with

Mike Bellah

"Midlife marriage partners, in order to hold together, must swim upstream."---Jim and Sally Conway

 

 

 

 

 

"Playing and laughing give vibrancy to marriage. All of life is more palatable if work and seriousness are mixed with fun."---Jim and Sally Conway

 

 

 

 

 

"Marriages that are in trouble usually can be helped if both husband and wife are willing to grow and change."---Jim and Sally Conway

 

Making Marriages Last

 "Our studies show that about 75 percent of men and women will experience a moderate to severe midlife crisis," write authors Jim and Sally Conway. The Conways are especially concerned with how these midlife crises are affecting marriages. Citing a survey that shows a 50 percent increase in divorce rates among those 40 to 60, they write, "Midlife marriage partners, in order to hold together, must swim upstream."

To find out how successful midlife marriages work, the Conways conducted their own study. "The overall question we asked in our survey was, 'What is it that has enabled your marriage to survive?'" The authors identified ten traits most often listed by midlife couples as crucial keys for holding their relationships together. Following are four of the ones that my wife Charlotte and I are finding helpful in our own marriage of 28 years (Here's a photo of Charlotte and me).

Good communication

"Communication includes a willingness to share myself with another person and a desire to understand that other person," say the Conways. "It is not an easy process, and on some occasions it can be highly threatening. Communication takes effort."

Perhaps the hardest part of that effort involves scheduling. Couples must find time for effective communication. For years Charlotte and I tried to have a good talk every night after putting the kids to bed. The problem was, however, we were both too exhausted to communicate well. Then we started walking together every evening. Not only was it a chance to unwind; it became our best opportunity for undistracted communication.

Fun, leisure, and humor

"Boredom is a creeping disease, which is both subtle and obvious," say the Conways. "Playing and laughing give vibrancy to marriage. All of life is more palatable if work and seriousness are mixed with fun." Charlotte and I are finding these midlife years the most fun of our adult lives. Last month we rode horses and went country dancing. Last night we built a campfire in the back yard and cooked hot dogs.

Personal growth

"Marriages grow stale when the people in them aren't growing," say the Conways. "Marriages that are in trouble usually can be helped if both husband and wife are willing to grow and change." Charlotte and I are learning to encourage this growth in each other. Though the process sometimes requires more time apart, we find we appreciate and enjoy each other more as a result.

Commitment to marriage

According to the Conways, a commitment to stay married is one of the most important factors producing lasting marriages. "More than 94 percent of our respondents strongly agreed or agreed when asked if they viewed commitment to stay married as an important part in holding them together."

Charlotte and I also rank commitment at the top of our list. We realize that some relationships must end--physically abusive ones for instance. And we know some very successful couples in second and third marriages. Yet Charlotte and I have not let ourselves consider divorce as an option for us.

During the difficult periods in our marriage (and the beginning of midlife was especially hard), this understanding has bought us time to get help and work out the problems. This principle need not apply only to couples in first marriages either. Any couple can draw a line in the sand and decide to make working things out their ultimate priority.

Midlife marriages are well worth the effort to sustain. Swimming upstream is hard, but those who do it may find these years the best yet.

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