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Julie Baumgardner

If you are over age 50 and have been married for 30 years or more, the latest headlines might have you wondering if your marriage is in trouble and you don't even know it.

Articles from Pew Research Center, the Wall Street Journal and other publications with titles like "Led by Baby Boomers, Divorce Rates Climb for America's 50+ Population" and "The Divorce Rate Is at a 40-Year-Low, Unless You're 55 or Older" seem to be painting a grim picture. Should people be worried?

Professors Naomi Cahn at the George Washington University Law School and June Carbone at the University of Minnesota Law School, looked at the latest research on this topic. They say the divorce rate is still not all that high for those over age 50.

In 1990, five out of every 1,000 married people divorced. In 2010, 10 out of every 1,000 married people divorced. Cahn and Carbone state that while the rate has risen more dramatically for those over age 50, it is still half the rate of those under age 50.

If one had to guess as to why there is an increase in long-term married people deciding to divorce, one might assume it's because children have finally left the nest or that people are living longer and just getting bored in marriage, but that doesn't appear to be the case.

According to research from the National Center for Family and Marriage at Bowling Green State University, couples who own property together and couples with over $250,000 in assets were less likely to divorce. They also found that couples married 40 years or more were the least likely to end up divorced and that gray divorce was almost three times higher for remarried couples compared to first-time married couples.

While property, wealth and the absence of previous marriage may be protective factors, there are other things couples can do to help their marriage last.

» Friendship matters. No matter how many years you have been married, continue to grow the friendship between the two of you.

» Be nice. People often are nicer to those on the outside than the ones they say they care about most. Pay attention to how you treat the one you love.

» Seek to navigate the tough times together. A job loss, death of a parent or some other transition can be really hard. It is tempting to try to navigate it on your own, but being able to talk about what you need during a rough patch can help your spouse know the most helpful ways to offer support.

» Be adventurous. When you've been together a long time, it's easy to find yourselves in a rut, which often feels comfortable but not necessarily fulfilling. Look for opportunities to do something out of the ordinary.

» Keep the conversations going. It has often been said that people who have been married for decades complete each other's sentences and know what the other needs without them having to ask. Plenty of research indicates that long-term, happily married couples know that part of the "happily married" secret is actually keeping conversations going on a variety of topics that interest them.

It is true that more people are throwing in the towel on marriage later in life. However, those who understand that just because you have traveled the road for a long time doesn't mean you can put it on cruise control or take your hands off the wheel are much more likely to reach the end of their journey together.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at julieb@firstthings.org.

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