Well, I sat down to write a simple FB post and share an article a friend had posted and found myself getting pulled in. So, here is a second blog this week, because I am on a roll.

So, as I mentioned, a friend of mine just posted this article and it is another great example on how to safeguard your marriage and is a follow-up to my blog on Gray Divorce this last week. In this article, research was done on observing newly married couples to see if there was a way they related that made their marriages more effective and if so what were those ways. They discovered it reflected the concept of being intentional to “turn in” towards your spouse vs. “turning away”. This is done through acts of kindness, respect, thinking from a positive perspective towards your spouse’s intention, and constructive responding.

While this article and research focused on the younger newlyweds up to several years into the marriage, this was also what the research at Bowling Green University (What is this Gray Divorce?) in Ohio had found for couples in their latter years of marriage; there needed to be that intentional “turning in” towards one another to counteract the drifting (even if it is unintentional) that can occur before couples hit the Empty Nest Stage, due to the focus they have placed on their children for so many years. This neglect of nurturing the marriage can lead to what the researchers call “Gray Divorce”.

It should come as no surprise that love and choice fit right into this as we consider our walk as Christians. And we have access to the greatest love of all found in God’s display of love for us in choosing to send His only Son, Jesus, to die for us and our sins so that we could become reconciled to Him. Jesus intentionally submitted His will for the will of the Father’s. It did not come easy to Him – He sweat blood over it as He asked that the cup might pass. But then He said, “Your will be done” and He submitted to the Father by choice. We have to be intentional to choose this kind of love in our lives as well; to die to ourselves for God’s will in our own lives that we might reflect this true and sacrificial love to our spouse. It’s painful to do. I know. My husband and I have practiced it in a very real and hard way coming back from divorcing one another. And we have had to be intentional to also do it in the silly little every day things or whenever something crucial comes up. Our Empty Nest is fast approaching. Marriage is hard, but rewarding when you can break through the pain and hurt and see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s harder to make something work than to give up. We are all running a race and we need to keep focused and stay the course, focusing on what is ahead, not looking back.

They will know we are Christians by our love. When we love our spouses well, God will be able to do His work in our spouse’s life and as well, He accomplishes His work through us. Marriage is a refinement of iron sharpening iron. When we remove ourselves and our agendas from the equation of trying to tell our spouse what they should do differently or how they have wronged us, we open the vertical communication between our spouse and God. Quite possibly it could cause your spouse and you to be reconciled to one another as your hearts grow in understanding of the reconciliation you have with God through your Savior. It really boils down to how big you believe your God is in your life (and of course both partners have to be willing to be open to see that).

Here is the link to the article about turning in (a very good read): Science Says Lasting Relationships Come Down To 2 Basic Traits.

In minutes (it’s almost midnight), my song, A Still and Quiet Night, will be released and it supports this turning in to one another. Reflections at Christmastime can find us missing the past when our children were little. But we can build new memories in the “here and now” moments with what remains…”faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:3)

A Still and Quiet Night - Cover

In 1990, 1 in 10 marriages in the over 50 year old Empty Nester category ended in divorce. In 2009 the numbers more than doubled to 1 in 4 (Statistics U.S. Census Bureau). This alarming trend has been steadily increasing during the past two decades that sociologists have been tracking it and they have now termed it “Gray Divorce” (see the March 2012 white paper, “The Gray Divorce Revolution,” and current stats collected by researchers at Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio). Surprisingly, infidelity was not the main reason why these older generations divorce, but rather a growing apart from one another, because the earlier years have been so focused around the children. And, as the culture of the individualist, self-seeking, Baby Boomers come to the forefront in their retirement years after launching their families, they continue to be the trend setters for future generations.

This gray divorce “revolution” is coming down the pike to us as younger married generations. How, as married Christians, do we safeguard against this growing trend while we still have our children in the home, before they launch? We can’t say this won’t happen to us. We live in this culture and we should be in the world but not of it. It would be ignorant to bury our heads in the sand. We need to be intentional. Current studies show that in order to support marriage in these latter years, prevention is the best intervention and an intentional “turning towards” your spouse in support of him or her as being pivotal. To keep this current upward trend of gray divorce in the Baby Boomer generation from happening, some Boomers have come up with new definitions of how to stay together and make it work, even unconventional ways of making it work. Can we say this is right or wrong?

