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 1 of 2)
Dr. Gary Chapman: Only God can change the human heart. By nature, all of us are selfish. But when God changes our heart and we really have the attitude of Christ—I'm here to serve you—and when a husband starts serving a wife in an effective way, she's drawn to him. That's what she longs for. And then she realizes her responsibility and then she begins to reciprocate.
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John Fuller: Dr. Gary Chapman is our guest today on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and welcome to the program.
Jim Daly: John, you know, one of the things that this culture is experiencing is what they call "the graying of divorce" and that's when a couple, they get through the childbearing years and are moving right through that, maybe at 25 years of marriage, 30 years of marriage. Then all of a sudden, they look up and they don't really know each other and perhaps they don't even like each other. I don't know what the causes are, but today we want to talk about both the good things of being married beyond the halfway point of about 25 years and those things that could derail you even at that time as a couple. And I think it's going to be a very informative discussion.
John: Yeah, I have no doubt that we'll have some encouragement for those who are in that second half of marriage. And for those who haven't quite hit that mark, Dr. Chapman has a lot of insights about laying the foundation so you can have a good long-term marriage. As I said, he's the author of a number of books, including the best-selling, The Five Love Languages. That's been a perennial favorite here for our listeners. (Laughter) And Gary serves on staff at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and he and his wife, Karolyn had been married for more than 50 years now.
Jim: So, he's an expert. (Laughing)
John: I hope, so, yeah.
Jim: Gary, it's so--
Gary: I'm in the second half (Laughter), that's for sure. (Laughter)
Jim: --well, I've been married almost 30. How about you, John?
Jim: Okay and you're 50, so between us, that's a little scary. (Laughter)
Gary: Well, you guys have a good start, let's say that.
Jim: Yeah, right. (Laughter) Well, how about that. Well, let's talk about that. What on the positive side, what makes that marriage successful that's getting through the 30-something anniversary, the 40-, the 50-something? You've experienced; what worked for you?
Gary: You know, I think those that do have successful marriages in the second half are couples who have learned how to communicate with each other, try to understand each other's perspective. I mean, that's huge, because we're not by nature, we don't do that, you know. (Laughter) By nature, it's my way, you know. And I think learning how to see each other's perspective and look for solutions to conflicts rather than trying to win an argument or put the other person down, that's a huge part of it.
I think another part is, they have learned how to love each other. And so, they both feel secure in each other's love. And when you have that in the second half and you're solving your conflicts and you've accepted some of those things that aren't going to change about your spouse (Chuckling), and come to really laugh about them, the second half can become really, really good.
Jim: Let me look at the data. There was a recent survey from Bowling Green State University that showed that prior to 1990, only 1 in 10 over the age of 50 divorced. I mean, that's shocking. But it's to your point you just made. It's like you get comfortable. You start knowing each other. You're in for "death do you part."
Jim: And then in more recent years, after 1990, that number has slipped now to 1 in 4.
Jim: So, something is going on there that people aren't in for the long haul like they used to be. Talk about those trip wires that do occur. I alluded to the empty nest. There are probably others though.
Gary: Well, I think there are numerous things, but I do think the empty nest is one of them. A lot of couples have the idea that we're gonna stay together as long as our children are at home. And when they all get off to college, then we're gonna divorce. They're not having a good marriage. They haven't had a good marriage for 10, 15, 20 years, but they're hangin' on for the kids.
And they're under the illusion that it will not hurt the adult children as much as it would've hurt them when they were younger. But when I speak on college campuses about marriage and family life, the students who stay behind to talk to me are the ones who say, "Gary, my parents divorced since I came off to college and I don't know where to go home. I don't have a home anymore." I mean, they're devastated.
Gary: You don't divorce without hurting your kids, I don't care what age it is. Now I'm not suggesting get divorced earlier. What I'm suggesting is, do something on your marriage wherever you are. Take some steps to make things better. I don't care how bad it is, it can be better if we simply reach out and try to learn some things.
John: Well, you mentioned something earlier, Gary about accepting the other person's shortcomings, if we can call it that. There a fine line between saying, "Well, he's just gonna be like that" or "She's just gonna be like that" and then doing the other thing which you mentioned, which is trying to seek them out and understand them better. the difference there or what's the balancing point?
Gary: Well, you know, what we found is, that the couples who really are thriving in the second half have not only come to accept those things, but they've come to see humor in those things. I'll give you an example in my own life. You know, I'm a morning person, okay. (Laughter)
Jim: Me, too.
