This article is the 25th 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.
Elaine Brautigam recalls being afraid to go to sleep. She dreaded the “Daktar! Daktar!” that would call her husband, Don, to some hospital emergency and banish her—and their four young daughters—to another long day alone. While the three-month mission sabbatical in Kenya intensified the action, the battle lines between work and family time were already entrenched in their marriage.
The tension surfaced early, especially when Don began his medical practice. Rather than choosing a more comfortable—and lucrative—option, he established the practice in Westfield, N.Y., so he could serve the small rural communities near where he grew up. This meant long hours and many interruptions to family time. Money was tight, because Don insisted his salary take the hit for any monthly shortfalls at the practice.
Don was torn between his patients and his family: “In the office I took time with each patient, but it was hard on my family waiting for me to come home to dinner.” Elaine bounced back and forth between resentment at Don’s work to feeling guilty about it. She knew the selflessness and compassion that led him to work long hours were also what she loved most about him.
The Brautigams say God convicted each of them.
“I remember confessing that I was trying to be a good father, but was very resistant to being a good husband,” Don recalled He made a commitment to praying daily for Elaine and his attitude.
Elaine remembered how she bristled at the term “submission.” “Not only was I not submitting, I wasn’t even cooperating,” she said. But she decided to make a conscious effort to begin cooperating. It was a small step, but in the right direction, and soon she was showing more gratitude and respect, too. God was at work. “As I was less critical of him, he was more intentional about doing things that were important to me,” Elaine said.
The Brautigams, who will be married 40 years this August, say that serving together in ministry settings has given them a deeper appreciation for each other’s gifts. Don designed the medical practice in Westfield so that the partners can take extended mission sabbaticals every few years. And he praises Elaine’s courage to serve far beyond her comfort zone on the mission field: “She doesn’t even like to be away from home for more than a week, yet we are there as a team, each incomplete without the other.”