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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Thriving in the Second Half of Marriage (Part 2 of 2)

Thriving in the Second Half of Marriage (Part 2 of 2)

Dr. Gary Chapman offers helpful insights and practical suggestions from his book Married and Still Loving It: The Joys and Challenges of the Second Half. (Part 2 of 2)
Original Air Date: June 10, 2016



Dr. Gary Chapman: We’re focusing on the kids and spending all of our time and energy with them and we’re not developing our relationship with each other. And then when we get to the place where the kids are gone, we don’t have much of a relationship.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: That’s Dr. Gary Chapman with a thought about the second half of marriage and he’s back with us today on “Focus on the Family” with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us. I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, there’s been an uptick, a dramatic uptick on divorce in the second half and I think it’s wise of us to kind of dissect that and address it and find out what’s going on. I’m sure it’s impacting Christian families like it is, the non-Christian families, too. And I think for us to be mindful of it and to understand what’s happening is job one and then to begin to do things differently in your life.

And we’ve covered some of that ground last time and if you missed that, I would encourage you to go back. Get the download at our website or get the CD to, you know, hear Dr. Gary Chapman, our guest’s perspective in this regard. He has a book. It’s called Married and Still Loving It. It’s really concentrating on the second half of marriage, that 25-year-plus mark. Once you hit 50-years-old, are we really in sync? Are we doing it as well as we could be? And again, we’re going to delve into that discussion today, talk about intimacy and other things that can derail a marriage, even after many, many years.


Jim: Gary, welcome back to “Focus.”

Gary: Well, thank you, good to be back, Jim.

Jim: You know, let’s start with the younger couple. They’re less than 25. “The younger,” I like that, less than 25 years married. But let’s say they’re in that 10 to 15 range. They’re workin’ it out. They’re settling in a little, but what are some of those things as they look down the line when maybe they are empty nesters, a lot of moms are gonna say, “I can’t even think that far. I’m still changin’ diapers.” But what are some things that they can do today to kind of lay that foundation for the second half of their marriage?

Gary: I think they need to keep open to the idea that we’re on a journey. Life is a journey and if you settle in and just feel like we are where we are, rather than the concept that we’re on a journey, this is a part of the journey. You know, raising the children right now and changing diapers is a part of the journey. (Laughter) But—

Jim: A tough part.

Gary: –there’s more to the journey and we want to keep our relationship growing while we’re raising the kids. Because this is a common problem, that we’re focusing on the kids and spending all of our time and energy with them and we’re not developing our relationship with each other. And then when we get to the place where the kids are gone, we don’t have much of a relationship. And so, we’re gonna have to start over at that point.

So, I would challenge those in the first half of marriage, always be doing something to enrich your marriage. Go to a marriage enrichment retreat or a conference once a year.

Jim: Consider it an investment.

Gary: Right. Read a book and share it with each other once a year. You know, do something that has the potential of changing your thoughts and your feelings and your behavior with each other, so that you keep growing in the relationship. If you’re growing in the first half, you’ll continue to grow in the second half.

Jim: You know, it’s a good adage. Gary, let me ask you this. That 15- to 25-year- range of the married couple, we talked lightly last time about the concentration on the kids and how some moms particularly will get to the end of that part of their marriage journey and they don’t know who they are anymore. I mean, they have been so invested in their children—the homeroom mom, all the parties, teachers appreciation day, all the things that they’ve done to be involved in their children’s lives, sporting events.

And then 18 comes and maybe they’re off to college or vocational school or they’re off to whatever they’re gonna do next and the moms are saying, “Who am I? What am I? What do I do?” And they may not even express that even to their husbands. How can they be on alert for that overinvestment, I guess I would call it? And how do they begin to redirect their energies toward their marriage?

Gary: Yeah, I think they have to come to the place where they’re saying to themselves, raising children is a part of my life. Now let’s face it. Many wives are working full time in the workforce—

Jim: Absolutely.

Gary: –as well. So, they’re raising children and working full time. I mean, they’ve got their plate full and overflowing. And many of ’em without even realizing it are not investing in their marriage. So, here they are, investing in their vocation, investing in their children, but not investing in their marriage. And the husband’s over here doing the same thing, only he’s probably doing less at home, though it’s encouraging that more husbands are helping with the children at home in these days.

Jim: And they’re stay-at-home dads.

Gary: And they’re stay-at-home dads; that’s right. And so, but we’re both investing in good things. I mean work is a good thing. Raising children is a good thing. But if we don’t invest in the marriage itself, then we’re kinda teammates, but we’re focusing on children and work and not focusing on each other.