Gary: Karolyn is not a morning person. I had these dreams when we got married. We were gonna have breakfast together, devotions together (Laughter) and all that good stuff and that all went out the window. And in those early days, I called her "lazy." I said, she wasn't spiritual, you know.
Gary: A spiritual person would get [up early], oh, yeah.
Jim: I'm surprised you made it to 50. (Laughter)
John: These are not things to do if you want to have a long-term marriage.
Gary: But in due time I realized she was not a morning person and I was really being very unfair to her. And so, recently she happened to be up early one morning. I think she had an event or something. And it was about 7 o'clock. I was in the kitchen and I was fixin' my breakfast like I always do.
And I hit my head on a door that she left open, a cabinet door. (Laughter) And I turned around later and I hit my other side of my head on the microwave door she left open. And then I turned around to get my knife to cut my grapefruit and I almost tackled her, because I didn't realize she was there.
And I laughed. I just started laughing. I said, "Karolyn, I am so glad you are not a morning person. (Laughter)
Jim: I didn't know Jean and Karolyn were sisters. (Laughter)
John: Add Dena to the mix. (Laughter)
Jim: What is it with the open cabinets? I don't know what that is. I guess it's efficient.
Gary: But you do come to accept some things and really see humor in those things.
Jim: And that is good, but talk to the person, Gary, who is not finding humor after 25, 30 years. It's been the grind and it's not necessarily the husband. I mean, we're three guys sittin' here and I realize that. Speak from that woman's perspective. It's been maybe the husband hard charging in his career. They've been disconnected for a decade at this point or maybe longer. And she doesn't feel any emotional connection any longer and the kids are on their way out and she's been plannin' this maybe quietly in her heart for a long time.
Jim: Speak to that person.
Gary: Well, first of all, I would say to that lady, I can understand how you get to that place. But when you have the idea that I'm gonna separate and I'm gonna be happier and maybe someday I'll even find somebody that will really make me really happy, you're living with an illusion. Even if you fall in love with someone else or you may already be in love with someone else, it has an average lifespan of two years and you will come down off the high and then you're in a second relationship. You get back in the real world and no, the problems won't be the same, but they'll still be there.
So, why not spend energy and time re-engaging with your spouse? And to say to your spouse for example, "You know, I don't know how you feel about us, but I'm not feelin' real good about us. And I really decided that I'm gonna go for some counseling. I'd like for you to join me. But if you don't want to go, I'm gonna go, 'cause I'm gonna try to learn how to be a better wife to you."
Whoo! He now knows, woo, somethin's happenin' to this woman, even if he's negative and he won't go with her, he's got the idea, well, she's takin' this thing seriously. So, he begin to wake up and she goes for counseling and she starts learning how she can do things that will enhance his life and change her attitude and she's influencing him. You can't change your spouse, but you can influence your spouse and that's what she's doing.
Jim: Gary, when you look at this and you alluded to a couple of things that you can do. You gotta forgive. You gotta consider your own part in this, all those introspective things that you need to do. But how does a couple get here. Describe some of those experiences that you've heard in your counseling efforts with many, many couples. What are some of those stories that really stood out to you that typify the drift that occurs? What are those statements that are said to you?
Gary: Well, one is, "We don't agree about anything," which means we've never learned how to resolve conflicts. So, we have all these unresolved conflicts in our relationship. And what you say to yourself in your mind, 'cause I remember when I said this, "We're not compatible. We shouldn't have gotten married. We're just too different. It's never gonna be any different."
And as long as you keep repeating those messages to yourself, it won't be any different. You have to turn that around and start recognizing, wait a minute. Okay, so we do have a lot of unresolved conflicts, but is there anything good in this relationship?
And you know, I think you can almost always find something good about your spouse. If he's working and bringing home money and paying the bills, that's huge.
Jim: Yeah, it's a big one.
Gary: Otherwise if you're not working, you could be homeless, so there's always something. And if you begin to turn your mind and look to the positive things and begin to affirm them for some of those positive things, you'd change the climate in the relationship. But unresolved conflict is one of the huge issues. Another is the sense of not feeling loved--
Gary: --you know, that they're into their thing. doing their career or you know, they're into the kids or whatever. But I don't think they even know I'm here.
Jim: Let me probe on that a little, because it's a big one and I think especially for the wife. I mean, that's important. That's her language. I mean, she needs to feel emotionally connected. And in that context, when a couple is drifting apart, it seems to me they build those barriers. Maybe the husband just is saying, "It's not worth the effort." You know, I've tried and it's just not there. There's no payback and it may have been for years or it could be the wife, too. I'm just saying, there are these circumstances where in the human context, we give up.
