being gone and you being with Mary, you may not go back to residency when I’m done. But if you do your residency first and I stay home with her, I know I’ll go back. You go first.”

That’s what we did. It was one of the best times in our marriage.

What values do you share that have allowed you to have a long-lasting marriage?

When we first arrived in Milwaukee, where I did my residency, Walt joined a bible study at our church. While he went off to the studies, I stayed home, ate popcorn and watched Dynasty.

I began loving it when Walt went to bible study because it made him kinder, more supportive of me—I still very much had an all-about-me attitude then—and I saw him soften. He fell in love with God. That changed him.

A few years later, I decided to ask Walt what he thought about Jesus and why. I was scared to know because I didn’t want to change as much as he had. But he never pressured me to adopt his faith, and it was for that reason I chose to. The glue and biggest shared value in our marriage became God.

What advice would you give to new or younger couples hoping to make their relationship last?

Two things every good marriage requires is love for God (or Jesus) and a commitment to hang on. 

One of the biggest mistakes young married couples make is failing to understand that if they just hold on, the marriage will change. Why? Because life changes. Kids are born, they get sick, we get sick, our parents die and sometimes life just beats us up. Each person in the marriage changes through these events, and this often draws the couple closer together.

Marriage is not about becoming supermen and women or super parents. It’s about recognizing that you are a messed up person, your partner is a messed up person, and you love one another anyway. Pretty simple and pretty hard.

I have never regretted slipping that ring off of my finger when I first saw Walt. Walt was always meant to be my husband and I his wife. We still struggle with being self-centered and butt heads over ridiculous things, but we have grown as individuals and we have grown together. I could not be more grateful for these last 40 years.

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