Marriagetrac co-founder Jim Mueller chats with Harold Myra, co-author with Gary Chapman of Married and Still Loving It (Moody Publishers), on the challenges and joys of long-term marriage.
Statistics show “gray divorce” is trending — an increase of couples from the Boomer generation divorcing after age 50. Why do you think that is?
Some of it may be due to their perception of what marriage should be: Here are my expectations, and I have to get everything I want. Recently I read the suggestion in a secular publication that perhaps the Boomer generation is in some way paying for their rejection of the traditional values that had always held marriages together. I was startled to see that.
Why did you write this book with Gary Chapman?
In 2015, Time magazine’s cover story asked, “Is monogamy over?” But when I looked at the people in my church — couples who have been married 30, 40, 50 years and still going at it — I realized there are so many out there who demonstrate marriage isn’t dead. I felt it was worth celebrating the fact that long-term marriage is still alive and well.
What felt needs did you want your book to address?
It’s clear people in a midlife marriage are going to experience a lot of tough things . . .
Well, change, for one. When a couple is in midlife, their kids may be out of the nest, they and their spouse are changing, and they have to deal with their own frustrations. And right now, in today’s economic environment, a lot of people are also facing money problems or unemployment.
Yet the couples we interviewed for this book didn’t allow the tough times to destroy their marriages; in fact, the tough times actually strengthened their marriages. I enjoyed seeing lots of laughter — knowing laughter — between couples who had been married decades and had stuck it out.
Do adult children play a role in the success of their parents’ marriage?
Adult children — some are wonderful blessings to their parents, but there are others who create tremendous stress. I just read that roughly half or more of millennials are still living with their parents. It’s no longer a matter of, Well, now that we’re launched our kids and they’re doing well, we’ll just pat the grandchildren on the head. Now there are different challenges. Our adult children and grandchildren bring us much joy, but many times they require a lot more from us as middle-age parents.
Do faith disciplines make a difference?
Faith is huge. That was the key ingredient for the many couples we interviewed. While they may have differences in their faith perceptions, basically they’re in sync with each other. They’re on the same page spiritually.
What are the rewards of long-term marriage?
You know, my wife, Jeanette, and I just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. We invited our six kids and many of our friends to a celebration in our church basement. And the joy of sharing this with your adult kids, your grandchildren, and these friends who also have marriages that have lasted for 40 or 50 years, it’s a tremendous payoff.
Sheri and I are about ten years behind you . . .
Keep going. It only gets better!
What challenges have you and Jeanette faced in your 50 years together?
When we raised our three birth children, we went through the typical adolescent stresses and joys. Then, when they were close to being out of the nest, we did foster care and adopted three black children. With them came new challenges and stress. It was critical that Jeanette and I be on the same page, as I said earlier. In fact, when we adopted our first child, Jeanette said there’s no way we’re doing this unless we’re both totally in favor of this. She didn’t want to be the only one pushing for it.
Then, eleven years ago, our house burned down after lightning struck it. Our three children were home, but we escaped. The people from our neighborhood and our church were so helpful to us. We felt so loved, so grateful.
A disaster as traumatic as a house fire could really pull a couple apart.
Yes, but fortunately we had our faith and our commitment to each other holding us together. It’s interesting how the other couples who share our faith showed up to help us. It’s important to have that kind of community. Having those kinds of friendships fuels the positives in a marriage relationship.
And I think a spirit of gratitude — rather than anger or frustration or paralysis — is so important. When we’re married, we’re partners in an adventure. We need to see marriage as an adventure.
Of the many couples you interviewed for the book, were there any stories that jumped out?
My favorite interview was with Joni Eareckson Tada. She’s always impressed me. But let me show you these two book covers from her books. The first was written years ago, when Joni and her husband, Ken, were a young, bright-eyed couple. The second is from a book written a few years ago, and in the photo they look like war veterans. But when I pointed out the differences in the two book covers, she told me the most recent one was the cover she preferred. She told me her marriage now is in many ways deeper and better. And who has been through more than Joni and Ken Tada, with her physical limitations and health challenges?
But one of the best things Joni shared was this: Emphasize the importance of praying for your spouse. Pray for your husband, pray for your wife.
What else would you tell couples navigating marriage through midlife?
I would say, expect tough times. No one goes through life unscathed. You’re going to be hit with all kinds of things. So expect tough times, and when they come, bring them to the Lord in prayer. Share the weight of the tough times with each other. And don’t blame your spouse!
Once I got out of bed in the middle of the night and stubbed my toe. And my first thought was to blame Jeanette. It’s a silly illustration of how our brain works. My stubbing my toe had nothing to Jeanette. But when things get tough, so many couples blame their spouse instead of saying, “Hey, the Lord brought this spouse into my life and we’re going to do this thing together. It’s a together adventure.”
Any other advice?
At a time when so many are avoiding marriage or are looking at it as a dying institution, at a time when things are really tough for a lot of people for a lot of reasons, the reality is, marriage still can be the wonderful thing God created it to be.
The theme of love runs all throughout the whole New Testament. Well, what is love? It’s the love of God for us, as John 3:16 says. Love is self-sacrifice. So we need to be ready to sacrifice for our mate, to listen to our mate, to join hands and arms with our mate in genuine, actual love.
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