Faith-full Marriage: An Irrevocable Decision

6/2/2010

6:00 P.M. EST June 1, 2010

The Rev. Sheron and Robert Patterson describe their 26-year
marriage as a “partnership.” A Web-only photo courtesy of The Dallas
Morning News.
The Rev. Sheron and Robert Patterson describe their 26-year marriage as a “partnership.” A Web-only photo courtesy of The Dallas Morning News.

He says she's always "on the go." A tad too impractical. And she assumes things she shouldn't. She says he is too quiet. When he does talk, he asks too many penetrating questions. And he won't go shopping for a decent wardrobe. As the song says, "Potato. Po-tah-to. Tomato. To-mah-to."

Meet Sheron and Robert Patterson, married 26 years — 26 reasonably happy years.

This isn't a schmaltzy roses and candy story. It is a true love story illustrating mutual respect. Friendship. Collaboration. A lifelong commitment.

"We clearly love each other," says Robert. "But our relationship has never been one ... of those feel-good sort of things. Our relationship has been more of a partnership."

"A partnership to raise our children and be a force for good here on Earth," Sheron adds.

At a time when more than half of all marriages in the United States fail, the Pattersons illustrate some of the ways marriage can work.

"Prior to getting married, I decided that marriage was an irrevocable decision ... no matter what happens, we would be able to make it through if we didn't give up," Robert says. "During the first several years, if I had not made that commitment and had I not had that conviction, it would have been easy to say, ‘I've had enough; I'm outta here.'

"But I had faith that God put us together. No matter what challenges we (face), God didn't make a mistake. He's committed to getting us through whatever happens."

The ‘first man’

In some ways, you'd think the odds would have been against a successful marriage. They met and were engaged within two weeks. For the 364 days between engagement and wedding, they lived in separate cities — without e-mail or cell phones.

There's another twist: Sheron is a United Methodist clergywoman — now the senior pastor at Highland Hills United Methodist Church in Dallas. Robert, a banker, has at times been referred to as the "first man." It is a twist on the title sometimes accorded wives of senior pastors in predominantly African-American churches.

Robert admits he initially did not give much thought as to how Sheron's career would affect him. An "arrangement" evolved. They negotiated he would go to church at least twice a month. That lasted six months, and he has attended church almost every Sunday for the past 26 years. "Because I wanted to," he adds quickly.

What Robert told Sheron and has done "my best to be faithful to" is: "‘Sheron, you are a pastor. There are expectations. I will never do anything to embarrass you.'"

"I'm a straight-up sort of person," he says. "I have said to churches, 'I don't bake. I don't play piano.' And I've had a great relationship with every church she has pastored."

The Rev. Sheron C. Patterson is a super achiever. She has written eight books and a weekly column for the Dallas Morning News and has been featured on CNN and BET. A life coach and health and wellness advocate, she is considered a "relationship expert" who formerly led "The Love Clinic," a ministry she founded with a church she served.

She has been called a "trailblazer," a "champion of women's advancement" — and "The Love Doctor" on a weekly radio program.

Robert says, "I am so very proud of what Sheron has accomplished. I also believe that, except for God and herself, I am most responsible for her success, because I have literally done whatever has been needed to hold up the family so she could focus on her career."

She answers, "I have a very untraditional career, and it requires a lot of me. He's supported me as I've done all those things.

"I've always said that a man of quality is never threatened by a woman of equality. Robert is not threatened by my strength, and that's good."

‘Christ has to be in the middle'

Sheron often sees relationships in distress.

"It's very hard to stay married in today's world ... extremely hard," she says. "Support systems for staying married are hard to find. Marriage is on the endangered-species list."

Sheron and Robert agree it hasn't been easy. Raising two nearly grown sons, juggling finances and managing time have tested their marriage. And there was Sheron's battle with breast cancer, Robert's open-heart surgery and a stressful time after he lost a job. But often, it's the small, day-to-day differences in personalities and preferences that contribute to a relationship's downfall.

"Sheron and I are very different," Robert admits. "She is a people person. She wants to go, go, go. I am not much of a people person. I enjoy working in the yard. I enjoy watching sports on television. I am a neatnik.

"Those are things we have sort of worked out, and she allows me to do what I want to do. She does what she wants to do. And we don't allow these differences to cause unnecessary friction."

They have also "cultivated things that we enjoy doing," Sheron adds — hiking often, seeing a movie at least once a week and eating out "as many times as possible."

"We pray together. We share the same faith. But at the end of the day, we are individuals," Robert says.

"You have to hold onto your own individuality," Sheron says. "The Bible says, ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,' so we can't be dependent on anybody else to make that faith commitment."

"Christ has to be in the middle ... number one in the relationship," Robert says. "Each needs to be a believer. You need to have made an irrevocable commitment to each other. You've got to be very forgiving toward each other. And you have to believe tomorrow is going to be better than today."

*Passi-Klaus is a public information writer at United Methodist Communications.

This article originally appeared in Interpreter magazine, May-June 2010, and Interpreter OnLine, www.interpretermagazine.org.

News media contact: Kathy Noble, Editor, Interpreter Magazine, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5441 or newsdesk@umcom.org.