MARRIAGE: 3 secret sauce ingredients

This is an extract from the marriage chapter (Tea and Zanzibar) of my book Dragons and Dirt: The truth about changing the world – and the courage it requires.

If you don’t have time to read on, here’s the summary:

1  Always have something to look forward to.

2  Pray together – out loud and often.

3  Drink a lot of tea.

. . .

Life is hard because of dragons and dirt. Maybe that’s why marriage is hard. Because when two become one? You’ve got to beat off your own dragons and another’s. You’ve got two people’s dirt under one roof.

But this collision of lives is also what makes marriage such a brilliant idea. Because you’ve got someone to help you face the dragons. Someone to shine a light on your heart and offer goodness and grace of their own.

In our tenth year of marriage, we find ourselves on an island off the east coast of Africa. Close to the equator, and each other. They call Zanzibar the spice island. Perfect, yes, for celebrating ten years of spice? Ten years of decision-making and love-making. Home-making and baby-making. Mistake-making and dream-making.

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The island is an eclectic mix of heat and dirt and poverty and luxury and energy and intoxicating beauty. There are barefoot locals with smartphones and bicycles. There are coral reefs and palm trees. There are bananas cooked in coconut milk. There’s watermelon and bliss.

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When I’m stressed? I speed up. When Murray is stressed … he slows down. Which always makes getting to the airport boarding gate interesting.

But here on the bright white soft sand, we hold hands and find again the common, comfortable pace of together. We walk for hours. Swim. Sleep. My stomach burns red because I haven’t worn a bikini in six months. We find beach hotels for dinners and somehow stretch our dollars. We drink Kilimanjaro tea. We miss the boys. We talk.

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We talk with gratitude about the rare mercy – the rich legacy – of growing up in happy homes. We talk about how the truth and courage on which our parents have built their marriages have bolstered our own.

Like, the profound truth we’ve learned from the Reyburns is the importance of tea. The Reyburns are unabashed tea buffs. Don’t give a Reyburn a bag in a mug. Oh no. It’s teapots and cosies all the way. It’s pouring the milk first. It’s a refined process and a ritual and an occasion every time and it happens on average four times a day.

But it’s not really about the tea. It’s about what happens when there’s an intention to sit down and wrap hands around mugs and cease whatever is driving the day. It’s about making time for relational connections in the everyday noise and mess of life.

We’ve carried the habit that sustains the value into our own marriage. Tea – and unpacking the highs and lows of the day – is so often the thing I can’t wait to get to because if we can just get to tea, I know that everything will be all right in the end. And as Sonny says in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, ‘If it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.’

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The wisdom we’ve taken from the Smiths is to look to the future. To plan wisely so that we keep in step with each other –

emotionally, spiritually, financially, socially, intellectually.

I remember my mom telling me when I was little how important it is in marriage to make mutual decisions so that as husband and wife you change and grow together, rather than changing and growing apart. She said I should take an interest in my husband’s work and passions – and share mine with him – so that we would stay friends and allies.

My parents have taught us well the practicalities of life – money and house-keeping and DIY – the surface things that, handled right, make for deep harmony.

It’s this combined legacy – the importance of small everyday decisions that refresh the relationship, and the importance of big lifetime decisions that map out a future – that prompts us after three years of marriage to open a savings account called ‘Tenth Anniversary’.

Every month, or whenever we can manage it, we put away R50. Sometimes R200. Sometimes hope. We talk about going back to Greece, or Victoria Falls, or Cape Town. We decide to celebrate somewhere neither of us has been – somewhere that will almost certainly involve adventure. Kind of like the future. So in the end, seven years of saving buys us three days in Zanzibar.

And it’s perfect.

It’s taken us eighty-four months to save up for celebrating ten years. And it’s taken some courage to say no to the nag of school fees and renovations and other responsible grownup things.

But over those eighty-four months, we’ve had approximately 21 900 cups of tea. That’s a lot of conversation. A lot of grappling with tough decisions. A lot of disagreeing. A lot of laughter. A lot of spilling tears of frustration or grief or PMS. A lot of love. And it’s so exciting – so right – to chill to a standstill on a tropical island and revel in a decade of drinking all that tea.


We eat calamari and we talk about how some people have been critical of our getaway. We’ve had everything from, ‘Why are you going for so short? You should totally go for at least two weeks!’ to ‘I could never leave my children for three nights …’.

But we agree that sometimes we just have to have the courage to shut out the critics and trust God for the wisdom and discernment to make the right decisions for our marriage. Because no one else is part of our marriage. It’s just us. And we’re feeding our marriage. We’re not feeding the sceptical bystanders. I say it often – to myself and to pregnant friends and to anyone who will listen – that if we give our kids nothing but a happy marriage, we’ve given them the greatest gift.

If you want to read the rest of this chapter – or the whole book – pick it up here on Amazon (Kindle or paperback). If you’re in SA, best to get it here.

. . .

Have a completely wonderful week. Feel free to get in touch here, tweet me, join our Facebook community or sign up to get these posts by email.

Last week’s post:

When God doesn’t answer your prayers for healing

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