In August, my husband, Liam, and I celebrated our 16th anniversary at a posh restaurant. We toasted each other with champagne. “Here’s to another sixteen years!” Unfortunately, if we follow current trends, we aren’t likely to make it another nine. According to a study reported in Divorce Magazine, only 33% of couples that marry reach their twenty-fifth anniversary. While that does take into account spouses who die, the real culprit is divorce. And more people in their middle years are getting divorced than ever before.
People of all ages are divorcing more often - over half of all marriages now end in divorce. But the middle years are especially tough on a marriage. Studies show that these are the years when marital satisfaction can hit bottom. The decline in satisfaction is often caused by stressful events that occur at this stage of life like parenting teenagers, becoming empty nesters, caring for aging parents, and dealing with financial and career pressure. Also, unlike at younger ages when husbands are the most likely to do the leaving, the wife initiates two-thirds of divorces after age forty.
So statistically, I have a 2 out of 3 chance of getting a divorce in the next nine years and I’m likely to be the one filing the papers. This is scary. I never thought that my marriage might be in danger. But I do seem to have a lot of friends who are suddenly calling it quits. What they are going through is painful and messy, to say the least. If I want to avoid a sticky mid-life divorce, I guess I’m going to need to pay a little more attention to my relationship.
That’s just what Cathy Brody, marriage counselor and co-author of Renew Your Marriage at Midlife, says needs to happen on a regular basis. She says, “Marriage is a constant cycle of renewal and rebalance.” In order to survive, a marriage needs upkeep. But what is the goal? John Gottman, PhD, has been researching marriages for decades. He has found that “happy marriages are based on deep friendship.” This means that a couple shares mutual respect, enjoys each other’s company, and knows each other intimately.
Sounds good on paper, but how do we do that? After sifting through what the experts have to say, here are three things I plan to work on.
1. Do things together when we are both at our best.
I’m pretty sure I’m not at my best before 6:30am or after 10 pm, which are the main times I’m alone with Liam. To avoid only spending “leftover time” with your spouse, you need to plan fun things to do together. I’m booking a babysitter and buying us concert tickets for next weekend. I’m even looking into golf lessons.
2. Show Appreciation
I think Liam is a great guy, but I’m not sure if I’ve told him that lately. According to the experts, you can’t underestimate the power of sincere compliments or expressions of affection. No one likes being taken for granted.
3. Set Common Goals
According to the experts, teamwork and goal setting is essential for married couples. We used to do this. We used to have actual meetings when we wrote out what we wanted for our family, our relationship, and ourselves. But that was ten years ago and our lives have changed a lot since then. Now we tend to handle things on our own. It’s time to dust off the flip chart.
The realization for me is that if I want to make it to my 25th anniversary, I’m going to have to put some time and effort into making my marriage work. Hopefully, my husband will follow suit. The three areas I’m going to work on are just a few of many things you can do to liven up your relationship. My friend Suzanne has a recommendation that involves a blindfold and a cherry lifesaver. But I’ll save that one for another time.