Jim: It’s kind of natural though, ‘because kids need.

Gary: Absolutely.

Jim: They need everything. They need their lunch packed. They need to help them brush their teeth. So, you get into this rhythm of meeting their needs, meeting their needs. And then they’re 15 and you’re still meeting their needs, maybe in more ways than you should. How does that couple talk about that? How do they say, “Well, how do we begin pulling back so we prepare ourselves, not just our kids, but prepare ourselves for that empty nest, so you’re not crashing up against a wall emotionally and in every other way at that moment?

Gary: Well, one thing is rather than continuing to do everything for your children, teach your children how to do those things.

Jim: Right.

Gary: Fifteen-year-olds can do all kind[s] of things (Laughter) if you teach them. As a matter of fact, they will love to learn how to do things. And it frees you up when you teach them how to cook a meal, for example. And some mother’s saying, “Really? Cook a meal at 15?” My granddaughter’s 17 now, but at 14, she could cook a whole meal because her father taught her. Her father’s the cook. He taught her how to do it, you know. So, teach your children how to do some of those things, which gives more time for you and your spouse.

And you know, I just go back to that old idea of having a date night, a husband and wife having a date night. I don’t care if it’s a night of at noon or you know, before breakfast, but have a time on a regular basis that the two of you get together. Let somebody else take care of the kids during that time and the two of you go out and do somethin’ that at least one of you enjoys, okay. And share life with each other. See life as an adventure. Do some new things together to keep things alive in your relationship.

John: Yeah, when we got married, we did all sorts of fun things together and then, of course, children came and that was a fairly long season of having younger kids in the home. We had some guests, Jim, I don’t remember who it was, but they talked about doing fun things together and so, I went home and I said, “You write down, you know, five or 10 fun things that you like doing, Dena and I’ll do the same and when we compared lists, there wasn’t a whole lot of overlap. (Laughter) There just was not. And so, somewhere in the childrearing process, we kinda developed separate interests. How can we get back together and find a couple of things that are fun for both of us?

Gary: Yeah, you know, and in the second half of marriage, that’s also important to keep that spirit of adventure. And we found that the couples who really are thriving, keep the spirit of adventure. You know, in the second half of marriage, you can tend to just get in a rut, do the same thing over and over and over and over again.

So, I say, no, no, no, no. Look, go to a different restaurant. I know you’ve gone to the same four for 20 years. Go to a different restaurant. Or take a train ride? How long has it been since you had a train ride? Or go back to your honeymoon destination. Now Karolyn and I tried that and they’ve already torn the hotel down. (Laughter)

Jim: That’s not a good sign, is it?

Gary: Or visit another church. You’ve been in your church 20 years. Okay, it’s a good church. I’m not asking you to leave the church, just go visit another church one Sunday a year and see how other people worship. Just do something different. Keep it alive.

Jim: Those are good ideas, very good ideas. Gary, let me ask you this. It’s a tougher subject and we didn’t tough on this last time and that is that area of intimacy. Talk about the importance of physical intimacy, even in the second half of marriage and the need for it.

Gary: Yeah, well, we deal with this in the book. We have a chapter called “Still Sexual After All These Years.” I believe God never intended sex to be put on the shelf after 25 years of marriage. We are sexual creatures as long as we live.

Yes, our bodies do change as we get older, no question about that. Disease can affect us sexually. Medications can affect us sexually, but we’re still sexual creatures and we’re married to each other. And we’re to be reaching out, trying to give pleasure to each other in this part of the marriage as long as we live.

And so, we deal with the whole thing of menopause and endopause, you know, what the guy goes through in the lowering of the testosterone levels and all that sort of thing. It’s all very realistic there. But the fact is, there is help for some of those things now. There’s medical help for some of those things. So, we’re to still realize we’re male and female and we’re married to each other and this is one area in which we are going to continue to connect with each other.

Jim: That’s good advice, because like so many things, I mean, that’s kind of ground floor stuff, spiritual intimacy, emotional intimacy, physical intimacy and you can’t just cut one of those major trunks off typically thrive in your marriage.

Let me ask you and again, we touched a little on this, those three big questions that couples should be thinking about in the second half. Describe them. Tell us what they are and let’s talk about each of them.

Gary: Well, the first question, the easiest question perhaps is, “What can I do to help you?” It’s a common question. You would think we would be asking it already, but to ask it if you haven’t been asking it can be very awakening to your spouse. “Oh, you want to help me. Well, you could do this.” So, “What can I do to help you?” The second question is not as common. “How can I make your life easier?”

