This article is the 12th in a 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.
Dennis and Barbara Rainey are supposed to be the experts. For more than 30 years they have headed FamilyLife, the international marriage ministry arm of Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ). Their marriage spans 40 years, six children, and 19 grandchildren. Evangelicals might assume the Raineys have had a problem-free marriage, but crisis has been more characteristic.
Trees surround their park-like Arkansas home in the shadow of Pinnacle Mountain—but trouble has often visited this private paradise. Barbara nearly died of a cardiac arrhythmia—not once but four times—when their children were young. As a father and ministry leader, Dennis was not immune to the trials of parenting teenagers. He started keeping a list of ongoing problems affecting their family, extended family, or ministry. At one point, the list reached 35 separate, ongoing crises.
Dennis recalled “some stressful times when there were not a lot of feelings, not a lot of romance.” Barbara remembered “moments when we said, ‘I don’t like you so much.’ Every marriage has significant challenges. The most important thing is how you respond to them. … Any marriage without conflict is suspect.”
One way they choose to respond is by never using the word divorce in their conversation. Dennis believes that simply saying it aloud increases the likelihood a couple will make good on the threat. They even refer to it as the “D” word, and replace it with “C” words like commitment and covenant.
Last year, on the day Barbara received a breast cancer diagnosis, they returned to find their home had been visited by a tornado. Trees were downed all around—but the house was untouched. “That is a picture of our marriage,” Dennis said. “Over the years we have been hit by more than one storm. Our marriage is still standing because it is built on solid rock.”
Building a 40-year marriage has been a 40-year process. Barbara compared their early marriage to a black-and-white outline: “We married with stars in our eyes and a lot of fairy-tale theology mixed in with the real thing. We had the basic outline correct, but now we have it filled in with the right colors.”
Dennis says they got one thing right from the beginning: “Early on, a man told me to pray with my wife every night. We have tried to do that even if it was brief. You can’t bow daily before God together for 40 years and not be changed.”
Barbara is free of cancer at this time.