John and I just celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Through those years, we traveled with our boys a great deal and have made some incredible memories. We attended their sporting events, drum line performances, entertained their friends… you name it. But as I glanced once again at the anniversary cards on our mantle from our boys, I noticed they didn’t say, “Thanks for all the vacations, support, etc.” They both wrote the same thing: “Thank you for being a good example to us.” They noticed.
That is the one thing I wanted them to take with them as adult children—what I wanted them to remember—that we modeled what Christian marriage should look like, imperfect as it is. That is our legacy. I’ll take it.
John and I dated three years before we got married. Once we got married, our first year was the hardest. I slammed doors more times than a screen door in a hurricane. Let’s face it. Marriage is tough. As Christians, we knew if we toughed it out, the effort would prove to be beneficial. It was. Thirty years later, we are still going strong. We have two beautiful sons who are now grown and gone. That fast. Don’t blink.
So what does marriage look like after children leave the house? Hopefully, marriage become stronger and not weaker. While reading a book on empty nest-hood by authors David and Claudia Arp, I came across this quote, “Today long-term marriages are breaking up in record numbers. Divorce among couples married thirty years or more show a sharp increase.” The reasons vary from boredom, career changes, the buffers (kids) are gone, to infidelity. That’s not good news for empty nester couples. But the Arp’s don’t leave us there. Here are 8 Marital Challenges they provide to help you enhance the second half of marriage:
1. Let go of past marital disappointments, forgive each other, and commit to making the rest of your marriage the best. Can you let go of unmet expectations and unrealistic dreams?
2. Create a marriage that is partner-focused, rather than child-focused. Don’t use other activities to fill the void your children left. Do something together. Focus on each other.
3. Maintain an effective communication system. Finding the right balance of intimacy and autonomy is critical for healthy relationships.
4. Use anger and conflict in a creative way to build your relationship. The Arp’s contend that it isn’t the facts that are the real problems; it’s the strong negative feelings we harbor.
5. Build a deeper friendship and enjoy your spouse. After all, now you’re more comfortable with each other, so enjoy each other. Put some friendship and fun in your marriage!
6. Renew romance and restore a pleasurable sexual relationship. Research shows that sexual satisfaction actually increases rather than decreases with the number of years married.
7. Adjust to changing roles with aging parents and adult children. This has an enormous effect on your marriage. Balance is key.
8. Evaluate where you are on your spiritual pilgrimage, grow closer to each other and to God, and together, serve others. The Arp’s write, “your journey must be a priority.”
Christian wedding vows include Matthew 19:6–So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.
A successful marriage comes through struggles. Real love is demonstrated by making those everyday sacrifices, and through forgiveness. Remember the love you had at the beginning of your marriage and take time in the second half of your marriage to rekindle what was lost in the busyness of life. Have a plan for the second half of your marriage. Give each other grace and enjoy the time you have together again.
 David & Claudia Arp, The Second Half of Marriage: Facing the Eight Challenges of the Empty Nest Years, (Grand Rapids, Mi., Zondervan, 1996) 31, 42-45