Are you in the second half of marriage? Check out these symptoms:
- You have teenagers who will soon leave the nest.
- Your own parents are aging.
- You were recently invited to a 25th high school reunion.
- You exercise more and burn fewer calories doing it.
- It has happened, you just received an invitation to join AARP.
- By the time you get your spouse’s attention, you’ve forgotten what you were going to say.
If you identify with these symptoms, you are in or are approaching the second half of marriage. The first half of marriage involved launching your union and surviving the active parenting years. Did you, like us, think those children would be around forever?
SECOND HALF OF MARRIAGE: Uncharted Course Ahead
With the birthing of the second half of marriage, couples enter an uncharted course where mentors are few and far between. In the past, people didn’t live as long as they do today. Increased longevity has many implications for your marriage. A second-half marriage as long or longer than the first half provides the opportunity to build a closer friendship, to set new goals, to travel and pursue new interests and hobbies, to begin a new profession, to influence your adult children and grandchildren, and to continue to make an impact on this world in one way or another. The second half can be the best time of life! But marriage at this stage comes with challenges.
The transition into the second half of marriage is a crisis time for many couples. The current trend is alarming: long-term marriages are breaking up in record numbers. According to the National Center of Health Statistics, although divorce in the United States generally declined from 1981 to 1991, divorce among couples married 30 years or more showed a sharp increase.
Opportunities in the Second Half
From our surveys, we discovered that for couples who hang together through the midlife transition, marital satisfaction begins to rise again and stays that way. That’s true for couples who risk growing in their relationship. The second half of marriage gives you the opportunity to reinvent your marriage, to make mid-course adjustments. It also gives you the opportunity to reconnect with one another in a more meaningful way. Healthy long-term marriages have staying power, because they’re held together from within. Competent couples invest time and energy in building and maintaining a positive relationship with each other.
From our work in marriage enrichment over the years, and based on our surveys, we believe that the following 8 challenges describe the areas in which couples with healthy long-term marriages are investing their energies. We’re convinced that if you work on these 8 challenges, your marriage will be enriched. If you don’t surmount these challenges, your marriage will not be as fulfilling as it could be.
1. Let go of past marital disappointments.
Forgive each other, and commit to making the rest of your marriage the best. Are you willing to let go of unmet expectations and unrealistic dreams? What about that missed promotion —for either of you or your spouse? Can you give up your dream for a condo on the ski slope? Or maybe you’re realizing that your kid is never going to be a Rhodes scholar or professional baseball player. Can you accept those extra pounds? Those gray hairs —or lack of hair? Your mate’s little irritating habits don’t seem to be disappearing —can you accept them?
Giving up lost dreams and dealing with each other’s imperfections is a positive step toward forgiving past hurts and moving on in your marriage. Holding on to marital grudges and disappointments will only prevent you from moving on in your relationship and developing a new, more loving marriage.
2. Create a marriage that is partner-focused rather than child-focused.
Too often when the children leave the nest, couples move from a child-focused marriage to an activity-focused marriage. Community or church activities may now take up the time and energy formerly devoted to children. Unfortunately, these activities may still be buffers to a mutual, partnership marriage. How can you make the transition to a partner-focused relationship?
In the second half of marriage, the dynamics of the relationship change. Roles and functions that previously worked are no longer relevant. Without children as distractions, you have the opportunity to refocus and redefine your marriage. Marriage in the second half can be more personal and more fulfilling as you focus on the couple relationship and not on children.
3. Maintain an effective communication system.
You need one that allows you to express your deepest feelings, joys, and concerns. What can you do when the communication patterns that seemed to work during the first half of marriage are found to be inadequate and lacking for the second half? With the children absent, there are more spaces of silence. There is less to say to each other. You may ask yourself, We made it this far —why is it now so difficult to have a really personal conversation?
When we begin to talk about really personal matters, it’s easy to feel threatened. Midlife is a time when it’s really vitally important to develop interpersonal competence —the ability to converse on a personal level by sharing your deepest feelings, joys, and concerns. Successful couples are able to find a proper balance between intimacy and autonomy, and this is critical for healthy relationships in the second half of marriage.
