When the kids leave the nest and are almost off the payroll, that second half of marriage is within sight. You finally have time to breathe. But suddenly you have questions...
- What in the heck will we do with the second half of our marriage?
- How will we handle the challenges of aging parents, crises with the children or unexpected medical issues?
- What about retirement, finances and the like?
While some couples look forward to the years ahead, others feel trapped. They're unhappy in a marriage that is less than fulfilling, and they wonder if this is all there is. For them, the idea of the second half is quite scary.
So... what does a thriving marriage look like in the later years?
Gary Chapman and Harold Myra interviewed “second half” couples for their book, Married and Still Loving It: The Joys and Challenges of the Second Half. They found few couples who had escaped the unexpected challenges of life. However, some traits appeared to be significant between marriages that flourish in the second half and those that don’t. Laughter and acceptance, resilience and faith seemed to make the difference.
Whether the second half is just around the corner or you find yourself dreaming about it, you can prepare for it now. Chapman and Myra quote Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier’s book: The Adventure of Living:
“To make a success of one’s marriage, one must treat it as an adventure, with all the riches and difficulties that are involved in an adventure shared with another person.”
Even if your marriage is stuck in a rut, you can intentionally turn it into an adventure.
After years of marriage, it's easy to focus on the differences between you and your spouse. But these differences aren’t necessarily a bad thing. The key is to figure out how to make your differences an asset instead of a liability.
Chapman writes, “While differences can be deadly, they can also be delightful.” Thriving couples learned to accept their spouse and were even able to laugh about their differences. This goes a long way in finding fulfillment in your marriage.
What about the kids?
While many couples have terrific relationships with their adult children, others encounter one crisis after another. Chapman and Myra encourage these parents to maintain a balance between self-preservation and self-sacrifice. Many marriages suffer when they become so focused on helping the children that they lose themselves. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help to overcome these challenges together.
Despite encountering unexpected job loss, illness, family crises and difficulty adjusting to retirement, thriving second half couples kept putting one foot in front of the other. Their commitment to marriage enabled them to stand together through life’s ups and downs.
And finally, these thriving couples said their faith was central to it all. That includes working through personality differences and all of the other challenges they have faced.
Although you might be anxious about what the future holds in the second half of marriage, Chapman and Myra encourage couples to embrace the challenge and to enter this season with great anticipation.