Jim: Why are we giving up, especially for those of us who are Christ followers, who should know better—
Jim: --and we're not willing to even invest in this relationship any longer. That really is sinful, wouldn't you say?
Gary: Well, I think it is, Jim. I think we've been so influenced by this happiness concept and if a husband is not happy in the relationship, he's not feeling loved by her, he's into his business. Everybody at work thinks he's wonderful. They give him all these accolades. He comes home and she's on his case because he didn't do this, that or the other thing. And he will say to himself, "Well, I tried this and I tried that and she' just so critical."
And so, I think it's because we really want to be happy and we say to ourselves, "God wants me to be happy and I'm not happy in this marriage. But there's a girl at work; there's a lady at work. I mean, she's so nice, you know." And he begins to court that idea and before long, he's moving away rather than even trying anymore—
Gary: --and he gives up. And I understand the dynamic. I understand how you get there, but I think as Christians, we have to reassess this thing, that we made a covenant and God is with us and God can change hearts and He can change lives. And you know, I look back on my life and how God changed my marriage and that's why I have hope, maybe for other people.
Jim: Well, talk about that. We appreciate your vulnerability in that, but I think people will connect with your story. Talk about those early years where you were strugglin'.
Gary: Well, you know, Karolyn and I grew up in the same community, went to the same church. We were both Christians and I had finished Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College and one year of seminary. I should've been mature. (Laughter)
Jim: You had all the head knowledge.
Gary: Yeah, I had it all, you know. And we got married and within six months I was miserable, because we just disagreed on everything and she was very strong-willed and I was very strong-willed and we got into arguments and said harsh things to each other.
[I'll] never forget the night. It was pouring down rain and we were in the middle of an argument and she just went to the closet, got her coat and walked out the door in the rain. And I thought, my goodness, what have I done here? But so, it was bad, okay. (Laughing)
Gary: And that's why I said, I had the thought, I've married the wrong one. And I got angry with God, because I said, "Look, before I got married, I prayed. I asked You, don't let me marry her if she's not the right one and You let me do it."
Jim: Let me ask you this. "The right one" means what in that moment?" 'Cause that's really important.
Jim: What does "the right one" really mean?
Gary: Well, the right one is one with whom I am happy and who loves me and who reaches out to me and you know, that's what we want, that ideal person that's focused on us, you know. And let's face it; in a sense that's what God wants, they['re] focused on you, but you're focused on them. But we just did it one sided. We want them to make us happy. We want them to agree with us.
And so, we had all kind of arguments and it was really bad. And really, the turnaround for me became when I said to God, I was in seminary, studying to be a pastor, when I finally said to God, "I don't know what else to do. I've done everything I know to do and it's not getting any better." And as soon as I said that, it came to my mind a visual image of Jesus on His knees, washin' the feet of His followers and I just heard God say to me, "That's the problem in your marriage. You do not have the attitude of Christ toward your wife."
[It] hit me like a ton of bricks, because I knew that was not my attitude. You know, my attitude was, look, I know how to have a good marriage. If you'll listen to me, we'll have one. (Laughter) She wouldn't listen to me. But that day I got a different message and I said, "Lord, forgive me. All of my studying Greek and Hebrew and theology, I've missed the whole point. Please give me the attitude of Christ." It changed my life.
John: And you look back and that was the pivot point for you to make it 50-plus years now.
Gary: Absolutely. That's when I started asking her, "What can I do to help you? How can I make your life easier? How can I bet a better husband?" And she began to give me answers and my attitude was changed. I wanted to serve her. And within three months, she started asking me those questions. Yeah, we've been walkin' this way a long time now. I'm reaching out to her; she's reaching out to me. I think it's what God intended. God never intended marriage to make people miserable.
John: Well, some great observations and I think we'll probably dig down into those three questions that you ask each other. That's Gary Chapman and he's our guest today on "Focus on the Family," offering encouragement no matter where you are in your marriage walk, whether it's early or perhaps the middle stage or the later years, some really good ideas of hope and perspective. And his book is called Married and Still Loving It: The Joys and Challenges of the Second Half. We've got that and an audio CD or download of this conversation at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call. Our number is 800-232-6459.
Jim: Gary, I don't want to let you off the hook on that where you ended there, because there had to be and there was obviously, for you and for Karolyn, a transition time. It may not be just the one moment. In the rain certainly was a moment. But talk about how you began to rethink that relationship and you stopped focusing on me and how do you get there? Because there seems to be something in the human heart that we build a wall that's very difficult to tear down and to say, "Okay, I'm gonna begin to think differently about how much I don't like my spouse." (Laughter)
Gary: I think it's not a self-help thing, Jim. I really think it's a spiritual thing. Only God can change the human heart. By nature, all of us are selfish. We want our way and we have certain expectations in marriage and we tend to demand those things of our spouse, which pushes them further away.
