Australia

Lovebirds for 60 years

This Valentine’s Day, meet a married couple who share the delight, strain and forgiveness of staying together

The first time 14-year-old Pat Pearson set eyes on 16-year-old Philip Taylor – at a youth club in Sydney’s Summer Hill – she was besotted.

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It took Philip a little longer to fall under the spell of the budding actress with perfect skin and dazzling smile. But 18 months later, on Australia Day 1951, they made two life-changing decisions while attending a Christian camp in Wollongong, south of Sydney.

Both wished they could be more like the other.

“I can still picture it – we were standing under a street lamp in Wollongong and we both decided that we were right for each other,” says Philip. “So that weekend we made a commitment to God and we made a commitment to each other.”

When the strikingly handsome young couple married at St Andrew’s Church, Summer Hill, in December 1956, Pat, 21, and Philip, 23, believed it was a perfect match. She loved his quiet reserve and his analytical mind. He loved her people skills and her spontaneity. Both wished they could be more like the other.

But after they’d been married a few years, their differences began to cause friction. Pat was at home with four young children under five, Philip was working long hours building up a busy dental practice, and both were overcommitted at church.

“All this stuff at church made absolutely no difference to the way we were relating to each other and things were starting to crack” – Pat Taylor

Philip was fed up with Pat’s impulsiveness and felt he could never get a word in edgeways; Pat was fed up with his perfectionism and lack of spontaneity.

“We were terribly good people – very good, very busy people and I’m thinking ‘where the hell is this going?’ I had even gone back to [acting] work occasionally on TV and so on and giving the money away – I mean, how much better can you get than that?,” asks Pat.

“But back within the four walls of your own home, all this stuff at church made absolutely no difference to the way we were relating to each other and things were starting to crack – in silly little ways. I couldn’t think of another good thing to add to the list and it was awful – it was just gradual cracking away of everything.”

Pat and Philip on their wedding day, left, and 60 years later. Joyess Images

The first stage of God’s rescue plan – which led them to celebrate 60 years of marriage last December with their five children and 14 grandchildren – was coming to understand grace during a week’s seminar on evangelism and the Spirit-filled life.

“We’d made that early commitment and set our tracks but this week was really when everything was changed,” says Philip.

“We really realised that we were into good works,” says Pat. “And in the midst of all that I’d hear friends of mine who were long-term Christians talk about assurance of eternal life. I didn’t have that. I was terrified of death. All sorts of things I knew a Christian was supposed to have and be certain of just weren’t there. And I’d also started to think am I a Christian just because I was born here? What if I’d been born in India? I just couldn’t work anything out any more.

“That was the turning point for me…” – Pat Taylor

“And so during that week, as well as being taught how to share our faith and what the Spirit-filled life was, we were encouraged to look at the person of Jesus Christ and all the famous C.S. Lewis quotes. He said he was God – was he or wasn’t he? If he wasn’t, what was he? He’s either liar, lunatic or Lord.

“That was the turning point for me. That week, I said ‘on the basis of who I see you [Jesus] as now, I ask you into my life.’ It was the first time I’d done it.”

As the Taylors began to share their faith with whoever came to the door – including an Avon lady and Philip’s mother – they began to see immediate fruit, with many people converted through Philip’s mother over the ensuing 30 years.

“We understood that one of the ingredients that was driving us apart was the differences that so attracted us to one another.” – Pat Taylor

In 1969, after they went to the US with Campus Crusade for Christ, they first encountered Tim LaHaye’s book, Spirit Controlled Temperament.

Here, by learning about the different temperaments, they learned the key to better understanding each other. Pat discovered she was a blend of sanguine (extroverted, optimistic) and choleric (driven, leader-type) while Philip was a mix of melancholy (introverted) and choleric.

“For the first time we understood that one of the ingredients that was driving us apart was the differences that so attracted us to one another in the beginning,” says Pat.

“But the key to it was, I thought it was the weaknesses in my temperament God needs to get under control. But it was your strengths as well, and that’s what was crucial for both of us.

