Fifty years is a long time to be married. And growing increasingly rare too. Considering that you have to marry young. And live to a relatively significant age. To reach the fifty year marriage mark. So part of it is purely logistical. (The average age of both men and women when they marry for the first time continues to rise. For guys, their average age for first time marriage is 29. For ladies, their average age is 27.)
But there’s another reason why it’s increasingly rare for marriages to last fifty years. And this reason may surprise you. If you’ve been married for twenty years, it no longer means that you’re likely to make it to thirty. Or if you’ve been married thirty years, it no longer necessarily means you’ll make it to forty. Because, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, those who are over age fifty are now divorcing at an accelerated pace. In fact, the divorce rate for those over fifty doubled between 1990 and 2010. Presently, 1 in 4 divorces involve those age fifty or more whereas in 1990 that number was only 1 in 10.
And so when you come across a couple that has gone the distance in marriage. Especially if they’ve reached their fifty year anniversary. Then you’ve come across a special, and increasingly rare, couple. And they probably have a lot to teach all of us!
With that in mind, a survey of couples that have reached the magic fifty year anniversary mark gives us some important insight into what makes a marriage go the distance.
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. . .”
– Ephesians 3:20 (NIV)
Life is full of surprises. And so is God.
In almost seven years of attending seminary, I heard some of the most distinguished theologians of our day describe God in astute terms. He’s the God of the immutable. He’s the God of the omnipotent. He’s the God of the transcendent. He’s the God of the immanent. The God of the benevolent.
All magnificent words with which to characterize God. All applicable. All appropriate.
But never once do I remember one of my esteemed professors describing God as the “God of surprises.” Which is surprising.
It can be difficult for us in our learned ways to characterize God in terms that would appear to defy our mental grasp. Even if it’s a surprisingly simple term. And so we box Him in. Like a caged tiger. Or an aquariumed shark. Or even a jailed criminal. With words that aren’t so surprising.
So that He’s safe. You’re safe. I’m safe. We’re all seemingly safe. Since the tiger can’t bend steel. The shark can’t bite through glass. The criminal can’t do much of anything without a key. And God is safely within our control. And our grasp. Within the box. No surprises.
And yet God seems to do His best work when we try to box Him in. Only to catch us, and everyone else, by surprise.
There’s a point in every relationship in which you eventually begin to see the other person not as the idealized self that your heart has romanticized but as the flawed individual that he or she necessarily is. It’s happened to you. It’s happened to others. It’s happened to anyone who’s ever dated for any length of time. Or crossed the threshold of marriage into reality. And it’s at that point that you have to decide if you’re just in love with being in love or if you’re truly in love with a flesh-and-blood human being who faces the same struggles that you do.
Dr. Les Parrott, a professor of clinical psychology, and his wife, Dr. Leslie Parrott, a marriage and family therapist, have written about this key turning point in every relationship in their insightful book “Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts” (Zondervan, 1995). Whether you’re presently in a relationship that’s headed to the altar or not, their description of what it means to come face-to-face with romantic disillusionment gives helpful direction to us all. The following excerpt is taken from their book chapter addressing myths in relationships that must be confronted if you’re going to progress to a deeper level of intimacy.
“Most relationships begin with an emotional honeymoon, a time of deep and passionate romance. But this romance is invariably temporary. In The Road Less Traveled, Dr. Scott Peck says that ‘no matter whom we fall in love with, we sooner or later fall out of love if the relationship continues long enough.’ He does not mean that we cease loving our partner. He means that the feeling of ecstatic love that characterizes the experience of falling in love always passes. ‘The honeymoon always ends,’ he states. ‘The bloom of romance always fades.’
Clinical psychologists estimate that 80 percent of those who encounter divorce also experience severe emotional trauma as part of the marital divide. The first couple of years following a divorce, therefore, are an especially important time frame to find healing and support. Unfortunately, it’s a natural tendency for many during this tender transition period immediately to seek out unhealthy romantic relationships that end up compounding the hurt and pain instead of approaching it as a season of recuperation and spiritual strengthening.
Dr. Harold Ivan Smith, a pioneer in the divorce recovery and single adult ministry movement, has experienced divorce himself first-hand and offers some valuable advice about the readjustment period accompanying the end of a marriage. The following is excerpted from Dr. Smith’s book “Singles Ask: Answers to Questions about Relationships and Sexuality” (Augsburg, 1998):
“As a divorced single adult, I know some of the struggles of readjustment. Here are my suggestions for successfully readjusting:
I enjoy running. When it’s sunny and hot. Not warm, but hot. 95 degrees not 65. But recently in North Carolina, it seems as if we’ve inherited Florida’s weather flow. With humidity prevailing and storms emerging almost every evening. Which doesn’t bode well for someone who likes to run of the late afternoon, when it’s still sunny and hot. Exceedingly hot.
And so what that means for me is that when I’ve been out running recently. I’ve suddenly been caught in the middle of a rainstorm. Or two. Not according to plan. But that’s what happens when the weatherman can no longer predict raindrops any better than you can. You get caught. In the middle of unexpected storms.
Interestingly enough, unplanned downpours have taught me something. I’ve discovered that it’s really not that bad running in the rain. As long as it’s not thundering. Or lightning. That running in the rain can actually be refreshing. Not that I prefer it. But given the alternative of not running at all (or even worse, having to settle for a treadmill!). It’s really not that bad. In fact, it can surprisingly be quite nice. If you can get past the stares of those who drive by in dryness. Windshield wipers on. Avoiding the rain. That I’m enjoying. But looking at me. As if I’m running from something. Or as if I’ve lost something. Like my mind maybe.
Working with single adults over the past few years. I’ve found that when you’re single, it can feel a lot like being caught in the rain. Unanticipated. Misunderstood. Not the norm.
Not all singles have a problem being single. But some, perhaps many, do. They’d rather not be caught out in the rain. Alone. At all. They’d much rather be behind the windshield. And the wipers. With someone in the passenger seat. Sitting next to them. Together. Safety in numbers. No strange stares.