"What Hope Is There for the Rest of Us?"

Actually, plenty.

I want to weigh in, briefly and gently, on the Gates’ divorce. I hadn’t planned to do so but I felt compelled after reading an article in the Washington Post titled, “If Bill and Melinda Gates Can’t Make a Marriage Work, What Hope Is There for the Rest of Us?”

It’s easy to understand why the writer asks this question. Bill and Melinda are among the world’s richest couples. They have the resources to hire the best marriage counselors and may not need to squabble about household chores because they can afford to pay someone else to clean their house, mow their lawn, etc. Obviously, it requires more than billions in the bank to make marriage work.

I don’t want to stigmatize or judge those of you who have gone through a divorce. It’s heartbreaking and traumatizing. Personally, I feel quite sad that their marriage has unraveled. I’ve been very encouraged by the work they’ve done together over the years. The collective sadness that many of us are expressing reflects the reality that though this covenant takes place between two adults, divorce affects an entire community.

Back to the writer’s original question. What hope is there? Actually, quite a lot. First, the divorce rate is not 50% and never has been. Urban myth perpetuates that number year after year. So your chances are better than fifty-fifty.

At the risk of being overly simplistic, I do believe that when two (yes, this is key), whole-enough adults are willing to put in the work, are humble enough to ask for help, can prioritize the relationship, and want to keep their marriage intact, most of the time, they can.

Columnists trying to understand why the Gates’ marriage fell apart after twenty-seven years, point to the transitions and losses of midlife, specifically that their children have launched.

Two of our three sons have married and moved away and the youngest has one foot out the door. Their leaving does create an emptiness, an ache, that is both terrifying—and welcome. There’s no more banter at the dinner table, no more distractions, and I might add, no more help with household chores. As I write in Marriage in the Middle, “The love we have for our sons and daughters is powerful and profound. Next to our spouse, they know us better than anyone. They have seen us at our best and our worst. We cannot begrudge their leaving, but neither can we deny the losses that come with their departure.”

Surely, the end of the parenting chapter cannot, in and of itself, cause midlife divorce. There are lots of other factors that cause stress fractures. Most of us will say goodbye to our parents in this time frame. And before that happens, we often care for them emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Our own bodies are changing, sometimes in ways that we do not appreciate and cannot control. We are often overlooked in the workplace or seen as irrelevant in social settings, which can be incredibly painful. Perhaps the word that best sums up midlife is disorienting.

This quote appears at the end of this article: “There’s no script for midlife. You get to create it on your own. That’s both liberating and scary.” This is so true. However, I would say there’s no script at any point. All of us are making it up as we go along. All of us are finding our way and doing the best that we can with what we have.

Midlife marriage, without a doubt, is a stressful season, even without a pandemic. We need an abundance of grace, patience, forgiveness, and vision to get through these years. We have to think about who we want to become and then help each other to reach that destination. We also need to believe that our marriage can grow richer and deeper with each passing year—that we are not done growing together.

What hope is there? There’s a great deal of hope. And if you can’t see or grasp it, please ask for help. Your community is a big part of what will gets you through.

You can read more on this in Making Marriage Beautiful.

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