This article is the 30th 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.
NORTH BARRINGTON, Ill.—Tom and Tami O’Connor learned about marital challenges early and struggled through them often. Early because they married young—Tami was 19 and Tom was 20. Thirteen months later Tami gave birth to their first child, Christopher, who was born with autism and mental retardation. Christopher’s disability brought new challenges that Tom’s hectic schedule—working full-time andgoing to school full-time—made worse.
Tami felt neglected and Tom felt criticized. Sometimes he would try to smooth things over by picking up roses on the way home, not realizing this only aggravated Tami’s impression that he went for the quick and easy fix. Tami once took a bouquet from Tom’s hands and, turning the roses upside down, shoved them straight into the garbage disposal. But what began as a serious gesture quickly turned slapstick as the mangled rose stems shot back out of the disposal and into Tami’s face. Tami quipped, “There’s just something about green slime dripping down your face which really undermines the dramatic effect.”
Stress grew as Tom’s business slumped and the couple faced bankruptcy. Despite this, Tami still felt secure with Tom: “I knew I could count on him.” Tom added, “Through it all, we always had that chemistry.”
Then, 20 years into the marriage, Tom by his own account “got into some things that were really wrong.” Tami was crushed: “All at once, the life I had—or thought I had—was over.” Tom repeatedly sought forgiveness, but Tami struggled to give it. They describe the following eight years of marriage as a desert. Their times together were marked by a cold, uncomfortable silence. They both wrestled with a desire to quit the marriage. Yet they stayed together, mostly from a sense of sheer duty, even though they could see no discernible life or love left in the relationship.
Then God moved. After watching The Passion of the Christ, Tami grasped the meaning of Jesus’ sacrificial death and the depth of His love. She wept for two days and from then on developed a deeper relationship with God. As she grew in intimacy with Christ, her heart softened again toward her husband. Today, they both testify to a renewed tenderness and unity between them, particularly as they serve their adult son, Christopher, who lives with them.
“I used to depend so much on Tom for my happiness,” Tami said. “It took a death—the death of my marriage—so God could strip me of depending on anyone but Him. Then the gold came through, the gold of who Christ is, and of who I am in Him.”