Graying marriages?

I had the opportunity to catch most of a radio show today on my local public radio station concerning “graying marriages.” The show was focusing on long-term marriages and why they stay together but even more on why more are breaking up after being together for a long time (think the Gores).

A couple of statements I found most interesting:

1. “Long-term marriages, those lasting 20, 30 or more years…” Wow. I’m in a long-term marriage as of August 18. Cool.

2. As a country, we are the most prolific marrying type…also the most likely to divorce…and most likely to remarry.

3. Our country tends to hold two conflicting values: romantic marriage and individualism. Because we keep asking ourselves if we are happy, we may be more likely to see if the grass is greener.

4. There is a rise in the number of long-term marriages that end in divorce. In these kinds of marriages, women are more likely to initiate it when in seemingly stable relationships. Men are more likely to initiate it when they feel there is a chance they can have someone else give them what they have felt they were missing.

5. Newness in marriage as well as flexibility seem to be two factors at play in successful marriages. In other words. trying new things and being willing to change roles over the years tends to keep couples out of staleness and thus avoid tempting thoughts that there might be something better out there. Ultimately, this means every long-term marriage really has 3 or more relationships in it due to role changes that take place.

One of the show’s segments included an interview with writer Rachel Simon. Rachel spoke of her 13 year relationship (cohabiting) with her now husband. But they broke up for 6 years before re-establishing their marriage (now 9 years old). She had several good things to say about learning what it means to love someone. She came to the realization that she ought not try to make him be like her. She had thought that romantic love mean having the same traits and interests.

All in all, an interesting show. Here’s the link.


Filed under marriage

5 responses to “Graying marriages?

  1. Phil, a very insightful post. A recent column in the London Telegraph suggested that having a longer life span, than say fifty years ago, is also a factor in increased divorces after a 30 + thirty-year marriage. More people, after the children are raised, especially men, are dissatisified in marriages and thinking, “hey, I have, probably, thirty more years to live— I’m out-of-here.”

    I have a Christian friend, 57, who is in a small men’s group in his church. He tells me that in the last 18 months, 3-out-of-7 of the men in his small group have divorced their wives, are now dating 30-something women and seem to be having the ‘time of their lives’. They leave behind hurting and devistated wives wondering, “what happened”. It’s really left him questioning what’s going on with marriages in our churches these days, even long-term Christian ones. It has throw him into a personal crisis of his own becasuse of altered and disrupted relationships with men he thought he knew and has been close to. It is a sad commentary on our, “my happiness at all costs”, culture— and the fallen human heart.

  2. Scott Knapp

    I was recently having a Facebook “conversation” string with several women (I was the lone representative of my gender, a walk on the wild side where angels fear to tread!) about males “cheating” on their wives. Most of the women engaged in this discussion were middle-aged, divorced at least once, and into their second marriages. Some had been “cheated on” by their first husbands. In the course of the conversation, I used a term unfamiliar to most of them, “affair-proofing” the marriage. I got surrounded and burned in effigy (metaphorically) by my conversation partners, who felt strongly that the only “affair-proofing” necessary was the man choosing to not cheat!

    I took a bit of time in the conversation to explain that being aware of the various motivations for affairs (and subsequent divorces) that are typical for either gender, and taking conspicuous steps to strengthen those areas in the relationship, in no way legitimized the excuses of cheating partners. While I swayed a few, some still looked at me with the jaundiced eye, so to speak, and felt I was doing a “Trojan horse” end-run around traditional morality by introducing the notion that more is required to strengthen a relationship than good, old-fashioned will-power.

    Sometimes the grass really is greener! I think those of us fighting to help couples stay together need to not deny the notion that an affair, another partner, another experience might actually be more fun, more thrilling, more exhilarating. Pitching the notion of “staying together” is a tough sell in the face of greener pastures. People really do let weeds grow in their own pasture lands, and stare dumb-foundedly (or angrily) when disgruntled partners wander off for better fare. At times, the choice to remain faithful to lesser-desirable spouse is made in the face of an offer of companionship by a much more highly desirable opportunity (i.e., person) that would be wholly legitimate under other circumstances. Not every option for an affair is necessarily a twisted, licentious lust-fest performed in the shadows…the extra-marital relationships that form through normal channels and develop/strengthen along otherwise healthy lines, and would naturally lead to robust, long-term romantic engagements (if not for the inconvenient circumstance of prior commitment) are probably the more deadly attractions that subvert a vulnerable marriage.

    It goes without saying that the foundation of any healthy marriage relationship is the commitment to the biblical truth that marriage is established by God and must remain intact as an act of worship to Him first and foremost. That being said, I think it’s also an act of worship to Him when I cultivate my own soul as a marriage partner, so as to be a partner that still thrills, exhilarates and satisfies my wife’s soul, so long as she remains my wife (presumably until death do us part). Tending to my own grass to keep it fresh and green is an act of loving my wife…and a wise safeguard against making any contribution toward nudging her to consider looking elsewhere for nourishment.

    We are all responsible for our personal choices, regardless of mitigating circumstances…but woe to us if we forget our responsibility to not put stumbling blocks in the way of our partners by neglecting our part in cultivating our relationships!

    • Well Scott, you may face some fire here too :). Your point is accurate–that we must cultivate our own soul and our own ministry to our spouses. But, this is less about being a stumbling block and more about keeping our promise to love and to cherish our spouse come what may. It is true that if we don’t do it we may become a stumbling block. However, the spouse must also realize they have a responsibility to love and cherish a stumbling block rather than use it as an excuse (something I think you would agree with).

      Maybe the problem some people have is the implicit suggestion that the spouse is culpable for the offending spouses actions. Not saying you are saying this but others have. Mark Driscoll blogged about pastor marriages after the NAE president was exposed having sex with another male. I believe (this is from memory) he talked about wives letting themselves go and the implication that they bore responsibility for their husband’s straying. Probably not the best timing.

      Anyway, your point about affair proofing is good. We must take responsibility for our part no matter what.


  3. Scott Knapp

    Thanks for the grace, Phil! You’ve accurately picked up on what I was, and was not, saying!

  4. I am a Christian counselor, happily married to the same wonderful woman for 32 years! Neither one of us was a Christian, or even “religious” for the first 9 years of our marriage and it took the birth of my son in 1985 to start me on my quest for God. My wife ultimately came along on the same journety.

    Because of the example of my own parents and what they instilled in me, I can say that I believed that marriage was forever and that one did not cheat on one’s spouse. That was a given; a non-negotiable. My wife had been married previously, been treated badly, and was committed to doing whatever it took for the marriage to thrive. She was also, and still is, very much of a giver, in the best possible way.

    I have become convinced that selfishness, at the core, is one of the greatest single reasons people separate. By God’s grace, what has been natural and easy for her is something that I have purposed to do more and more over the years.. which is to focus on meeting her needs. The gospel of Christ, which calls us to serve, among other things, can be a huge motivator for people to persevere in a difficult marriage if they are willing to do it. I believe some give up too easily in this area when victory might be just around the corner.

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