Jim: How does that differ from the first?

Gary: Well, I think in the first, the answer’s probably gonna be more an immediate thing in terms of, you know, you could help me tonight by doin’ the dishes, because I’m doing this. It’d be more an immediate thing. “How can I make your life easier” is a little broader perspective and it will likely have a different kind of answer in terms of something that you could do that would make their life easier.

For example, you might say, “You know, honey, I’ve been keepin’ the books for a long, long time, but I’ve been so busy with this new project. If you could keep the books and pay the bills for this month, that would make my life a whole lot easier.” So, it’s something that you wouldn’t necessarily think about saying, but if they ask the question, it comes to your mind.

And then the third question is a broader question and that is, “How could I be a better husband to you?” Or “How could I be a better wife to you?” And this opens the door to any area in which they may be thinking in their mind and maybe thinking for a long time, I sure wish they would do this or that or the other. Now they have a chance to share that.

It’s the asking of the questions that opens the door for your spouse to share things that are already in their heart and mind, but they haven’t shared them because in the past when they did share them, it turned into an argument. But now you’re taking it out of the argument phase and you’re making it an invitation phase by asking the question.

Jim: What if that list is quite long? (Laughter) What if you go home and you say to your spouse, “How can I be a better husband to you?” “How can I be a better wife to you?” And that’s, “Well, let me give you the first 10 and we’ll start there.”

Gary: I suggest if you’re the one receiving that question, limit it to two things to start with. They’re gonna ask the question again next week, okay. So, don’t put the whole thing on them at one time.

John: Well, Gary, what would prevent a husband or a wife who’s been married for a long time, from going home and asking one of those three very simple questions?

Gary: I think one is fear that they’ll get an answer–

Jim: Right. (Laughter)

Gary: –that they don’t want. So, and I think the other is selfishness. We don’t think along these lines. We think along the lines of, “Let me tell you something I’d like you to do for me.” You know, “Let me tell you what you need to be doin’ to be a better wife.” That’s what we’re thinking, you know. We’re gonna tell them some things.

John: Have you worked with couples that have tried this question and it didn’t go so well?

Gary: Well, you know, most of the time when couples honestly ask these questions out of the right attitude, you know, that they really do want answers and they really do want to be better, almost always it has a positive effect.

Jim: Now that is good. Let me ask you this. You made a statement in the book toward Karolyn, your wife of more than 50 years, “If every woman in the world was like you, there’d be no divorce.” That’s a really sweet thing to say.

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: The bigger question is, what in Karolyn allows you to say that today?

Gary: It’s her attitude and the things she does. You know, like I mentioned her attitude when she had cancer, you know, when I volunteered just to drop everything and stay at home. And her attitude was, “No, no, no. No, no, you do what God’s called you to do. You’ll be here when I need you. There’ll be friends here to help me.”

And it’s that attitude that she sees what I do as an extension of her life and her ministry. She’s ministering to God by ministering to me and encouraging me in what I do, cooking meals. I can’t cook, okay. It’s just a fact. I cannot cook. I can go out and buy food, but I can’t cook. She cooks and she enjoys cooking and one of her joys is seeing me enjoy what she cooks. It’s a huge thing. Cooking meals is a huge thing.

And so, you know, it’s that attitude that she has toward me in serving me, in helping me be the person that I am, I mean, why would a man leave a woman like that? You know, and my goal has been to so serve her that when I’m gone, she’ll never find another man that treats her the way I’ve treated her. (Laughter) So, the woman’s gonna miss me. (Laughter)

Jim: That’s a great goal. You know, on the serious and heavy side of that, not long ago we had a woman who called here at Focus and said her husband divorced her and it caught her by surprise. In fact, she said, “You know, he waited till I was too old and frumpy to find somebody else.” That’s a fear that probably a lot of women may have and that to me, suggests that was not just somethin’ that happened in a day. That was a relational problem that probably started early in their marriage. How can a couple, either the husband or the wife, not find themselves in that spot down the road? A, caught off guard, B, so worried now that wow, here I am in the second half and what’s gonna happen to me?

Gary: I think the reason we get caught off guard is that we’ve been drifting for a long time. We’ve been neglecting our relationship. He’s had his life; she’s had her life. They work out the logistics of living together in a kinda calm way and they just assume that this is fine, that this is fine with both of us, you know.

Whereas, it’s not fine necessarily with one of them and very likely in that kind of situation, the husband is already involved with somebody else. He already has an emotional relationship with someone else. And she’s caught off guard because she thought everything is fine. We haven’t had any arguments. You know, there haven’t been any conflicts.

