The statistics are frightening. Divorce rates among adults 50 and over have doubled in the last twenty years.
Which means that roughly one in four divorces in 2010 were among couples 50 and older.
Professor Susan Brown (Bowling State University), co-author of the study, The Gray Divorce Revolution, explains, “Gray divorce reflects changing attitudes about marriage. We have much higher expectations today for what constitutes a successful marriage than earlier generations did. At the same time, society is more accepting of divorce as a solution to an unsatisfying marriage. For these reasons, gray divorce is probably here to stay.”
What these statistics lay out for us is the need to keep re-making our marriages along healthy spiritual lines. Since fewer spouses are willing to endure a sub-par marriage, we should be all the more motivated to reconnect when we start to drift.
Here’s the excitement behind the challenge: the most impactful growth I’ve ever seen in some couples came from learning to resurrect a marriage instead of killing it. That’s partly why I wrote A Lifelong Love: What If Marriage is About More Than Just Staying Together?
Popular thinking assumes good marriages are “discovered”—you meet the right person, and it’s like planting a tree seedling. At first, you water it and feed it, you might even stake it, but after a year, the tree just grows. For the most part, you can ignore it and still watch it grow.
That’s how most couples approach marriage—with disastrous results. They’ll talk about their pasts when they first meet, get engaged, go through pre-marital counseling, make sure they resolve conflict, keep dating each other, but then, after the wedding happens, the marriage is supposed to somehow “finish itself” just by the fact that it exists.
It never does. The truth is, if you’re not actively growing together, you’re growing apart.
A lifelong intimate marriage is more like building a brick house. If you get a good start, even laying half the bricks, and then stop building, the house (and the marriage) won’t finish itself. In fact, the reality is worse: an unfinished house, left out in the weather, deteriorates. The same is true of marriage. Some couples who signed their wedding license twenty-five years ago quit building their relationship long ago. Long-term marital intimacy requires accepting this truth: to stop giving ourselves to our spouse is to spiritually divorce them.
Every season of life tempts us to stop building our marriage in its own unique way. If we asked couples on their wedding day, “are you going to be satisfied raising successful kids in the eyes of the world but being strangers to each other when the last kid leaves home?” or “Do you care more about how impressed people are by your house and how it looks over how well the two of you relate to each other as a couple?” I think most would say, “No.” But the way they live, the priorities they set, what they give their time and energy to, is often exactly the opposite.
Here’s the exciting news: our God is into building: “I will build you and you will be rebuilt.” (Jeremiah 31:4). If God was so involved in the intricacies of the door jamb on the temple; how wide and high and deep each room was supposed to be; what the utensils were supposed to look like; do you think He’s unconcerned about how to build our families now that we are called God’s temples? (1 Corinthians 3:16)
What I lay out in A Lifelong Love are the pillars of how a vibrant faith helps two fallen people not only stay married, but maintain a lifelong love. Connecting our marriage with worship gives it staying power and wonder; exploring the true call of biblical love gives it strength; understanding the Bible’s call to perseverance and purpose gives us the will and the intention to build and rebuild our marriage. God can be the architect of our marriages every bit as much as He was the architect of Solomon’s temple.
A Lifelong Love is the first full-length marriage book for both husbands and wives I’ve written since Sacred Marriage came out fifteen years ago. Sacred Marriage is about how God uses marriage to shape us as individuals; A Lifelong Love is about how God helps couples build a lifelong, intimate marriage that glorifies and pleases Him.
Drift is all but certain—no one is so focused that we never wake up and feel like our marriage isn’t getting its rightful place in our pantheon of biblical priorities. But when we’re aware of drift, and have the spiritual motivation to fight drift, and invite God and His wisdom to both build and rebuild our marriages, it is possible to be more in love, more in tune with each other, and even more satisfied in our marriages thirty years in than we were at thirty days, thirty weeks or thirty months. If you or a couple you know is facing a bit of a drift, it is my hope that A Lifelong Love can become a roadmap to a more intimate marriage that will grow even closer over the years.