This article is the 28th 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.
PINE MOUNTAIN, Ga.—Arguments and competition marked Richard and Dee Dee Stephens' first two years of marriage. One night as they played Monopoly with another couple, Dee Dee and the other wife began winning. Richard flat out quit.
“If I had had a knife, I would have killed him,” Dee Dee said.
A wealthy surgeon’s daughter, Dee Dee craved the elite social scene. Richard detested it and focused on the fast track to success with Ford Motor Company. An argument erupted when Richard—a rural pastor’s son—insisted Dee Dee attend a “Faith at Work” conference at his father’s church. Dee Dee pitched a fit, but went. That weekend, she professed faith in Christ.
Dee Dee focused on raising the couple’s four children while Richard traveled for work, spending most weeks away. Eight years into their marriage, on a rare dinner date, they could not find a single topic to discuss.
Friends told them about “Marriage Encounter,” a weekend workshop for married couples. “That was the last thing I wanted to spend one of my weekends doing,” Richard said. Dee Dee, however, insisted they go. A talk on “The Little Church” struck Richard. The speaker explained the parallel between the “big church,” with Christ as the head, and the “little church,” in which the husband is the priest.
“God’s love coming though that analogy brought me back to the Lord,” Richard said. “After that, our life became a progression of walking with the Lord.” Dee Dee recalled, “That weekend we learned that love is a decision, not a feeling.” From that point on, God became first in the Stephens’ marriage. Before, they struggled to connect. After the retreat, they talked over coffee each morning. Once their children grew up, coffee became dinners out at night.
God changed Richard’s focus from his work to his family. His Ford dealerships became highly successful. Later, he sold them, enabling the couple to travel to India and Uganda, where they have sought ways to help.
Now, 37 years into their marriage, they are best friends who spend most of their time together. They lead Bible studies and breakout sessions at marriage retreats.
Though they still argue sometimes, they resolve differences quickly. They have learned that marital success comes from understanding that God must be the focus of marriage.