Jim: That’s the disengaged spouse.

Gary: Yeah, just disengaged and how can we avoid that? I think it’s by doing something on a regular basis to stimulate growth in our relationship. As I mentioned earlier, reading a book together and discussing it together. Or going to a marriage conference together. Or going to a small group in your church. Maybe the topic’s not even marriage, but the two of you are doing this together. So, doing things together so that you’re stimulating therelationship and not letting it become just mundane.

John: Well, one of the books you could read together would be Married and Still Loving It, by our guest, Dr. Gary Chapman. We have it here at Focus on the Family and we’d invite your call to request that and a CD of this conversation, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or go to www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.

Jim: And what I’d like to do is send you a copy of Gary’s book when you make a donation of any amount today to help us help these families. I should point out, it’s your generous contributions that keep us going here at Focus on the Family with all the outreach that we do together in the name of the Lord, helping families, helping marriages, helping parents do the job they need to do.

And Gary, we did a movie called Irreplaceable that lifted up, it was our hope that we would lift up the beauty of God’s design for marriage. I think it’s a powerful resource. And I mention that because it features the testimony of a man named Gene Whalberg and his story is blazoned into my mind. He talked about being a rebel rouser as a young married man. He let his wife for another woman and after about six months, he never found peace with that decision.

And he later lamented how he treated his wife, really treated her so poorly. So, when we pressed him on that and it’s a beautiful interview, he talked about he went from that rebel rouser to this loving, caring man. And it is such a powerful picture of redemption, of doing the right thing and being there as a man, married to the woman he loved. I just love that commitment and that’s the way it should be, shouldn’t it?

Gary: Well, it is and you know, Jim, what’s been so encouraging in writing this book is, we interviewed scores and scores of couples who are in the second half, some toward the end of the second half, who really have wonderful, loving relationships like that. It’s not all bad out there. There are a lot of good couples who have wonderful relationships in the second half. We’re just hoping this book’s gonna help a lot of other people have that kind of second half.

Jim: It’s a great goal to have. Speak specifically though when that hardship comes, when those changes are devastating changes, when it’s Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, which seem to be so prevalent today. How does the healthier spouse find their footing to do the right thing and be the right thing in that moment?

Gary: You know, the ones that I’ve talked with over the years, it’s been because [of] their deep commitment first of all to God, their deep commitment to marriage. They see it as a covenant. They really believe for better, for worse, in sickness and in health. And so, consequently, many of them don’t see it as a sacrifice. They see it as the normal outflow of a continuing love relationship with their spouse. And it’s beautiful to behold, absolutely incredible. But I think it’s what God intended, that we walk together all the way to the end of the journey.

Jim: You know, Gary when I talk to 20- and 30-somethings at a Q conference or another venue, they’ll often say to me, “I just am fearful. The reason I’m not gettin’ married and I’m 33, is I just don’t believe it can work for me. I want it. It’s something I desire, but I don’t see it playing out. My parents, who were Christians, they divorced and I’m just anxious about it.” Speak to that younger generation. They haven’t found the courage to say, “Okay, I can do this.” It could be one of the most daunting feelings they have. They want it, but they don’t know how to do it well.

Gary: No, I think you’re right and I think what you mentioned, one of the things is key and that is, they’ve seen their parents divorce and they know the pain of going through that as a child. And then they’ve seen their friends who get married and three years later, they divorce. And they thought, man, they were madly in love. What happened here?

And I think a lot of it, Jim, is they don’t understand the dynamics of the love relationship. You know, they see this “in love” thing and many of them experienced that. And in fact, many of them are living together, you know, rather than getting married, thinking that, that’s kind of the road to a good marriage. Well, we know that research indicates that’s not true. There’s a higher divorce rate if you live together before you get married.

And so, you’re right. There’s a deep desire. There’s a deep longing of them to have a good marriage, but they’ve seen so many failures. But if they can understand the euphoria of being in love is about a two-year deal. You come down off the high. Then you have to learn how to love each other. There’s The Five Love Languages coming in. You learn how to love each other. You can have a relationship that’s positive for a lifetime. We all deeply need love and when we learn how to love each other and then learn how to respect each other’s ideas, you can have the kind of marriage you long to have.

You know, Jim, what’s interesting. When you have a speaker get up and say or in the introduction they say, “This person’s been married for 45 years,” these young people who are not married, they applaud.

Jim: (Laughing) Right, I’ve seen that.

