What Will Your Marriage Be Like on Your Fiftieth Anniversary?
In 2009, we traveled to Bismarck, North Dakota, to celebrate Lora’s parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. My in-laws have spent their entire marriage in vocational ministry—serving as missionaries in Indonesia and Malaysia and traveling around the globe. Overall, they have aged really well and have remained in good health. As we watched the slide show of their fifty years together, I was struck with the reality of what fifty years do to a person’s hair color, muscle tone, skin elasticity, and waistline.
At the time, Lora and I had been married for twenty-two years, and I found my mind wandering and wondering about what our fiftieth anniversary would be like. More accurately, I started thinking about what we would look like. I did the math. I’ll be seventy-seven. Lora will be . . . well . . . less than that.
I glanced at my in-laws and thought, What will we look like? Will there be more wrinkles? A few more pounds? What color hair? Will I even have hair?
If we ever do stop and think about what our marriage will be like at fifty years, we all too often think only about the external—the physical. But the truth is, there’s a far more important question to ponder: Should the Lord allow us to make it to fifty years of marriage, what will we be like at our fiftieth anniversary?
In other words . . . will we finish strong?
• Will we be thriving? Or will we be surviving?
• Will we be enjoying an intimate and connected marriage? Or will we be two strangers living in the same home?
• Will we intentionally be wise in how we spend our days? Or will we foolishly let the months and years pass by?
Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90 is the oldest psalm and was written by Moses toward the end of the time of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness. Those days were filled with challenges, grumbling, frustrations, and difficulties. Throughout the psalm, Moses reminds the Israelites of how quickly this life passes by: “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by” (verse 4). He also reminds them that we have only a finite number of days: “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away” (verse 10).
Every time I read those words from Psalm 90, I’m reminded of how quickly time goes by. We recently celebrated twenty-five years of marriage, and it feels like our wedding day was only yesterday. It seems like our children were just born, and yet two of them are in college and our younger two sons are in high school. The past twenty-five years have flown! And for that matter, fifty years fly by as well—especially in our marriages.
When we first start out on our marriage adventure, it seems that we have forever ahead of us. And then, life happens. Babies come along. Career paths change. School starts. Finances get tight. And before you know it, life is going faster than you realize.
In the midst of all of this, many couples become passive in their approach to their marriage and wake up one day wondering what went wrong. They operate their marriages in what we call default mode: things happen without planning or intentionality or effort. Instead of the default mode, we need a proactive approach for our marriages to grow. The call that we’re sending out is this: Get out of the default mode in your marriage. Live at a higher level! There has to be a plan. The old adage is right: Fail to plan, plan to fail.
When marriages are not actively nurtured, they tend to go into the default mode. Usually this means that our sinful nature will be more active than our desire to please God. The default mode is where selfishness grows and flourishes. Here criticism of your spouse is accepted and even encouraged by friends. It is where fantasy tends to have a greater pull than reality and where hope for a better marriage dies.
In the default mode, we get stuck in ruts. Perhaps you have had the exact same fights with your spouse over and over again, without acceptable resolution. Most couples do, because most couples live their marriages on automatic. When you get right down to it, the main problem is often that couples do not prioritize the time necessary to keep a marriage growing and alive.
A proactive approach to marriage says that this relationship is so important to you that you are going to actively ensure its success and health with preventive medicine and a focus on growth rather than crisis management. Therefore, you are willing to put in the time and intentionality required to ensure your success.
We find it interesting that one of the struggles we have with couples whom we are counseling is getting them to commit to time each week with each other. Many insist that the time isn’t there. If you’re one of these people, we would like you to consider how much time you spend:
• Watching television
• Working extra hours
• Going to movies
• Working on a committee
• Talking to friends
• Watching or participating in sports
• Shopping for fun
• Doing your favorite hobby
• Playing on the computer
• Doing volunteer work
• Attending or running church activities
We contend that if you have time to do any or many of these activities, you have time to spend on your marriage. Are any of these more important than your marriage?
“Wait a second!” you might say. “Church activities are on that list! Isn’t that a good thing on which to spend time?” Of course, but we’ve met many good Christians who help out at church yet treat their spouses in a very dishonoring way, not giving the spouse the time she or he deserves. We greatly believe in serving Christ by volunteering at church but believe that the church would grow stronger and more authentic if members would prioritize having a godly marriage even over helping at the church. Our position is that if you build a healthier marriage, you will have more energy and actually be more effective in helping at your church.
The state of many marriages is busyness. We often see it in the couples we counsel. It’s not that they don’t love each other. It’s not that their problems are so great that they can’t deal with them. Often, their lack of intentionality to grow and guard their marriage has them in a place where they don’t feel connected anymore. They’ve stopped being vulnerable and intentional. Intimacy suffers. Weeks or even months tend to pass without having an honest dialogue about how their marriage is really doing. But that’s not how things started.
Nearly every couple who stood in front of a church on their wedding day exchanged vows and longed for an intimate, authentic, and growing marriage. No one stands there with their fingers crossed during the “to have and to hold” part of the vows. We were excited and confident and hopeful for what the future had in store. That’s how Lora and I started our marriage. But around year six, we found ourselves busy with children and, in many ways, going through the motions of our marriage. And then four great couples reached out to us, and we began to connect with them weekly, spending most of our time together intentionally growing our marriage through authentic and vulnerable communication. Through those nights, we developed a plan that led us to deeper intentionality in tending to our marriage.
Every marriage can benefit from an intentional plan. What if there was a tool that would help you have a weekly intentional conversation about your marriage—a tool that would help you grow in spiritual, emotional, and physical intimacy?
That’s where The 50 Fridays Marriage Challenge comes in!
The challenge is simple and fun. Each week as a couple, you will spend a few minutes answering one question that has been designed to help you have open and honest conversation as you connect with and enjoy each other. Some weeks you will laugh as you travel down memory lane together. Some weeks you will be challenged as you evaluate different aspects of your marriage. And other weeks you will dream and plan for what the future can become. Our hope is that The 50 Fridays Marriage Challenge will give a troubled couple new hope, a happy couple a tool for ongoing closeness, and a newly married couple a unique way to know each other more deeply.
Intentionally growing intimacy in your marriage is such a valuable investment. The return on this investment brings a benefit far beyond your marriage. All of us are leaving a legacy through our marriages to our children and to our friends. We can choose the kind of legacy we leave; it may be a legacy that is marked by a lack of intentionality or even apathy. Or we can leave a legacy marked by an intentional way of connecting and enjoying the years ahead so they don’t just pass us by.
Let’s thrive, and not just survive, on the way to our golden anniversaries. After all, getting to fifty years starts with fifty Fridays!