4. Use anger and conflict in a creative way to build your relationship.
Love and anger can both be used to build your marriage, but you must process your anger in an appropriate way and develop a proper balance that allows you to express your concerns in the context of a loving relationship. A healthy marriage is a safe place to resolve honest conflict and process anger. The reason this challenge is so critical to long-term marriages is that in most conflict situations, it isn’t the facts that are the real problem, it’s the strong negative (or even angry) feelings we harbor. Once those feelings are dealt with, it’s simple to move on and work at resolving the conflict.
5. Build a deeper friendship and enjoy your spouse in your second half.
At this stage of marriage, we can deepen our friendship and become close companions. One advantage of a long-term marriage is being more familiar and comfortable with each other. We know we aren’t perfect, so we can relax and enjoy each other.
What are you doing to build your friendship with your spouse? Are you taking care of your health and pacing yourself for the second half? What are you doing to stretch your boundaries and prevent boredom? The second half of marriage is a great time to develop as “couple friends.” How can we put more fun in our marriage and use humor to diminish the effects of an already too serious world? Friendship and fun in marriage —especially in the second half —is serious business!
6. Renew romance and restore a pleasurable sexual relationship.
Many people assume that as people grow older, they lose interest in sex. Research shows otherwise. Amazingly, our survey results suggest that sexual satisfaction increases rather than decreases with number of years married. As we enter the second half of marriage, it’s important for us to protect our privacy, and cherish our love relationship. Also, it’s important to renew our romance, while acknowledging the inevitable changes in our bodies. The quality of our love life isn’t so much a matter of performance as it’s a function of the quality of our relationship.
7. Adjust to changing roles with aging parents and adult children.
Just as you need to release your children into adulthood, you need to reconnect with them on an adult level. At the same time, you need to balance relationships with your own parents. If your parents didn’t successfully meet with this challenge in their marriage, it may be more difficult for you.
Whatever your situation, the relationship with your elderly parents and your adult children definitely has an effect on your marriage. Realizing and accepting what is realistic in your family relationships is so important. You can’t go back and change your past family history, but what you do in the future is your choice and decision. You can choose to forge better relationships with those loved ones on both sides of the generational seesaw.
8. Evaluate where you are on your spiritual pilgrimage in your second half.
Grow closer to each other and to God, and together look for ways to serve others. Our faith in God and his banner of love over our marriage should make a difference in the quality of our marriage. This is especially true in the second half. The relationship of the husband and the wife to God is tested and validated in their relationship to each other. The closeness we have when we pray together is a closeness we can achieve in no other way.
The Challenge of the Second Half
Let us challenge you to evaluate where you are on your own spiritual pilgrimage and to seek to grow closer spiritually to each other and to God. To meet this challenge, first you must be on a spiritual journey, your journey must have your attention, and your journey must be a priority. Also important to your marriage is a commitment to serve others and pass along the wisdom you have gained. This commitment is a natural outgrowth of love for God.
Marital success comes through daily struggles. Marriage is made up of the daily grind —the little things like making unselfish choices and forgiving each other help to build a healthy marriage. Little steps, if taken in good faith, can turn the tide. Our desire for you is that you will gain new insights and knowledge that will motivate you to make the rest of your marriage the best. The choice is yours.
The above article came from the book, Second Half of Marriage by David and Claudia Arp, published by Zondervan Publishing. As you go through this book you’ll have the opportunity to transform your own marriage, to make mid-course adjustments, and to reconnect with one another in a more personal way. And whether you’re in your second marriage or it’s the second half of your first marriage, they’ll show you how your marriage can be improved. The Arp’s will set up and then take the 8 principles outlined in this article and spend an entire chapter on each point offering strategies and exercises for meeting each of them.
— ALSO —
Here are two more very helpful articles that can help you “recapture the excitement you shared when your marriage was new.” We highly recommend you read them (especially this first article):
If you have additional tips you can share to help others, please “Join the Discussion” by adding your comments below.
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Filed under: Stages of Marriage