This article is the 38th 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.
In 1971, Bob Bibby was 17 years old, drunk, and on his way home from a basketball game when he slipped on a patch of ice and crashed onto the sidewalk. A 15-year-old girl, who was in front of her house talking with friends, witnessed the fall. She wasn’t impressed with him: “I was afraid of him and his friends.” But she liked his Mustang convertible.
They began to see each other in group settings, but when Marlene took him to meet her parents, they said no more dating unless Bob started going to church. So Bob began attending church regularly. Eventually, the couple became high school sweethearts.
Bob’s mother, who was 40 at the time of his birth, lost a two-year battle with cancer when he was 17. His father died before he was born. Bob craved a stable family life and was eager to marry. He and Marlene wed when he was 20 and she was only 18.
Children soon followed. By the time Marlene was 23, they had three children—one with brain damage resulting from oxygen deprivation at birth. As the child’s behavioral difficulties escalated, Bob often had to sleep on the floor in front of his son’s bedroom to make sure he didn’t wander away in the night
Bob became a Christian shortly after they married, but Marlene did not. He worked full-time, attended night school, and started a jail ministry. Caring for three little boys—one with special needs—overwhelmed Marlene. She said, “Bob could rely on God for grace and patience, but I could not.” They grew apart and Marlene became depressed.
But seven years into the marriage, Marlene made a profession of faith and they agreed to work on their relationship. “We could have called it quits, like many do today. But marriage is a covenant made by God and because of that it is something you don’t walk away from,” Bob said. Bible study, family devotions, and bi-weekly dates became priorities. They learned to put each other before work and other obligations.
As Bob and Marlene look back on 39 years of marriage, they are grateful for the tough times that made them stronger as a family. Their son, Bobby, who Marlene describes as a 2-year-old in the body of a 37-year-old man, cannot read a word but has memorized most of the Psalms and sings them with perfect pitch. Both of their younger sons are raising their children in the same Christian faith in which they grew up.
At their wedding, the pastor gave Bob and Marlene a Bible with a reference to John 2:2 in the front. It’s the passage that describes Jesus and his disciples at the wedding feast in Cana and was the pastor’s challenge to the young couple to invite Christ, not just to their wedding, but into their marriage as well. Bob and Marlene say that once they did that, their marriage began to flourish.