The Secret of the 50-Year Marriage

Longing for a Shared Story

Both sets of my wife’s grandparents were married for over sixty years. What a legacy! Isn’t that what we want to look forward to. Enjoying long life together in marriage. While some of us are gifted for singleness, those who aren’t do not want to go home at the end of the day to an empty house. We long for a shared story. Even introverts want companionship. It was this intrinsic need for human connection at the most intimate level that prompted God to create Eve.However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 41% of first marriages end in divorce, with the average “divorce year” being number eight.If someone thinks that divorce and remarriage is a better idea than working on their present marriage, statistics for re-marriage are worse, with 60% of second marriages ending in divorce and 73% of third marriages ending in divorce. With such dismal statistics, how are we supposed to make it to year 50? The good news is that for those who stick it out past year 8, there is every reason to believe that with reasonable health and some basic marriage maintenance tools, you have every reason to believe that you can not only survive to year 50, but can thrive along the way.But how?

The Covenantal vs Consumeristic Marriage

The secret of the 50-year marriage can be expressed in a single word: covenant. Since that word is a bit archaic to our modern ears, let me explain.A covenant is an agreement. It is a contract of sorts where two parties come together to define the terms of the agreement, promising to live within in the boundaries of those promises. We do this in formal business contracts. We also do it in marriage. This is why at the conclusion of a wedding ceremony a pastor will pronounce a couple legally wed “in accordance with the laws of the state.”

Vows are not a Formality

This is not a formality. The language is very important because witnesses have gathered to testify to the contract, or the covenant, that two people have made before God and the state, entering into a binding, legal contract, where they have spoken vows of commitment.

Again, the vows are not a formality or a quaint expression of sentimentality. The vows are expressing the boundaries of the contract, where we say, “until death do us part.”This is how we make it to year 50 and beyond.What we are saying is that it is not the feeling of love that sustains a marriage. It is the commitment to love that sustains a marriage. And that commitment ends up producing some pretty good feelings.

This is why the concept of “covenant” follows hesed/agape love (see this post for an explanation of hesed/agape love). Without an understanding of what love really is, we would have no context for a commitment to love except the empty sentimentality of the feeling, emotion based love of popular music.

The Importance of Foundations

Foundations are important for building a home or any physical structure. They are also critical for establishing a relational structure like marriage. In his book, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller has identified two types of foundations that a married couple can build their life upon, either the foundation of covenant which we have been describing, or the foundation of consumerism. Where the covenantal marriage rests upon the bedrock of what we can give to someone else and how we can bless them, a consumeristic marriage rests upon the sand of what we can get from someone else and how they can bless us.This is why asking if he or she is the right person for me is the wrong question. This struck me as I say across from Jake at Denny’s for breakfast. He was telling me he was thinking about proposing to his girlfriend, but he had a concern. “How do I know that she is right for me? How do I know that she will make me happy?”

A Better Question

A better question may be to ask, “Am I the right person for her? Am I prepared to devote myself to her happiness?” Am I prepared to enter into a life-long covenantal commitment that will require me to sacrifice myself in order to bless her as a fellow sinner? This is going to require me to die to myself more than I will ever know. But in giving myself as a living expression of grace to my spouse, I find that there is not only a transforming power at work in her life, but also in my life. This is the dynamic of grace. When we receive it, it changes us. But it is when we give it that the work of grace builds momentum and grows—in us and through us.

Let’s Apply It

Take the “d word” off the table. You know the word. Divorce. Take it off the table now. Off the table of your mind. Off the table of your conversations. Remove it from your marital vocabulary.Like Voldemort, it shall never be named. Even though I just mentioned Voldemort, do not bring up the d-word. It is not an option. Just take it off the table. This is the only way to 50.Yes, there are justifiable reasons for divorce and my heart breaks for those who have been through the pain and agony that divorce inflicts and for the circumstances that promoted the separation. Some women try to stay in marriages where the husband has utterly destroyed the covenantal union with spousal abuse. If the spirit of the law is to be applied, we certainly must consider abuse biblical grounds.

As far as other justifiable reasons for divorce, irreconcilable differences is not one of them. Not for someone who has committed “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, and forsaking all others, till death do us part.”

For those who have divorced “without biblical grounds,” you may want to connect with your former spouse and share some of what you have learned here. Maybe you need to repent for consumerism. Maybe your spouse does. Maybe you both do. 

At some point in marriage, we all need to repent of our consumeristic flesh, and how we have not loved as well as we have been loved in the gospel.  If you and your spouse have discussed divorce or used it as a threat in the heat of an argument, you may want to address that, as far as it concerns you, that you have taken it off the table. You are bound in love and committed in covenant. You are in it for the long haul and are shooting for 50. You are not going anywhere, but will do whatever it takes to love as you have been loved – by grace.

Discussion Guide

1.How does a covenantally grounded marriage differ from a consumeristic marriage?2.How does the concept of “covenant” alter the way you see marriage? 3.How can the idea of marriage as a covenantal contract contribute to the 50-year marriage?

4.Modern notions that emphasize the romance element of marriage tend to undermine marital longevity.


5. Does marriage as a covenant undermine romance? Why or why not?

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