I read a story once of a prospector who spent years mining a piece of property. Having never unearthed more than a few insignificant flakes of gold, he eventually gave up. Years later, another took over where he’d left off, discovering a major vein of gold just inches from where the old prospector had stopped.
I had the same sad feeling this week thinking of how so many married couples never hit the major gold in marriage because they stopped short.
Crazy thought—perhaps we should change “Golden Anniversary” to refer to the 25th anniversary instead of the 50th. Not to take anything away from the incredible value of being married for fifty years, but I believe it’s actually tougher to reach the 25-year mile marker.
It takes the first twenty-five years to just get past kids, build careers and houses, mid-life crisis and perimenopause. Many who make it to the empty nest don’t even recognize each other any more.
Forty percent of marriages in America end in divorce. Of those, the average length of marriage is only eight years.
Many stay married yet have quit trying. They’ve just given up.
Gail and I have been married thirty-six years now. We both say it’s never been better. It wasn’t always great, yet we’ve never stopped working at it. We’ve pressed through life-challenges of all sizes and are now enjoying benefits we hadn’t even imagined.
There is something genuinely golden about marriages that thrive past twenty-five years. When you experience that much life together, you gain the benefit of truly knowing each other—both the good and the could-be-better—yet loving one another more deeply than when you first said, “I do.”
Living happily ever after isn’t just for fairy tales. Yet it doesn’t happen just because you say, “I do.” It happens for those who continue to say, “I do. I will.”
There are many things that help marriages go the distance, but here are a few things we’ve found essential:
- Learn to say “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” early on. There’s no other way for two imperfect people to last if you don’t get this quick.
Don’t use divorce as a threat. We chose to never use the “D-word” in an argument. It wasn’t an option. (Murder, maybe…just kidding.)
Think differently about disagreements. See relationship challenges as opportunities to work through and get better, rather than as indicators that this won’t work.
When irritated, consider the alternative. I get irritated when Gail leaves something where I trip over it in the middle of the night. She gets irritated when I put a dirty dish in the sink instead of the dishwasher. We’ve learned to use these as reminders that we get to live with each other. What if the other wasn’t there any more? I don’t want a life without Gail—even if it means an occasional stubbed toe. And I’m working on the dish thing.
Don’t be afraid to call for help. Couples often wait too long to reach out for a bit of help when in troubled waters. Don’t let shame rob you of a better marriage. Seek the advice of another couple as mentors. Become part of a small group focused on marriage enrichment. Hire a coach. See a family therapist. Do what it takes.
Keep working on it. Never stop working on your marriage—no matter how good or bad. Read books. Attend seminars. Listen to podcasts. Go on marriage retreats. And keep dating.
Don’t miss out on the best that marriage has to offer by stopping just short of the gold. Go the distance—till death do you part. Not just enduring, but thriving—and living happily ever after.
Question: What helps you to continue mining the gold in your marriage? Share your answer in the comments below.