The Second Decade of Love

Have you ever stopped and wondered what your married life will be like 10 or 20 years from now? Yes, we know you're so busy that you can't even think about next week, but we want you to take a moment and look into the not-too-distant future. Maybe your future looks like this

Your eyes blink open in the darkened room. As you roll over, you check the red numbers illuminated on the nightstand. It's 7:17 a.m. Another Saturday morning.

But this one is different: You're waking up with no children in the house. Besides a few days here and there, it's the first time that has happened in 23 years.

What makes this day even more unique is ... they won't be back.

The nest is empty.

It's just you and your spouse.

Together.

Alone.

As you turn back over, you catch the sleeping silhouette of the person you said "I do" with so many years before. Time has passed quickly. Your mind flashes back through footage of dozens of memories.

The kids were your life. Did you even have a life before kids?

Now they're gone, and it's just the two of you.

What are you thinking right now?

Are you wondering if your relationship in coming years will be a rerun of the last five or 10?

Are you excited about the future, or are you plotting ways to do your own thing when the kids are gone?

That first Saturday morning in an empty house could be a sad reminder that you're stuck in a marriage that didn't quite turn out as you'd planned. The spark in your relationship has dimmed to a flicker.

You may be saying to yourself. This isn't what I expected marriage to be!

Change of seasons

In the first years of marriage, it was just the two of you. Waking up to bad hair days and asking your spouse not to kiss you until you swished Listerine was fun! Remember?

Now you're in the child-rearing season of marriage. Your kids have filled your life with purpose and scores of Kodak moments. You finally understand what your parents did for you and how God's plan for replenishing the next generation makes perfect sense.

But kids have also increased the pace of life. You're busy like never before: Doctor visits, car pools, sports, music and homework have run you down. You can't wait until the kids are in bed so you can enjoy 20 minutes of relaxation before hitting the sack and starting all over in the morning.

Maybe you haven't had a meaningful conversation with your spouse in a week. But you both know that's to be expected because kids are high-maintenance items these days. Oh, well, maybe we'll have some time together next week...

The fact is, marriage is also a high-maintenance item. While interviewing dozens of couples in the second decades of their marriages, we were reminded that couples need to invest in the relationship before the kids leave home. To help you understand why you shouldn't wait until the last child leaves for college before nurturing your marriage, we're going to take a little poetic license with three periods of history and relate them to modem-day marriage.

A (very) brief history lesson

Do you remember the Middle Ages? They were also called the Dark Ages, and for good reason. That was the period between A.D. 476 (the fall of the last Roman emperor) and 1453 (the fall of Constantinople to the Turks) in which much of Western Europe's classical civilization was overrun by barbarians.

Now for the second historical period. The Reformation began on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther challenged the doctrines and practices of the Roman church by tacking his 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg's All Saints Church. Luther's intent was to reform the church from within.

The Reformation, which continued until about 1648, was more than a religious upheaval. It gave birth to a complex social and political movement called the Renaissance, which is a French term for rebirth. Historians have a difficult time marking the beginning of this third period, but they agree the Renaissance lasted until the middle of the 17th century.

Okay, so how does all this relate to marriage?

The terms "Dark Ages," "Reformation" and "Renaissance" are handy in creating a word picture of where your relationship is or where you want it to be.

Most marriages begin with lofty goals, partly because newlyweds have the time and energy to build their relationship brick by brick. The onset of the parenting years, however, causes many couples to shift their focus and energy to the kids. As we've said, nearly all parents derive great satisfaction during the 20 to 30 years of child-rearing, even though the romantic side of marriage is often put on hold.

When the children are younger and totally dependent upon the parents, marriages often go through what we call the "Dark Ages." No, not everything is dark. (Remember, kids bring incredible joy to a marriage.)

But many couples aren't able to put much time into each other. Careers are advancing, homes are being furnished, and the kids are getting plugged into school, sports and church activities.

These are crucial years for a couple. In fact, the median duration of all U.S. marriages that end in divorce is seven years. The reason: Like most newlyweds, the partners began the marital years with a wrong or incomplete picture of marriage. From there they moved quickly into the Dark Ages, and before they knew what hit them, they were bailing out.

Eventually, the husband or wife will notice that the relationship is heading into deep water. (Our research shows that one person usually waits five to 10 years before saying anything.)

This is the point where a relational "Reformation" needs to take place, or the Dark Ages will continue. Many couples, without a clue of how to make things right, can't see a way out of the parenting maze. The result? They live a marriage of convenience, or they divorce and find someone else.

We think it's possible for marriages to achieve a rebirth before the children leave home. Actually, it must! If the day comes when the kids are gone, and you wake up staring at someone you're not excited about spending the rest of your life with ... you may not have the desire to rekindle the marriage flame.

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