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June 8, 2010

Column #1,502

An Open Letter to Al and Tipper Gore

By Mike McManus

Dear Al and Tipper,

                Only you know why you are divorcing, but you could save your marriage.  Read “The Second Half of Marriage: Facing the Eight Challenges of the Empty-Nest Years,” by David & Claudia Arp. 

                You’ve been married 40 years.  Well, I’ve been married 44 years, and I agree with James Peterson in a study on aging for the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons): “Old people can change their behavior up to the day of their death.  It is never too late to make changes for the better to ensure marital success.”

                Every marriage experiences a centrifugal force that pulls spouses apart from each other.  Undoubtedly, in your very public lives, you’ve felt this force with far greater intensity than most of us. However, you can have an intentional marriage, and say “I do” again and again.

                Indeed, it is essential not only for happiness, but for life itself.  “Being unmarried chops almost ten years off a man’s life.  Similarly, not being married will shorten a woman’s life span by more years than being married and having cancer,” write Maggie Gallagher and Linda Waite in their book, “A Case for Marriage.” (Remarrying doesn’t help much.)

                As a couple in your 60s, ten years is a lot of time.  Therefore read the Arp’s book, awarded a “Gold Medallion” by bookstore owners as the best marriage book of that year. It’s been translated into 10 languages, and made into a DVD series. 

The Arps surveyed 1,000 couples in long-term marriages “to identify the major issues facing midlife marriages.” Their empty nest tips:

1.      “Let go of past marital disappointments, forgive each other, and commit to making the rest of your marriage the best.”  When a long-term marriage crumbles, it’s usually not due to a major crisis, but a lot of “little issues that have built up over the years.” Forgiveness is hard, but is the “oil that lubricates a love relationship,” needed daily.

2.      Many marriages never transition from the child and career focus of the early years to a partner focus. David and Vera Mace call for a “companionship marriage” in which couples “help each other grow and change in order to become the loving and creative persons they are capable of becoming.”

3.      “Time is a corrosive influence. We don’t naturally drift closer together; we drift further apart,” write Ray and Anne Ortlund. “We have to fight our way back to each other.”  How?  Stop avoiding conflict. Learn to listen. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” writes James 1:19.  Paul adds in I Thess. 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” 

4.      The Arps write, “We can change no other person by direct action. We can only change ourselves.” Nina’s husband was a drunk who lost his job. Her efforts to get him to change failed. But when she stopped complaining, he joined AA.

5.      Baby boomers’ greatest sin is ME focus. They lead separate lives and grow apart. But “friendship and fun in marriage – especially in the second half – is important. Have you ever seen a couple on the way to the divorce court who were best friends and having fun together?” the Arps ask. Develop new ways to have fun.

6.      Rekindle romance. Be affectionate.  When was the last time you showered together? Be adventuresome.  Leave work for a picnic in the park. Take walks together. Be in shape.

7.      If you are in the “sandwich generation,” worrying about adult kids and aging parents, remember someone needs to take care of the caretaker. When Susan enrolled her dad in adult day care, she gave herself valuable respite care.

8.      “Faith in God should make a radical difference in our relationship with our spouse. It should enhance our love for one another.” Jesus talked about the importance to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Yet we forget our closest neighbor is our spouse!

Sadly, few churches do anything to strengthen marriage. What can they do? Sunday School classes using Second Half of marriage DVDs and a Participant’s Guide. Or another product the Arps developed: “10 Great Dates To Energize Your Marriage.” Couples come to church on 10 Friday nights, watch a 15 minute DVD on “Resolving Honest Conflict” or “Becoming an Encourager.” Then have a 90 minute date to discuss that theme.

As the Arps say, “Having fun is serious business.”  To order, call 301 469-5873. 

Try it Al and Tipper!



Mike McManus

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