But when God changes our heart and we really have the attitude of Christ, I'm here to serve you, so how can I do it in an effective way, and when a husband starts serving a wife in an effective way, she's drawn to him. That's what she longs for.
And then she realizes her responsibility and then she begins to reciprocate. It can start with the husband or the wife. I think the biblical pattern is, the husband. He's the leader. He should take the initiative to be like Christ. But his heart's gotta be changed.
But if he doesn't, I think a wife can do the same thing. God can change her heart. And when we have a heart, not just in marriage, but in all of life, that I'm here to serve people, I mean, the people who are happiest in life are those who have this attitude. I'm here to serve others and how can I enrich the lives of other people?
And then your own happiness is kind of, just the results of pouring your life into other people. And when you get that going in your own heart, then it'll apply to your marriage and change your marriage.
Jim: Do you remember that transition point where you began to do that with Karolyn, that you said, "What can I do?" How did that night or that day go or that week or that month?
Gary: Well, you know, it became a way of life after I prayed the prayer and just admitted I didn't know what else to do. And I got that sense that the problem was me and my attitude toward her. And I asked God to give me the attitude of Christ. And really, there was a change in my own heart. And from that point on, I began to reach out to ask her those kind of questions and I continue to ask her those kind of questions and it's all these years. You know, how can I help you, honey? And what can I do to make your life easier this week? You know, how can I be a better husband? It's opening yourself to input from your spouse.
And when you open the door and give them that opportunity, they'll respond and then you have a chance to do what you're asking them what you want to do. But most couples don't do that. They get all these things inside that they'd like to ask their spouse to do and they just spout them off. I wish you'd take the trash out without me asking you to do it. You know, and the poor guy's thinking, you know, I took it out twice in a row and now she's on my case about it.
John: That's a demotivator though.
Gary: Yes, but it's demotivating, that's right. But when you begin to take the approach of how can I help you and you open that door, there's a good chance that in due time they're gonna start asking you those questions. And now you can share these things as requests and not demands and that's what makes the difference.
Jim: And that is a changed heart in your own life and that's where the Lord begins to work on you. Gary, we're talking a lot about the internal things that trigger this divisive nature. You don't like what your spouse does, etc. There are external things that occur, a business failure, some kind of reversal. And usually you've worked 25 years together towards something and then things start going south and that can add pressure, maybe to a weak infrastructure in the marital relationship. Talk about that kind of example.
Gary: Well, there are challenges in the second half of marriage, there's no question about that and that's why in this book, you know, the subtitle is The Joys and Challenges of the Second Half. There are health issues for example. There's a good chance that one of you are gonna have health issues to deal with. And that can be traumatic and Karolyn and I went through that four years ago when she had uterine cancer. And it was a hard year, a really hard year physically for her and emotionally, you know, to live.
Jim: How was it hard for you?
Gary: You know, it was hard for me to see her suffer, just watching your wife suffer, the pain of chemotherapy. I mean, it was awful. And so, it was very painful, and yet, you know, her attitude was positive. You know, I said, "Karolyn, I'll cancel everything I'm doing and just be here with you." She said, "Listen, God has His role for you. You've gotta do what you've been doin'. I'm okay. You'll be here when I need you and if not, I'll call my friends. They'll be here." And you know, that was her attitude, you know. She made it easy. She made it easy—
Jim: That's amazing. Yeah.
Gary: --for me. But there are health issues you have to face and then sometimes there's the loss of jobs you have to face and that can be traumatic. You're 60-years-old and they say, "We don't need you anymore." Well, at 20 you can think, "Oh, I can get another job." Sixty? Hm, I don't know about this. So, that can be a stress point in the second half of marriage.
The whole thing of moving, are we gonna downsize? Are we gonna stay here? Are we gonna move to where our children live? I just remind you, if you think about that, your kid's probably gonna move in five years. (Laughter) Just so, be careful about that one, you know.
And there's the whole thing of retirement. When to retire? Should we retire? You know, what's that gonna be about? And those are the kind of things we deal with in this book, is giving people practical help on those challenges that you have in the second half, so that you continue to work together as a team and not allow the challenges to divide you in the second half of your marriage.
Jim: Gary, when you look at the underpinnings of all of this, the scriptural truth of it, so often in conversations I'm having, particularly with those who oppose Biblically defined marriage, they'll say something like, "Well, you haven't done so well with it. Why not let us try same-sex marriage?" whatever it might be. And you know, there is truth to that. We need to be, I think as a Christian community particularly, more serious about this, don't we?