Gary: It’s what they want, you know. So, I’m saying, you can have it. Just read some books on marriage. Learn some things about marriage while you’re single and you’re likely to have a good marriage.

Jim: And what you’re expressing there is so important for us to hear. You can live off the fumes those first couple of years of just sweetness and love and it gets you through. But at some point, you gotta begin to work at it and that means you’ve gotta ask those three questions that you were talkin’ about earlier–“What can I do for you?” “How can I be a better spouse to you?”–all of that and that takes effort and it takes work and I think for whatever reason, we tend to avoid that.

Gary, you also talked about the seven secrets of resiliency and I love that word, “resilience.” I just think that should be the hallmark of a Christian in this day and age and in every day and age. Resilience is what makes us better as a human being and I think it’s rooted in God’s character. Mention those seven quickly and pick one out to amplify.

Gary: Well, we did find that couples who are thriving in the second half have resilience. They get up; they keep going, okay. And here are those things. All couples will face difficulties. Don’t ever think you’re not gonna have difficulties. No. 2, when we focus on solving the problem rather than blaming each other, we’re more likely to find the solution.

And then No. 3, we cannot change circumstances, but we can change our attitude and a positive attitude is always a winning attitude. And then we will not always understand why things happen. In life it can be difficult sometimes. We won’t always understand, but we can always ask, what can I learn from this experience? And you can always learn from every experience.

And then turning to God and trusting Him with our pain is always better than turning away from God, because often in the midst of pain people run away from God.

Jim: It’s natural.

Gary: Yeah, they get mad at God. And then listening to each other is always better than yelling at each other. So, rather than saying, “Can we talk?” you say, “Honey, can we sit down and listen to each other?”

Jim: (Chuckling) That’s good.

Gary: It’s much better.

John: Good reframing.

Gary: And then No. 7, we need each other. Together we can resolve the problem.

Jim: Those are seven great truths. Let’s post those online, alone with the three good questions that we need to ask. Gary, can I do this? You do so much counseling with couples. You probably have heard just about everything. I’ll leave a little door open that maybe in the future somebody’s gonna come to you with a zinger. But in that context of experience and what you yourself and Karolyn have experienced in your 50-plus years of marriage, can I ask you to pray for those couples who are struggling, who need a lifeline, who are contemplating divorce, who don’t see a way out. They’re trapped. Speak to their hearts, especially those who call on the name of Christ as their Savior, to arrest that thinking and get them moving in a different direction.

Gary: I’d be glad to. Father, You know what we’re talking about today and You know those who are listening and those particularly who are struggling in their relationship right now. And I do pray that Your Spirit would touch their spirit and give them a sense of hope when there’s been little hope. And give them an awareness that You love them, that Your plans for them are good, that You will help them and guide them, Father to take courage, to take a step, to call Focus on the Family, to call a local counselor or a pastor, but to take some step toward learning how to be the person you want them to be. And give them wisdom, Father in how to relate to their spouse, even those who feel like there’s absolutely no hope, I pray that You’d plant a seed of hope in their hearts by what they’ve heard today. In the name of Christ, I pray, amen.

Jim: Amen. Dr. Gary Chapman, author of the book, Married and Still Loving It, thank you so much for bein’ with us.

Gary: Thank you.


John: Well, you can learn more about Dr. Chapman’s book and a CD or a download of this two-part conversation and find the seven great truths and three good questions to be asking your spouse at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.

And then as Jim mentioned a few minutes ago, we’ll send a copy of that book, Married and Still Loving It as our way of saying thank you for your generous donation to support the work that we’re doing here to better prepare marriages, to strengthen them, save them and in this case, to help push marriages across the finish line well. Your donation allows us to continue doing that and we thank you in advance.

And while you’re online, I hope you’ll take our brand-new Focus on Marriage assessment. It’s about a five-minute quiz and it’s going to help you understand about a dozen different aspects of your marriage and see the strongest and some of the weaker areas of your relationship, so you can really zero in on where your marriage is now and where you can take it.

Of course, call about anything I’ve mentioned or to request perhaps a counseling referral to someone in your area. Our number is 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and I’m John Fuller, hoping you have a great weekend, inviting you back on Monday, as we hear right from Jim’s heart about the importance of marriage.


Jim Daly: No longer does the culture embrace a definition, a biblical definition of marriage. And the question is, how are gonna begin to convince the culture that a traditional view of marriage, may I be bold enough to say, a godly view of marriage is what we’re gonna need?

End of Excerpt

John: That’s on Monday, as “Focus on the Family” once again, helps you and your family thrive.

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