While the Bible gives us many passages in how to love one another well, as a husband and wife, it doesn’t really paint a picture of how that looks in “real-life practice”. Hold on a second, I know some of your alarm bells might be going of, but don’t worry. I want to be careful in how I say that, because yes, there are ways we can objectively observe how a couple loves one another, but how that gets lived out logistically is another factor. Like the example of one couple in the article which I have included at the end of this blog, they actually bought another home for the wife to live in 5 miles down the road from their main home in order to stay married. They still spend time together on dates and such, but they have also given each other space and somehow they have found a way to make it work.

This seems very unconventional to me (call me old-fashioned). And yes, I believe there is selfishness involved, but I also see sacrifice in the big picture. The spouse, or husband in this example, showed grace and was willing to keep the marriage together by allowing for his wife to have the space she needed which actually encouraged more emotional closeness. The wife sacrificed by staying committed to her husband and the marriage by not seeking out another relationship and continues to come to the main home to spend time together.

But should we condemn them for finding an alternative solution to divorce? We want them to stay married, right? We know Christ is the answer. Can we look deeper at the big picture? Maybe in another 10-20 years they will be back under the same roof again as a result? Who can know? Certainly God knows. This couple will define the answer for us in time. But one thing is for sure, they are doing what it takes to survive. We don’t know all that they have been through with each other. They are keeping their marriage alive instead of giving up on one another. Its not how we think of traditional marriage. This is a marriage that either didn’t prepare ahead of time as the Empty Nest stage approached or were taken aback by the emotional toll the Empty Nest brought them (or most likely both).

Now, how will you keep your marriage alive? Other suggestions to support marriage in the latter years besides the turning towards your spouse include: allow the grieving of the children leaving the nest; discuss together how much you miss your children. Find new things to come together on such as a hobby or interest. Support one another in your dreams now that it is just the two of you. Most importantly, keep your faith in Christ alive. There are many more options to explore and I haven’t included them all here. But by blogging this, I wanted to raise the level of awareness, because, for me, hitting the Empty Nest is at my front door. We already have the signs and symptoms and ramifications of not being as intentional as we could have been. In all the years that we have been married and had our good times and bad, seeing through the lens more clearly now, these upcoming years are the hardest we have ever faced. As believers, though, my husband and I hold on to the hope that lives within us and cling to our faith in God that we can find new memories to keep our marriage alive: to allow an ember to spark a flame of new desire for one another. This is our moment to turn towards one another, again, like we have done so many times before.

This Christmas, I want to share with you a song that I wrote for the Empty Nesters, the Baby Boomers, and future marriages that have yet to hit the Empty Nest Syndrome. This phase of life and this generation, I think, get left out of real life Christmas songs. Yes, the coming of Christ is the reason for why we celebrate Christmas. Without Him we would not know love. He is Love. And God came to earth to show us what love looked like with skin on. We are real people with real hurts. We grieve one another in relationship. We grow apart unless we are intentional to turn towards each other and be selfless. We need a song to encourage us to stay together, to find a way to keep marriage alive.  What better time than at Christmastime as we reflect on how much God loves us by sending His one and only Son; especially during the holidays, when life can be hardest and we miss our kids so much that we start to wonder what else there is to life. Consider the courage it takes to stay together…to find a way back to loving one another this Christmas. Even if it looks unconventional, for the sake of our future generations.

The Loneliness of the Empty Nest (Elizabeth Bernstein, The Wall Street Journal. July 1, 2013)

A Still and Quiet Night, Single co-written by Jen Haugland & Eric Copeland and Produced by Creative Soul Records, Nashville, TN. Releasing November 11, 2014. You are going to love it! Stay Tuned…until then, here is a teaser promo:

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