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Millennials are quick to sniff out the errors made in our parents' generation. We're eager to avoid making the same mistakes they did, especially when it comes to love and marriage. So, it should pique our interest to learn that more and more married couples are divorcing later in life. That's right, new data shows that the divorce rate among adults ages 55 to 64 has doubled since the 1990s. Doubled?! Yikes. That's a lot of us who might suddenly have to choose between Mom and Dad for the holidays. 

While tragic, many of those eagerly looking toward marriage might be quick to write this off as just another sad statistic of an older generation— irrelevant to their own marriages. But that would be a mistake. 

There are several factors thought to contribute to this rise in divorce rate, but there's really one big issue: Couples have become emotionally disconnected, often because they've let their kids come in between. 

This concept might seem intangible to new couples, when kids are hypothetical. But, as a relationship counselor, I've seen these issues with my own eyes far too often. Couples will pour all their energy into raising their children while neglecting each other in the process. Then, when their children grow up, move out, and start their own independent lives, the spouses feel like strangers in the emptiness. They no longer have a united mission. The focus of their energy has disappeared.  

Having kids doesn't mean calamity, though. When done right, starting a family can actually make your marriage bond stronger. If you keep these three rules in mind, any couple that wants kids can build a happy marriage that can stand the test of time.

01. Don’t let kids be the No. 1 priority in your marriage. 

It might be hard for newlyweds to imagine anyone coming between their love and commitment to one another, least of all their precious future children. But ask any long-time married couple with kids and they will tell you that parenting can become all-consuming—sometimes to the detriment of your marriage.

The relationship you have with your spouse should be your number one priority—and yes, that means it takes precedence over your children. This doesn’t mean you have to choose between your child's well being and your marriage. Instead, it means taking the time to intentionally and actively invest in your relationship with your spouse, knowing that when you and your spouse are connected, you are better parents.

This can be challenging, especially for new parents, but it can transform your marriage and your family's sense of happiness and balance. Try scheduling recurring outings without the kids that can help you reconnect after a busy week—or committing time once kids are sleeping so that you and your spouse can have some time to reconnect after a long day. If your marriage is going well, your happiness will have a spillover effect and will positively affect other areas of your life—including the lives of your kids.

02. Keep good communication sacred. 

How can a couple wake up after years of marriage only to discover they have nothing in common? Too few distraction-free, childless conversations, that's how. You see, if you don't make time to communicate, intimacy can suffer. And, no, "communicate" does not mean talking about coordinating schedules and sharing the shopping list. Good communication is more about discussing each other’s hopes and dreams, shared goals, and any worries or concerns. 

If you're at a loss about where to begin, here are a few pointers: 

  • Put aside all distractions (phones, TV, maybe even the baby monitor, etc.).
  • Learn the details of each other's evolving hopes and dreams‚ something relationship expert John Gottman calls Love Maps
  • If you have kids, it's good practice to not bring up the kids at all, or at least make sure that they don't constantly rule the narrative. 

The point of all of these exercises is to help you keep the lines of communication open and thriving even when life is busy (which is most of the time!). If you’re in constant communication and intentionally invested in one another, you won’t feel like strangers to one another in twenty years.

03. Don’t wait to deal with an issue. 

Did you know that it takes an average of six years after the problem starts for couples to seek marital counseling? And, according to The New York Times, issues that were present in the marriage for a while, but were ignored, often come to the surface once the children have moved out and retirement is looming. This is another major culprit in the recent increase of divorce later in life.

Don’t wait. Ignoring issues, hoping they’ll go away isn’t a recipe for success. In fact, burying them only allows dissatisfaction or resentment to grow even more. Tackling an issue, no matter how uncomfortable or awkward it may be, will empower you and your spouse to talk it through and problem solve in the issue’s early stages instead of letting it fester, doing years of damage. It may require a bit of bravery, but with the right amount of tact and timing, taking action to address issues as they arise can be a marital life-saver. 

It may seem a thousand light years away, but tiny babies grow up and leave. Your marriage, for better or worse, remains. So, make it a priority to build a marriage that will last. After all, one day your kids will be looking to you both to see how married love works.