“So instead of Philip’s weaknesses, it was his strengths that were driving me nuts as well, and vice versa. So, it was learning to appreciate those and validate them in one another, accept this is the way God made us, but individually knowing we had to allow the Spirit to control it, so that it produced the right sort of fruit rather than the wrong sort of fruit.”

Pat and Philip's 14 grandchildren.

Pat and Philip’s 14 grandchildren. Joyess Images

Working on this appreciation for each other has been a constant process, which they say has drawn them much closer.

God brought them to an even deeper understanding of each other through Alpha’s “The Marriage Course”, a series of seven sessions over seven weeks where couples get a chance to examine their relationship over a candlelit dinner.

“Having been married for 47 years, the marriage course was a huge step forward – it changed things.” – Philip Taylor

Pat and Philip had been married for 47 years when they first undertook the course. Over the next 11 years, they hosted more than 20 courses in their home, cooking for and welcoming Christian and non-Christian couples alike.

“Having been married for 47 years, the marriage course was a huge step forward – it changed things,” says Philip.

They learned not only to verbalise how their patterns of behaviour affected each other but how to communicate better and listen more.

“We were like a couple of 17-year-olds, it was just amazing.” – Pat Taylor

“For instance, I would react very strongly to Philip because he’s a melancholy-choleric and he has a very critical spirit – which he doesn’t use nastily. I would crack and he would say ‘I didn’t say it to criticise you.’ What I learned was not to always take it that way but think ‘maybe there’s something I need to hear in that,’ but also for him to recognise that makes her feel like that.”

An unexpected bonus was that as their communication improved, so did their sex lives. “We were like a couple of 17-year-olds, it was just amazing,” says Pat.

“Years ago we went through a terribly dry period in our marriage, for different reasons, but through learning to validate one another, our sex lives took off.”

One of the most important results of the marriage course was learning how to forgive, says Philip. “Learning to surface things that you felt you needed forgiveness for and learning to forgive was a very important night for us,” he says.

“Our married life had set into its set patterns and so there are all the hurts you carry and you think ‘there’s no good talking about that because she won’t change,’ and you don’t want to upset the apple cart.”

Both say they never would have survived the rocky patches of a 60-year marriage without God.

Pat, who turns 82 this year but still has the glow of a much younger woman, describes getting rid of old grudges as “like a 50-tonne load coming off”.

While hosting the course was a lot of work, Philip says they loved doing it together and found it a very bonding experience. Both say they never would have survived the rocky patches of a 60-year marriage without God.

“I don’t think you can ever truly forgive until you have absolutely absorbed your forgiveness,” says Philip.

“It’s something you have to face over and over again, particularly in marriage.” – Pat Taylor

For Pat, the key is facing up to the ugly truth that sometimes we not only lack the capacity to forgive but we are unwilling to do so.

“As a Christian, it’s getting to a level of honesty with God. It’s not the pious thing of saying ‘I am this hideous rotten sinner;’ it’s saying ‘I haven’t got there yet, this is how I feel’ and God will accept you there. In fact, I think that opens the door quicker than anything else but the slow part is us getting to this point.

“It’s something you have to face over and over again, particularly in marriage.

“That’s grace, grace, grace, grace. When I think of some of the stuff we’ve been through, horrible things have happened in both of our lives and to one another in the past, we were idiots. I don’t know why God bothers with us.

“It’s because Jesus died for us and he says you have to bother with this person because I died for them. It sounds so trite but it’s so deep and so amazing that God stays true to that.”

The Taylors’ top three tips for a long and happy marriage

1.     Set aside time for each other. It won’t just happen unless you put it on the agenda. It doesn’t have to cost money. Even a walk in the park or a sharing a coffee – without checking phones – will build your relationship.

2.     Learn how to listen properly without interrupting one another or giving a solution to everything. It’s a learned skill; it doesn’t come naturally to anyone.

3.     Understand your own and your partner’s temperament, come to terms with your strengths and weaknesses and bring each of them under the control of God.

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