Every marriage has its tough seasons. And Southern Gospel singers Jeff and Sheri Easter—a duo known for their sweet Christian love songs—are no exception. This year, as the pair celebrates their 36th wedding anniversary, they look back at what kept their marriage strong through life’s most brutal challenges, including a cancer battle that took about a year to win.
Sheri recalls the official diagnosis in 2008. After she had found a concerning mass, she went to the doctor for a sonogram. The test confirmed her fear: It was stage-2 breast cancer that had already spread into nearby lymph nodes. Since it was July 4th weekend, the medical team scrambled to get her surgery done within a week’s time.
“Whatever you do, don’t get cancer over a holiday weekend,” Sheri quips. “Nobody wants to be in the office.”
But Sheri’s doctors and nurses were incredible, she says. They upended all their schedules so she could be cancer-free as soon as possible.
And it worked. Sheri is grateful to say she’s been free of cancer for 13 years now. But she doesn’t forget the pain she went through during her treatment. Sheri felt miserably sick, went to countless medical appointments, underwent several rounds of chemotherapy, and had to be careful with her diet.
That’s a tough situation for any relationship. In fact, cancer is known to have a severe strain on marriages, causing a higher risk of divorce, especially when it’s the woman who is sick.
But Jeff and Sheri made it through—and their marriage came out stronger than ever.
“It was a combination of the love and the respect that we had for one another, the friendship that was there, and the fact that we liked each other and love each other,” Sheri tells Answers in Genesis. “I think those things really help through a difficult battle.”
Ingredients for a Marriage That Lasts
One important ingredient in the couple’s beautiful friendship is embracing one another’s differences. After all, the two singers couldn’t be more different. Sheri describes her husband as an “ADD, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants kind of guy” while she’s much more detailed, focused and organized.
By accepting one another as they are, Jeff and Sheri can find the humor in life’s tough situations and work together through them. In fact, humor played an important role in helping the Easters make it through Sheri’s cancer battle.
“I tell people that if you have to go through the tough stuff, you want to go through it with people like Jeff Easter, because he can make you laugh in the middle of some of those really dark days when you don't know if you'll ever laugh again,” Sheri says.
That humor made the work that much easier. While Sheri was dealing with her cancer treatment, the couple was also raising their then-2-year-old daughter, Maura Grace. Both parents had to be laser-focused and work on communication during that time to make it through. The Easters recommend that couples who are facing tough challenges today work on the same thing.
“Communicate and communicate well, because a lot of times the confusion and the confrontation come out of not saying what you feel,” Sheri says.
Jeff recommends adding another ingredient to the marriage mix: “Communication and respect are the two things you have to hang on to.”
This respect goes beyond embracing each other’s differences. It requires truly listening to your spouse and hearing the heart behind what they’re saying. One spouse’s emotional or physical needs might be different than another’s. The key, then, is honoring one another and believing the best, even when you’re both at your worst.
With such a commitment to walking out this principle, it’s no wonder that Jeff and Sheri’s marriage has lasted 36 years and counting. They can honestly say what they wrote in their popular love song You’re My Best Friend:
You're my bread when I’m hungry You're my shelter from trouble wind You're my anchor in life's ocean But most of all you're my best friend
See Jeff and Sheri Easter perform live at 40 Days and 40 Nights of Gospel Music at the Ark Encounter. Save your seats today! For more information, visit 40daysofgospelmusic.com.