BETSY HART: With age comes wisdom?
July 28, 2013 2:30 AM

So Tish Cyrus and entertainer Billy Ray Cyrus, parents of singer-actress Miley Cyrus, have just announced they are ditching their planned divorce. The couple — married for almost 20 years, they have three children together — are both in their early 50s. Couples therapy has really helped, they said in a recent statement to People magazine.

However they turned things around, good for them. I hope it lasts.

But I’m not so optimistic about many other Americans over age 50 who are ending their marriages. The statistics continue to demonstrate the rise of divorce in this demographic. In fact, the rate of divorce among the over-50 set has doubled over the last two decades, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University. That’s as the overall divorce rate in the U.S. has slowed.

I often write about marriage and commitment. I myself went through an unwanted divorce. After eight years of single-parenthood, I remarried last fall. Good grief — my columns on marriage practically write themselves.

Even so, I recently heard something about marriage that really impacted me. This was from a talk, “Overview: Marriage as Commitment,” given by pastor-theologian Tim Keller, a recording of which was sent to me by a friend. (Keller’s themes in this talk are echoed in his and his wife’s recent book, “The Meaning of Marriage.”)

Keller simply reminded listeners that we love what, and who, we serve.

He gave this example, to paraphrase: He noted that as we look back at our child’s life and he gets to be in the late teens, we’ve gotten almost nothing from him. We’ve given everything to him. And yet, we typically adore him, faults and all. Moreover, we might get irritated that he won’t do the laundry without complaining, but we don’t harbor any resentment that he doesn’t equally love and sacrifice for us.

The end of that time of child-rearing is fast becoming a time when more and more divorces happen — in part, Keller suggests, because we don’t love our spouses in any kind of similar way. We’ve spent decades with a sense of pursuing what we want from a spouse, not committing to give to a spouse.

In the baby-boomer age of “it’s all about me,” well, it’s easy to see how decades of that habit led to an ever-increasing number of divorces in the 50-and-over range. In fact, as researchers ponder the phenomenon, one of the suggestions as to why it’s happening is that spouses look at the coming golden years and ask things like, “Is this all there is? If I don’t find something or someone better now, I never will!”

In contrast, I’ve suggested before that if we could seek to love our spouses like we freely love our children, how much happier so many of our marriages would be!

But I haven’t focused enough on the fact that we love our kids so much and so completely, as Keller notes, in part because we serve them so naturally. We love those we serve. We serve those we love. The act of serving informs our feeling of love. Love is in the doing. This is completely at odds with a culture that says “Love is what I feel.”

Saying, as Keller does, that we should love our spouses by doing more for them whether we feel like it or not in the moment, that we will naturally love them more if we serve them more, is a tough sell today.

So as the population continues to age, there will be more divorces in this age group. These divorces rip apart whole families, too.

The reality, of course, is that a lot of these divorced folks will end up old and alone. Or even if they do find someone to pair up with, they will still be focused on serving themselves. That’s lonely, too.

The divorce culture is so deceptive. And now that the 50-and-over crowd is apparently jumping on board, too, I have to say: So much for the old adage, “With age comes wisdom.”


Reach Betsy Hart at www.betsysblog.com.

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