Sociology professor, Pepper Schwartz, has a rather depressing piece in CNN titled, Lifetime Marriage a Crapshoot. It reflects on the fact the the biggest percentage increase in divorces is among people over 50. It used to be that people felt that if you made it to 25 years, you were home free. Not any more. Althought the divorce rate is significantly lower among longer-marrieds than among those married fewer than 10 years, it isn’t unusual for couples to divorce after 25, 40, even 50 years. Schwartz writes,
Lifetime marriage is turning into a crapshoot for many people, especially Baby Boomers. Maybe holding on till “death do them part” is least likely for Hollywood stars whose work takes a hard toll on their relationships and whose exit from marriages is not generally impeded by financial concerns. But really, no marriage is immune against what seems to be an epidemic of marital unraveling.
She’s right. No marriage is immune. Not any couple. Not anytime.
Crisis or Opportunity?
It would be easy to get depressed about this, but I tend to think of it as empowering because the key to lifelong marital satisfaction is actually hidden within the fact that no one can count on marriage lasting a lifetime. What do I mean? In my experience, when we say we can “count” on something, we usually mean “I don’t have to be concerned about it.” ”I don’t have to take care of it.” ”I don’t have to attend to it.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to adopt this attitude toward my lawnmower much less my marriage. Seriously, what if you saw an article that said, “‘Neglected, 40-yo Lawnmower Breakage At All Time High’ Study Says” would you be surprised? Of course not. Then why do we tsk-tsk so much about articles that essentially say the same thing about marriage?
No Such Thing As “It”
I note in my book, For Better…FOREVER! that one of the most important attitudes couples have to develop about their marriage is that there is no “it.” Couples often claim, “It just died.” ”IT just didn’t make sense to stay together any more.” ”We couldn’t save IT.” There is no “it” in marriage. There is only you, your spouse and what you create together by asking yourselves what you can do to take even better care of each other today than you did yesterday–everyday for the rest of your lives. If you do this, you will have a happy marriage that lasts a lifetime. If you don’t, you won’t. Period. As a friend of mine says, “It aint rocket surgery.”
The Answer: Intentional Loving
I understand that the ins and outs of taking care of your relationship can be a challenge. Prioritizing your marriage in the face of work and life pressures, developing the self-control that it it takes to not lash out at your partner when things get tough, and learning to love your mate more than your comfort zone are all hard work, but assuming you intentionally commit to taking care of each other everyday, you can’t help but learn these things. In fact, although it gets a little lost among the paragraphs of hand-wringing, Dr. Schwartz makes this same point, herself, in her article when she writes,
[W]e have to be intentional about our relationship every day, year, and decade we are together. We have to aim high, have a lot of fun, work hard at being each other’s lover and friend and always do everything we can to repair problems along the way.
And that’s good advice whether you’ve been married 5 days or 50 years.
Resources You Need to Succeed
For more information increasing the likelihood of you and your spouse making it to happily ever after, check out For Better…FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage, The Exceptional Seven Percent: Nine Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples, and Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared on the author’s Patheos blog, Faith on the Couch, and is reprinted here with kind permission.