You Can Make A Lifetime Marriage

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 Couchand is reprinted here with kind permission. 

Dr. Gregory Popcak


Dr. Gregory Popcak is the Executive Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to tough marriage, family, and personal problems.

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  • JMC

    Our Lady of Fatima pointed out that many marriages fail because people marry for the wrong reasons…And that was in 1917! We find a similar lesson in the Book of Tobit, where Tobias the Younger is advised by the angel Rafael to ask for a certain woman’s hand in marriage. This woman had a reputation as what we today call a “black widow.” She had been married seven times; every time a husband tried to consummate the marriage, he was struck dead, and everyone believed she had murdered them. So, although she had been married seven times, she was still a virgin. Tobias knew about this, and Rafael advised him that those men had died because they had married her only for lust.
    Obviously, such a dramatic end to a “wrong” marriage is a vanishingly rare occurrence. How many times do we hear such reasons today? Things along the line of, “We get along, and the sex is good.” They’d laugh if you told them that was not a good reason to marry; as far as they’re concerned, it’s the ONLY reason that matters. However, as Hildebrandt points out, the only “right” reason to marry is that it’s God’s will. It takes prayer and discernment to discover whether it is or not, and no one bothers with that. “Love is all you need,” they say, but they don’t understand something my mother told me when I was a teenager: After you’ve been together several years, the heady excitement dies down, and then the real work begins.

  • noelfitz

    Solid article, thanks. But if a marriage lasts it may be due to luck, making allowances and hanging on in good times and rough times.

  • BillinJax

    You can say you love your job or your dog or tropical vacations but to say you love someone enough to spend your life with and beside them is in a category all by itself and way over and beyond any affection toward those things which give you pride of ownership, esteem, or
    accomplishment. And I’m not just talking about husband and wife here. Think of Mother Teresa and the poorest of the poor in Calcutta.
    Marriage was intended to be more than simply a relationship which is the catchword used today for those who feel the want to “hook up” with the one they are in love with at the present.

    We could say that Marriage is a self imposed selective exclusion of elements within ones own life and habitat in order to accommodate, blend and bond with the inclusion of the care and nurture of the life and necessities of another which will be required for a peaceful and fruitful life long union as one entity. When both parties agree (with vows of commitment) to such an
    arrangement the marriage has the chance for success. We say a chance because today
    more than ever the forces of evil within science, entertainment and ill fated legalities have been given an abundance of self seeking and emotional enticements which can lure one under the pretense of freedom or personal esteem to break this bond in order to garner false fulfillment in their life.
    Just as in the case of Mother Teresa and the poor of Calcutta, the marriage to succeed must be selfless to become the oneness which requires sacrifice, patients, and prayer.
    These words are not hollow or empty of truth and understanding since they have been formed through the tests of time and the fire of faith by sixty years of marriage fostering four children from cradle to college and families of their own. We have paid the price for a wonderful life
    together with tears and triumphs via life’s many bumps and bruises and our love for each other grew stronger with each passing decade of dependence on God’s providence. As we walk into the sunset of our lives we have little more than when we started with as far as possessions are concerned but we abound with fond memories thankful for our many blessing and pray the works of our union which we feel was made in heaven will be worthy of God’s merciful love.

  • Rez

    While I agree with everything mentioned in the article I just add a few words of caution about quoting divorce statistics. The idea that 1 in 2 couples get divorced is grossly inflated. The actual statisticmentioned is first, very old, and second, it includes both first time married couples, as well as individuals who serially divorce and remarry (meaning divorce remarry divorce remarry).Many (but not all) people who do get divorced and remarry are more likely to follow the same pattern. This pushes up this statistic very high. The survey that was completed from 2006-2010 indicated that out of the 9,268 men and women who were surveyed about their first marriages only 2,578 of them ended in divorce. I’m not much of a statistician but that’s definitely less than half, it’s actually a little less than a third. In my opinion still too high but it is comforting in it’s own way.

  • Emily

    Our society and entertainment industry brainwash us all into thinking that if you are not completely happy (impossible) you leave. Here is an excellent example of intentional love in marriage.