This article is the 42nd and last 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.
Mark and Becky Olmstead, married as teenagers, celebrated their 32nd anniversary this year. That’s three short of the 35 years that’s been the minimum for this series, but during their first 26 years of marriage, they had 14 children, and a family that large gives them an exemption.
The Minnesota natives married in 1981—he was 19, she 18—and, wanting to make their own way, struck out for Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho. They spent the next year working, taking classes, and living in a $225-per-month townhouse. They had no furniture, so Mark made a bed frame in shop class and they slept inside the frame on the floor because they couldn’t afford a mattress. They didn’t have much but enjoyed growing together: “It was wonderful,” Becky said.
About a year later, Becky became pregnant with their first child, Nathan. Mark worked in land and business development while Becky stayed home with their growing brood. After their fifth child was born, they considered using birth control, but when Mark was driving one day he heard a Focus on the Family radio segment about a couple who let God determine the number of children they would have. Immediately convinced that he and Becky should do the same, he prayed she would agree. He pulled over to the nearest phone booth and called home. Though she did not usually listen to the radio, Becky had just tuned into the same program and had similar thoughts.
They went on to raise and homeschool 14 children, who range in age from 30 to 6. Becky usually taught seven children at once, and she sometimes worried that her lack of knowledge in higher subjects would hold them back. She was so concerned about staying with the children when they were young that she once considered giving up one of the couple’s oldest traditions, their weekly date. But Mark insisted they keep it a priority: “Our counsel to our children is much better when we are counseling together.”
The Olmsteads have kept that weekly date almost without fail. Now that four of their children are married, sometimes they go on a double date with one of the young couples. “Our focus didn’t become on the children,” Becky said. “We tried to remain together and then draw the children into that [relationship].” They compare their marriage to the three-cord strand in Ecclesiastes 4:12, Mark said: “[God] is the strong cord among the three cords that holds things together.”
Under God’s guidance, they support each other during the difficult times in their lives—Mark has helped Becky through each of her births, and Becky calms Mark during his asthma attacks.
“You will go through hellish situations together—every couple will—but you can pull through on the other side if you don’t let go,” Becky said.