She wasn’t shocked when her married-for-36-years parents announced they were getting a divorce. (They’ve coined a term for that—”gray divorce.”) They fought most of her childhood. And while it still hurt, she had seen it coming.

I, on the other hand, was speechless.

I knew her parents. I admired her parents. At times, I even wanted a marriage like theirs. Yet here they were, headed to the big D (nope, don’t mean Dallas).

Although I know better, I’ve always felt there was some marital finish line you cross at some point. A safe zone, for lack of better words. Like if a couple hit the 25- or 30-year mark they were good. Whew! No worries of divorce now…

But the longer I’ve been married (inching closer to No. 20 every year), the more I realize there is no magic number when it comes to marriage. No safe zone from divorce, no “base” like in a childhood game of tag.

The startling rise of gray divorce

Divorce statistics in the U.S. have been on the decline for some time now. But according to an article in Forbes last year, gray divorce—couples splitting after 50—is on the rise. (Not gonna lie, I find offense in the term even in my 30s.)

And while I can’t say I agree with everything the writer says, one line in particular resonates with truth: “Divorce can be difficult and emotionally draining, especially after long-term marriage.”

I can’t imagine how difficult the division of assets, reentering the dating pool, planning holidays and everything else would be after 30, 40 years of marriage. But the emotional toll would be devastating on the entire family.

For a time, the pain of her parents’ divorce shook the foundation of my friend’s own marriage.  And she still feels the loss at every school play, kids’ birthday parties, and every other family gathering.

None of us walk down the aisle thinking this whole commitment will end. That we’ll be facing divorce at some point in our marriage. We all want to give it our best shot. But sometimes, we just don’t know what that is.

I talked to a few couples who have entered the empty-nest years for some wisdom on the topic. All of them enjoyed a good chuckle over my finish-line dreams (It’s OK, I earned it). But they all shared similar thoughts on things you can do now to help protect your marriage from gray divorce.

1. Don’t just stay together for the kids.

“We’re staying together for the kids,” is an excuse as old as divorce itself. (I’ve even thought it myself during really trying times.) And as my friend was quick to point out, the kids are just as affected by an unhealthy marriage as they are a divorce. No one will hand you any parental bonus points for just sticking it out.

Instead, stay together for you. Give it all you have. Call the counselor. Call the pastor. Work on your marriage because a good marriage is worth fighting for. Your kids will thank you for that one day.

365 devotions for your marriage on the days you feel like it (and ones you don’t).

2. Dream together, but especially plan together.

One of the biggest causes of divorce comes down to green dollar signs. Financial burdens in marriage are the things nightmares are made of. But in the approaching-retirement years? Money woes can be devastating.

We spend the newlywed years basking in the glow of everything the future holds. But at some point, those dreams need solid planning to become reality. Because without it, we find ourselves overspending and under saving to just make it through the day to day and any unexpected expenses that pop up.

If you aren’t so financially savvy, consider reaching out to a financial planner (turns out, you don’t have to have buckets of money to seek advice). Or even check out a budgeting book from the library. Couples that budget together, stay together. (Surely that’s a phrase, right?)

By protecting your future financially, you are guarding your marriage, too.

3. Pursue, pursue, pursue.

If you’ve been married for a little while, you know people change. You’ve changed. Your spouse has, too. Little do I resemble the girl my husband married (yes, beyond the gray hairs and waistline). I’m more confident in some areas, less in others. I love guacamole now, but I still hate mushrooms.  And my husband is not the 22-year-old guy I married. There’s some gray in his red beard now, too.

It’s just as important to get to know the person you are married to now, as it was when you were contemplating “I do.” Continue to pursue your spouse whether you have been married one year, five years, or 40 years. Engage in their new interests, ask them all the questions you would as if this were your first date.

And allow yourself the openness to fall in love with them all over again. Don’t let something like “gray divorce” rob you of that.

Copyright © 2020 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Lisa Lakey is a writer and editor for FamilyLife. Before joining the ministry in 2017, she was a freelance writer covering parenting and Southern culture. She and her husband, Josh, have been married since 2004. Lisa and Josh live in Benton, Arkansas, with their two children, Ella and Max.