By Jenny Hamilton
Long lasting marriages are inspiring! You may have heard of the recent death of Britain’s 99 year-old Prince Philip, husband to Queen Elizabeth II for 73 years. Can you imagine all the complex issues and situations that have to be dealt with in the life of a royal, and all the possible effects it could have on a marriage? It must have been quite a feat for Philip and Elizabeth to maintain a healthy marriage through all those years in the public eye. Luckily for most of us our lives are much simpler.
But royal marriage or not, it seems that most marriages progress through common stages. Being aware of these stages can give comfort that you’re not alone in your marital struggles, prepare you for the changes and challenges ahead, and give confidence that though there are difficulties, your marriage can ultimately end with the same golden completion as Philip and Elizabeth’s. So, if you’re just starting out in your marriage or 10-20 years in, here’s a quick rundown of …the 7 Stages of Marriage.
In their 2006 book, The 7 Stages of Marriage, marriage therapist DeMaria and co-writer Harrar present the 7 stages as: Passion, Realization, Rebellion, Cooperation, Reunion, Explosion and Completion.
In the Passion or honeymoon stage couples can’t imagine being without one another. They want to spend every moment together. They feel that they’ve found their soul-mate or best friend for life. Sadly, this stage passes quickly.
Many couples within the first or second year of marriage have moved into the Realization stage. This is a stage when conflicts occur, differences become visible, and each may feel a great disappointment or even grief at what’s become of their marriage. Millennials (26-40 year olds) who have decided to put off marriage until their late 20s or early 30s may be surprised to know that the first years of marriage are often the most difficult regardless of age, and it’s not uncommon for them to end in divorce.
If you’ve been married 3-10 years you are probably in the thick of one of the toughest stages of marriage--the Rebellion stage, with years 7-8 being the most perilous. In Rebellion, self-interest overtakes marital interest and unresolved arguments can cause quick 1-sided decisions that lead to financial issues or job changes that stress the marriage even more. At this point, infidelity may become an option to escape the bitterness at home; again often leading to the end of the marriage. Statistics show that in the U.S. the average marriage lasts only 8 years and the average age for a first-time divorce is 30.
Happily though, the divorce rate is going down for Millennials in the U.S. resulting in many 10-20 year marriages in the Cooperation stage. In this stage there is a peace from issues having been worked through and roles agreed upon. However, there is much to be done -- houses to be financed, children to be raised, increasing job responsibilities all resulting in a distance between the couple that can cause the marriage to feel more like a business partnership.
Finally, in years 20-30—where many Gen X-ers (40-55 year olds) may be—it’s the Reunion stage--a pleasant time when the kids are older and require less of you physically, and finances are more stable. You have more time for each other and more opportunities to be together without the kids. The challenge at this stage is closing the intimacy gap that has formed over the last 10-15 years. You may feel that you don’t have anything in common anymore and don’t know how to talk to each other about your deepest feelings and convictions.
This may cause the 6th stage--Explosion, which can occur anywhere between 15-35 years of marriage. In the Explosion stage you may now have an empty nest and holding the marriage together for the sake of the kids feels less important. Life shaking events such as a job loss, parent’s declining independence and death, and your own health issues can cause a desire to escape, and divorce occurs. For many Baby Boomers (56-75 year olds) this has been the case. Though the divorce rate has dropped for other age groups, the divorce rate for Baby Boomers has risen, and many are in their 2nd or 3rd marriages, of which 67% and 74% respectively end in divorce.
If you’ve made it to 35+ years of marriage, congratulations!! You’re at the Completion stage. Statistics show that 1/3 of marriages reach this stage. From here few divorces occur but losing your spouse to death becomes more and more likely resulting in only 5% of marriages actually reaching the 50-year mark.
My husband and I will celebrate 35 years of marriage in December! I can see now how we experienced each of the stages described above. We felt somewhat odd in our struggles through the years. I hope this quick summary encourages you that you’re not alone! Please know that there is a lot of help for relationships today, and we definitely took advantage of it—from family and friends simply praying for us, to family interventions, to years of counseling sessions, to marriage retreats, bible studies, date nights, to the fantastic relationship education offered at Encompass!
We needed it all and are so happy to have made it 35 years! And now we have our first grandchild on the way and a joy at welcoming him/her into a family where the grandparents are still together and have a happy and healthy marriage-something my husband and I didn’t have when our children were born. Thank God it’s true -- family trees can indeed be changed for the better!!
*FYI, Philip and Elizabeth were from the “Greatest Generation”/GI Generation 95-120 yr olds
Lavern & Ronda Nissley are co-directors of Encompass. Married since 1978, both enjoy coffee, riding their tandem bicycle and working together to build strong relationships.