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Jo and Phil Gerrish
Photo courtesy of the Gerrish family
Jo and Phil Gerrish

Fighting naked

Marriage | The 39-year marriage of Phil and Jo Gerrish has survived disillusionment and unmet expectations, as they learned to put the needs of the other above their own

This article is the third in an occasional online series profiling couples who have been married for at least 35 years. As sociologist Mark Regnerus writes, "Young adults want to know that it's possible for two fellow believers to stay happy together for a lifetime, and they need to hear how the generations preceding them did it." It is also important to see that marriages are not always happy all the time, but commitment is crucial.

TWIN FALLS, Idaho—According to Phil Gerrish, he was “a hippie with long hair and a headband” who always spoke his mind. Jo was a straight-laced, piano-playing, ballet-dancing 17-year-old who didn’t question authority. They met in the lobby of a women’s dorm at Utah State University in 1971.

“He was a wild man,” Jo said, but she hesitantly agreed to go to a movie with him. Phil took her to a 25-cent showing of Paint Your Wagon and then snuck her into a bar for a drink. “Get loose,” he said that evening, pushing a glass of beer toward her.

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Jo rolled her eyes at the memory: “It was so romantic.”

Phil added, “She was tighter than a Swiss clock … and it didn’t work—she didn’t get loose.”

But on another date, Phil showed his tender side, tearing up as he described his late, loving father. For Jo, it was as though “his harsh exterior got pulled back.”

They married two years later. Then disillusionment set in. Jo expected Phil to meet her needs and keep her happy. Both struggled with unmet sexual expectations. Phil said their sex life after having children had “a slight pulse, but the paramedics would declare it dead if they showed up.”

Back then, Jo was a nominal Christian who was “searching and doubting.” Phil was a religious rebel. His motto: “If it feels good, do it.” But God turned their hearts around at Christian Center, a church in Twin Falls, Idaho, where Phil said “the presence of God was palpable.” Phil began to “devour” the Bible. Jo saw her “prideful” desire to look good to others melt away.

Their faith led to new expectations. Jo learned through Isaiah 54:5 to look to God for ultimate fulfillment. As she stopped expecting Phil to make her feel valuable, he began giving “those sweet compliments and reassuring hugs” she wanted.

They learned to put the other’s needs above their own, even in sex. Jo remembered “times when Phil would honor my need for sleep or I would honor his need for physical contact.” Expectations are still a struggle 39 years later, but Phil said, “I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.”

Their advice to other married couples?

Phil: Make it a priority to please God more than yourself, since only He can bring true fulfillment. Talk through struggles with close friends of the same sex.

Jo: View annoying aspects of your spouse as “God’s hand in shaping you.” She said her husband’s “tendency to be overly strong and abrasive” helped her learn to stand up for herself and say, “No, I don’t agree.”

Phil’s parting advice? “Fight naked … it won’t last long!”

David Fisher
David Fisher

David is a husband, father, management consultant, and student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington D.C.

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