This article is the 18th 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.
RICHMOND, Va.—Jack and Martha Schilthuis, married 58 years, have a new problem: “My failing memory,” Jack said. But instead of growing apart because of that illness, they are growing closer together.
“Jack knows he needs help,” Martha said, noting that he often forgets names and events from earlier in the day. But Jack is grateful for the new way Martha demonstrates her love for him, by helping him through this new challenge. A condition normally seen as a burden has brought added tenderness to their lives.
Jack has been a pastor for many years, most recently part-time at a church in Richmond, Va. With his memory now failing, he is winding down a once-busy counseling ministry. Throughout their marriage, Martha has supported him and his ministry and their family from home.
When their three children were young, they all had regular evening devotions. Now Jack and Martha have devotions together every morning, sharing insights from Scripture and devotional readings—although Jack doesn’t always remember them later.
Jack and Martha read together, talk together, but seldom watch TV. They make sure to go to bed at the same time. When asked if this helps keep romance alive, Martha replied, “Absolutely!”
Jack pointed out that many people, including Christians, see love as a “feeling.” “It’s not,” he said. “It’s a decision to give. I have to give myself to this wonderful woman every day.”
Martha demonstrated that kind of love to Jack before he understood it, and he credits her with being the greater example in the marriage.
Several years ago when Jack broke his back and hip while bicycling, they knew those physical problems would get better. Now his memory continues to get worse, but the foundation he and Martha have laid is strong. Their daily habits place God and each other at the center of their life together.