Bob Goff makes me smile.
Author of the New York Times bestseller, Love Does, Bob’s enthusiasm for doing good in the world is infectious. Photos of Bob often show him carrying a balloon bouquet, always ready to celebrate and encourage others. I like his sincere zest for life and love.
Recently, Bob and his wife, Maria, were guests on the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast to promote her first book, Love Lives Here, and discuss, as the episode’s title suggests “being happily married to your opposite, overcoming setbacks, and thriving in life and ministry.” What I found most interesting was the discussion surrounding their marriage.
The standard advice we receive includes ensuring that we’re equally yoked, willing to lay down our lives in submission to one another and being aligned in our values on important topics such as finances, communication, sex, parenting and in-law relationships. These are all important and foundational to a healthy Christian marriage, no doubt. It’s the base layer. However, we also need to listen and heed the day-in and day-out, practical tips from couples who are in the trenches, still in love and thriving after thirty years.
Although Bob and Maria Goff were mostly sharing their story, not intending to offer marital advice, here are a few things I gleaned from the hour-long conversation.
Find common interests. Bob and Maria are open about their personality differences. Bob is adventurous and outgoing, and enjoys traveling the world, engaging in social justice initiatives and living as an “encourager to millions.” He even shared his cell phone number in Love Does, welcoming calls and answering them. A lawyer by trade, Bob is talkative and always on the go.
On the other hand, Maria, as her book’s website points out, “…has made a career out of loving her family and neighbors, raising her children, and turning houses into homes.” She loves hospitality, and is gracious and reflective. As an introvert, Maria is leaving her mark on the world in simpler, quieter ways.
The differences were attractive in their dating relationship, but finding common interests in marriage didn’t come naturally. On the podcast, Bob said that he continually looks for one more thing to have in common with Maria. He wants to truly see his partner, be intrigued and be curious. Bob has become a student of his spouse, noticing the things she enjoys, choosing to enter her world, and both calling out and fanning into flame her interests, whatever they are!
As Bob says on the podcast, “If Maria wanted to make pizzas, I’d grow tomatoes.” This is such a fun recipe for relating to one another in marriage.
Remember who your spouse was as an 8-year-old. In the podcast, Maria shares a precious tip for softening her heart when she and Bob have disagreements. When they aren’t syncing, she pulls out her favorite photo of Bob as an eight-year-old. In it, he’s leaning against a tree and reading a book. She notes his red hair and freckles, and the look of wonder on his face. She stops and remembers that he was once an innocent boy, full of ideas and dreams, wanting to “do good in the world and be a good person.”
Maria noted to the audience that he’s still the same person in many ways. “It really diffuses that voice that wants to make him the enemy and it gets me focused back on who he really is.” It made such an impression on the host, Carey Nieuwhof, that he himself intends to find a photo of his wife at eight-years-old and place it on his desk at work.
I like this idea, too, and plan to keep this in mind for my future marriage. It seems helpful to cherish your spouse, both as they were and as they are today.
Hang on through changes and serve together. Although it’s temping, we shouldn’t try to change our spouse. At the same time, we need to recognize that, as individuals, we’re constantly changing as we become more like Jesus. “I would just hope that [Maria and I] would see each other every couple of years and barely recognize each other.” He’s quick to note that he doesn’t want to become just roommates or business partners with his wife. Their marriage isn’t the same as it was in the beginning years, and that’s not only OK … it’s awesome! “Don’t get so stuck in the past that you aren’t moving forward.”
Despite differences and changes in one another, Bob and Maria are on the same page about the things in life that truly matter — the relationships they hold the dearest and serving others from hearts that belong to the Lord. They choose to be truly present over mere proximity with one another, and they made a shift from “doing things that work to doing things that last” in their marriage and for eternity.
“Figure out who God made you to be … and then play the tune God’s got for you,” notes Bob, reminding us that “He tells us what the tune is” in scripture. Bob and Maria are committed to engaging and serving the people others may try to avoid — the hungry, thirsty, sick, strange, naked, and incarcerated (Matthew 25:35-40). “We think of practical ways to engage them,” and it “bring[s] us closer together as a couple.”
What inspires you about Bob and Maria Goff’s marriage? What are some practical marriage tips you’ve received from mentors, family or friends? What do you hope to have in common with your future spouse?