The latter half of marriage ought to be a couple’s golden years, but quite often it’s dull, disengaged, and lifeless. That might be why a growing number of marriages are ending after 25 years or more.
It’s called the “graying of divorce.”
A recent survey from Bowling Green State University showed that prior to 1990 only 1 in 10 people over the age of 50 divorced. But in the years since 1990, that number has grown to 1 in 4.
That’s a shocking increase. Something is going on within marriages that’s causing couples to abandon their spouse after decades together.
The empty nest is one. Many couples encounter marital problems years into their relationship, but they decide to stay together until their children are grown and leave home. Sadly, these couples are under the illusion that they’re sparing their children pain and suffering by waiting until their children are older.
The truth is, children of divorced parents end up devastated – no matter their age. As one college student said after his parents’ marriage ended: “What do I do now? I don’t have a home anymore.”
Some individuals turn to infidelity as an escape from their otherwise mundane routine of life in the later years of marriage. But the idea that an affair is a viable solution for marital problems is also an illusion. Dr. Gary Chapman says the excitement of any new relationship has, at best, an average lifespan of two years. By that point – or usually even sooner – the “high” is gone, and the person discovers they’re once again in the real world with many of the same problems as before – and probably some new ones to boot.
Then there are all the other challenges so common to the latter years of life: health issues, maybe the loss of a job at a late age, or questions about if and when to retire or whether or not to relocate or to downsize the home.
The point is, every marriage that extends across the decades will face difficulties of some kind. No couple simply drifts into the second half of life with a healthy, thriving marriage. If you drift, you drift apart.
Building a loving, supportive, caring relationship takes effort, and it all begins with learning how to love one another selflessly. And I’m using the word “learn” quite intentionally. None of us are selfless by nature. At some level, we all want our own way.
It can be a sizeable hurdle for some couples to see a conflict from each other’s perspective and to look for solutions, rather than trying simply to “win” an argument or to escape a disagreement entirely through avoidance or belittling.
Those are the “magic” words that will build a marriage that thrives. If you’re growing in the first half of your relationship, you’ll continue to grow in the second half.
How can you and your spouse do that?
Dr. Chapman, one of our most popular guests, will answer that question today and tomorrow on our radio broadcast. The programs are packed with practical ideas, and the bedrock to it all are three questions he suggests couples pose to each other.
The first question is, “What can I do to help you?” That gets to your spouse’s immediate needs like doing the dishes, giving the kids a bath, or running an errand to the store.
The second question is, “How can I make your life easier?” This carries a broader, more long term perspective than the first. Maybe you agree to pay the bills for a period of time, or take the kids to school, or do the grocery shopping or the laundry. It’s relieving some of the stress in one area of your spouse’s life, so they have the ability to focus on another area more easily.
The third question is, “How can I be a better husband to you?” or “How can I be a better wife to you?” We often think of answers to this question, but we rarely ask the question itself.
Maybe you’re at that 25- or 30-year mark or beyond, and you’re saying, “What’s left? Our marriage feels dry and lifeless.”
Why not spend energy and time re-engaging with your spouse? Dr. Chapman will share how and will also deal with ground floor topics to every marriage, like spiritual, emotional, and physical intimacy.
If your relationship feels beyond reconciliation, know that we have caring Christian counselors on staff, and it would be a privilege for them to have an initial consultation with you. Call us, leave your name and number, and they’ll get back with you just as soon as possible. The number during business hours is1-800-A-FAMILY (232-6459).
We can also recommend great resources to help you, including our Hope Restored intensives, which are specifically aimed at those couples who are nearing a decision to divorce or separate. It’s an intensive program which has a nearly 85 percent success rate. It’s not guaranteed, of course, but it has the potential to offer great hope for your marriage. For more information, call 1-866-875-2915, or visit online at hoperestored.com.
Dr. Gary Chapman is an accomplished speaker and author, perhaps most well-known for his book “The Five Love Languages,” which has sold over 10 million copies.