This article is the 16th 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.
HILLSDALE, Mich.—On the average workday, Keith and Jean Porter spend all but four hours together. They share their meals at home or the Hillsdale Free Methodist Church office where he’s the pastor and she works as the secretary. They sit side by side to watch the evening news. They travel the world together during their rare vacation weeks.
But the Porters’ marriage of 36 years was not always so harmonious. For the first eight years, Keith operated out of what he calls “a very ungodly worldview,” the popularized notion that men and women think the same way and require identical treatment.
Because of this, he said, “I was killing my relationship with my wife, and I didn’t even know it.”
The worst moment for them came one night after Jean had been up with their young son Jake until about 4 a.m. She woke Keith and asked him to take a turn caring for the kids. Keith rose in a fury and left Jean a note, saying, “I thought we had an agreement that you would take care of the kids and I would bring home the money, and you’re not fulfilling your end of the bargain.”
“I would have left him at that point if I had not been a Christian,” Jean said. “In fact, I told God, ‘I’m married to You but not to him.’”
Not long after this incident, Keith had a turnaround. Theologian Gary Smalley’s video series “Hidden Keys to Loving Relationships” convicted him that God had created men and women different. “I needed to treat her as God made her, not as I saw her,” Keith said
Jean testified that after God started working on his heart, Keith started taking her out on dates and was less likely to criticize her.
Today, the two are inseparable. Keith calls his wife the epitome of “helpmeet,” and credits her with his completion of a doctorate of ministry: “She’s my life. She’s my support. She’s my encouragement … she’s my lover, my companion, my friend. She’s the one I go to to ask hard questions about the church.”
A recent example of this came at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012. Keith’s computer decided to delete every page of notes for his Sunday morning sermon—notes that had taken 25 hours to produce. Hot with frustration, he told Jean, who responded, “Obviously God has something better for you. You need to look at this the right way.”
His story brought chuckles from his congregation the next morning when he added with a grin, “I hate it when she tells me the truth.”
The Porters frequently counsel young couples planning to get married, and always lay out the Pauline prescription for marriage found in passages such as 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5. They also emphasize the commandment to love the other person first. Divorce, they say, is just the easy way out of conflict.
“When you think about getting a divorce,” Jean said, “you’re assuming there is somebody better out there, and that is not necessarily true. It’s just that you need to work things out.”