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.
The survey asked couples that had been together at least fifty years what they still argue about in their marriages. And the top seven answers given were (we’ll go in reverse order):
6) Bad habits
4) Leaving the toilet seat up
3) Sexual intimacy
2) Chores / housework
1) _________________ (we’ll leave #1 a mystery for another blog post)
Perhaps the biggest take-away we have from this list is that even marriages that have been successful in going the distance still must deal with conflict. Every day. Even after fifty years!
Dr. John Gottman, a pioneer in the area of marriage research, gives us some different insight into the role and purpose of conflict in marriage:
If there’s one lesson I’ve learned in my years of research into marital relationships –having interviewed and studied more than 200 couples over 20 years — it is that a lasting marriage results from a couple’s ability to resolve the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship. Many couples tend to equate a low level of conflict with happiness and believe the claim “we never fight” is a sign of marital health. But I believe we grow in our relationships by reconciling our differences. That’s how we become more loving people and truly experience the fruits of marriage.
Two people living in the same house. Sharing the same bedroom. And bathroom. Eating at the same table. Watching the same TV. Using the same remote. Will inevitably have conflict.
Anytime you’re around someone that much, you’re sure to get on each others’ nerves. Do something that annoys the other. You’ll take her for granted. Expect him to do something (like take out the trash) that he’d rather not do. Or have a bad habit that just won’t go away.
And what’s interesting, even with couples that stay married for fifty or more years, is that the key is not having areas of disagreement. Rather, the key is being able to love the other person through the discord. Even if your mate is still doing something that annoys you in year fifty just like they did way back in year one.
The question is not whether the other person will ever reach a point of perfection at which they’ll cease to get on your nerves. Instead, the question is whether or not you’re willing to love them faults and all (and whether they’re willing to love you faults and all too!).
Fifty years is a long time to hear someone snore. Unless you love them so much for so long that if the snoring were suddenly to disappear, you could no longer sleep yourself. Because you’ve grown to love and appreciate everything about the other person. Even those things that get on your nerves!
And you’re willing to deal with in-laws and toilet seat issues and unpleasant household chores because the person is worth it. The relationship is worth it. Fifty years of marriage are worth it.
Research from the University of Chicago has shown that if couples will work through their unhappiness in marriage when key areas of conflict arise, there is a great propensity (in two-thirds of the cases even) for these troubled marriages to be “happily married” five years later. If they’re just willing to work through problem areas together. To tough it out. And go the distance. They’re likely to find the marital happiness they’ve always wanted. But unfortunately many couples never attain it. Because they give up too soon. On their marriage. And on each other.
As a single adult, you may be looking for that perfect person. Who will never get on your nerves. Will never do anything to annoy you.
According to couples who have been there and done that for fifty years or more, good luck with your search. Because that person doesn’t exist. But the person who can love you, bad habits and all. The person who will be there for you day in and day out. Year in and year out. Can exist. Even if it means putting up with nosy in-laws or incessant snoring.
But you must be willing to admit and accept that the same person who you love so much sometimes behaves in ways that you don’t love at all. There’s a difference in not loving something the person does and not loving the person. And if you’re willing to go the distance despite the imperfections, maybe someday you’ll be a part of one of those rare couples that reaches the fifty year mark. Fifty years of tests and trials that you’ve walked through together. That have grown you closer not because things have always gone so well but because you’ve been there for each other when things have not gone so well at all.
And for the #1 item on the conflict list. We’ll cover it in a later post. As it turns out, #1 so outdistanced all the other items on the list that it deserves a separate discussion all its own!