Gary: I think we do and you know, you're probably familiar with Shaunti Feldhahn, who wrote the book, Good News About Marriage.
Jim: She's been on the program.
, it's not nearly as bad as we've been told that it is in our country, you know, that 50 percent of the people are divorcing and that's really not true. The research brings it more in the category of 35 percent. It's still far too much.
Gary: And we've also been told that the divorce rate in the church is the same as it is out of the church and that's not true either. Those in the church have about half the divorces that you do outside the church. That's still too many, but we need to focus on Christian marriages, applying Biblical principles, having the kind of marriage we've dreamed of having and that God wants us to have. And when we have good marriages, I'm telling you, non-Christians will recognize it as you interface with them and they will ask, "How do you do this?" And we have a chance to tell them there's a power beyond us that's helping us do this, that changed our attitude and a chance to share Christ with people.
Gary: So, I think yes, I think Christians focusing on marriage, there's few things more important in terms of impacting the world than having a strong Christian marriage.
John: To that end, is there one thing that you're working on right now that you thought 20 years ago, oh, we'll have that figured out?
Gary: You know, we're not facing any huge challenges at this juncture in our marriage. We're enjoying the fruit of all the hard work we've done in the past. But we still process things, you know, but there are no huge mountains in our marriage.
John: And she's not getting up in the morning?
Gary: No, she still doesn't get up in the morning.
Jim: Leavin' those cupboard doors open? (Laughter) You know, Gary, so often we get testimonies, people calling or e-mailing us, writing us saying, I was listening to the broadcast, headed to my divorce lawyer, was one situation. And they happened to stumble upon the radio program right at that moment. And it was a decision point for them. They decided to pull back from that appointment with the divorce attorney.
There may be somebody hearing this right now who is going, wow! Okay, I'm headed that direction. We're headed that direction. I've gotta change course. Talk to that person about the next days. What can be done practically when they go home tonight and they say, "I heard something that we've gotta listen to, 'cause I don't think our marriage is healthy?"
Gary: Yeah, I think first of all, I would say, "Let's cancel the appointment with the attorney and then let's go home," and as you suggested. Say to your spouse, "You know, I heard something today that triggered thoughts in my mind and I don't know how you feel about our marriage, but I know that I'm not the spouse that I could be. And I really want to get help and I am going to find a counselor that can help me. If you want to join me, I'd love for you to join me. If you don't, I'm gonna go try to learn how to understand myself and how to be a better spouse."
That one speech and following through with that will change the dynamics in the marriage. It will not [happen] overnight. Your spouse will not just say, "I think that's a wonderful idea. I'll go with you." No, no, no, but you are taking positive steps now to do something, to understand yourself, how you got to where you are and what you might do to begin to make things different.
Jim: And that is a good first step for all of us if you're feeling like you're in a mediocre relationship, a marriage. Maybe you are at that 25-, 30-year mark and you're saying, "What's left? It feels dry. My bones are dry. And here at Focus on the Family, we want to be part of that journey with you and I would encourage you to call us here at Focus if your marriage is in that place.
We have great resources and not just Gary's book, but other things that we can turn you toward, including our Hope Restored, marriage intensive, which is specifically aimed for those couples who are nearing that decision for divorce or separation. It's an intensive program, but they have an almost 85 percent success rate. It's not guaranteed, but it will be a life-changing experience. If you're in that spot, call us today and ask for help.
Gary, there is so much more to talk about. I want to come back next time, talk about the intimacy factor in marriage, where the brokenhearted can continue to build and not be despairing in this life, but can be hopeful for the second half of marriage. Can we do that?
Gary: I'd love to.
Jim: All right.
John: And we'll be sure to link over to Hope Restored at our website, so that if you're struggling in your relationship, you can learn more about how to get it back on track through that marriage intensive. And when you're at the website, be sure to look for the CD or download of this two-part conversation and of course, Gary's book, Married and Still Loving It.
In fact, we'll send a copy of that book to you as our way of saying thank you for your generous support of our family-strengthening efforts. Contribute and get resources at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 1-800-A-FAMILY.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time, as we hear more from Dr. Gary Chapman about enhancing the second half of your marriage, as we once again, help you and your spouse thrive.
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Gary ChapmanView Bio
Dr. Gary Chapman is the senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. He's also an international public speaker and the best-selling author of numerous books including The Five Love Languages which has sold more than five million copies and has been translated into nearly 40 languages. Dr. Chapman holds several academic degrees including a Ph.D. in adult education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.