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In their years of marriage, Bob and Maria Goff have teased out a few principles that have allowed their love to grow. “Love isn’t something you fall into,” Bob says. “It’s someone you become.”

When Bob and Maria Goff got married some 30 years ago, the preacher said, “The two will become one.” Bob quips that Maria thought they were going to become her. That would be an impossible notion: The Goffs are polar opposites. Maria describes herself as stable and predictable, and Bob admits he lives like he’s a sponsor for Red Bull. As an attorney and the founder of the nonprofit organization Love Does, Bob travels all over the world chasing bad guys — witch doctors and sex traffickers. Maria follows a more traditional path, creating a rich and loving home for her family — she describes her job as director of homeland security.

During their courtship, Bob was instantly and enthusiastically attracted to Maria, whom he affectionately calls “Sweet Maria.” The term puppy love could have been coined just for him. Maria recalls she wasn’t interested in dating, but she reluctantly agreed to give him a chance. During their first date, Bob borrowed a sailboat and attempted to make a flaming dessert — cherries jubilee. He almost blew up the boat with an alcohol-fueled stove, and the date ended with the couple sharing a can of cold cherries.

For their second date, Bob took Maria on a rock-climbing escapade. Attached to the end of a long rope on a cliff, Maria knew Bob was someone she could trust with her life. Despite those early experiences and brushes with death, she continued to spend time with Bob. Their relationship was high adventure from the start, and part of that adventure was learning how to keep their differences from tearing at their bond. In their years of marriage, they’ve teased out a few principles that have allowed their love to grow. “Love isn’t something you fall into,” Bob says. “It’s someone you become.”

Balloons and strings

One love principle the Goffs have learned through marriage is that their differences are good. In their relationship, Bob is the helium balloon and Maria is the string that keeps him from soaring away. In her book Love Lives Here, Maria describes her ambitions as different from Bob’s. She has always wanted to stay home and create a place to raise a family. She explains that instead of becoming trapped in unproductive comparisons, they embody their distinct differences, gifted by God. With this confidence, they each have been able to grow into their respective roles.

Bob develops this idea further: “When Sweet Maria and I do things differently or see things differently, I just assume, and correctly so, that God is doing different things in Sweet Maria’s life than He’s doing in my life.” For example, in 2016 their lodge in Canada burned down. For Bob, the loss was significant, but while he was sad, he wasn’t stuck in grief. Instead, he was able to cherish the beauty of what they had created over the years, reminding himself that memories aren’t flammable. The loss affected Maria in much deeper and profound ways, causing her to redefine what safety meant in her life, and this self-reflection opened the door to healing a childhood trauma. God used the same event but worked out different things in each of their lives.

Autos and availability

Another marriage fundamental the Goffs adhere to is simple and obvious: Be accessible. The way the Goffs implement this, however, isn’t so common. At the beginning of each year, Bob and Maria cancel magazine subscriptions, the newspaper and every service that’s cancelable. This practice challenges the Goffs to “get back to the simplest version” of their marriage. The Goff relationship 1.0 involves sharing a ride. “I’ve been without a car for years,” Bob proudly confesses. They drive an older car that still has 16 years of cereal crumbs ground into the carpet, even though their kids are now grown. But Bob isn’t trying to go green. The Goffs just like spending time with each other. “Sharing a car is really awesome because we just get to talk,” Bob says. “If you don’t know what to do with your marriage, sell your car.”

Being available can be a challenge for Bob, who travels internationally and for a decade of their marriage commuted daily from San Diego to Seattle. “We’ve found that one of the cadences in our marriage is that instead of me being everywhere all over the place, I try to get home for dinner,” Bob explains. “Yesterday I was in Kentucky, and then yesterday night I flew home for dinner. And today I’m home, but tomorrow I’ll be in Houston. But I can tell you where I’ll be tomorrow night; I don’t even have to check — I’ll be home.” When people ask Maria where Bob is, she has one answer: “He’s on his way home.”

The people closest to you

Bob says that marriage reveals “how desperate and selfish we all are and how much we need Christ to keep us together.” The Goffs desire to become more like Jesus, to allow Him to refine their character. But they don’t want to become each other’s parole officer, pointing out ways the other can improve. When they have a disagreement, Sweet Maria reminds them that they’re not at war; they’re in love.

Bob explains that one step to becoming more like Jesus is to develop an attitude of humility. He takes the popular question “How’s that working out for you?” and puts a twist on it: “How’s your life working for the people closest to you?” By asking himself this question, Bob realized that his impatience caused grief for Maria and their kids. So for three weeks, he carried a large aluminum bucket with him wherever he went as a visual reminder that he needed to fill the bucket with patience. (Maria jokes that he needed a bigger bucket!)

The simple message of the Gospel, the Goffs say, is that in Christ all believers become a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). So they bring that new creation mindset to their marriage. As they stop focusing on themselves and their own needs, Bob says, “love then has the chance to fill the void selfishness leaves behind.”

Marianne Hering is the author of “The ImaginationStation” book series and is a senior associate editor of Focus on the Family magazine.

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