Recently, at a conference where I was speaking, some women called me over to their table asking for some book recommendations. And as usual, I said, “Well, that depends on what you want to read about.” Immediately, one woman blurted out, “Sex over 50!” Not what I was expecting. But it just so happened that Dorothy Greco’s Marriage in the Middle had recently arrived in my mailbox. It was that day at the mailbox that I had to realize that, although I am not over 50, I am considered “in the middle” (between 40 & 65). This isn’t a book about sex, but since sex is a big part of marriage and is affected in this next stage of life, Greco has two whole chapters on it. And, let’s face it, all the other chapters on marriage in the middle also affect our sex lives. If she’s asking about sex after 50, she’s probably also asking about a host of other issues that can affect intimacy. Since my husband and I had already read the first several chapters together, and I am familiar with Greco’s writing, I was happy to recommend it. That was a pretty proud moment to be able to laugh with this woman and then actually have a recommendation for her.
But it isn’t a woman’s book by any means. Like I said, Matt and I are reading it together. He is digging it as well. And we aren’t big marriage book readers. (Or parenting, but I digress…) This is a very practical book. Greco gets right to the issues that surprisingly creep into marriage in the middle stages—middle ages? Well, she calls it Embracing Midlife Surprises, Challenges, and Joys. Surprise, your child did not launch the way you were planning and now you’re raising grandkids. Surprise, your hormones are freaking out and you are not comfortable in your own body anymore. Surprise, you just moved your last child into college and your dad had a fall. Surprise, you are not where you thought you would be at this stage of your life and you’re not sure how to process or maybe even admit this disappointment. The thing is, you think that you put the grit into those building years and should be able to coast through marriage in the middle. But every stage of life presents challenges and Greco is really good at speaking frankly with us, bringing in many testimonials and interviews, and offering encouragement and guidance while setting us in the direction of our Christian telos.
I read ahead of Matt so that we can take our time together, but I can still get the word out. One of the areas that I really identified with is coming to terms with our own limitations. You become more aware of these when you age. We put expectations on our spouses and on ourselves and often get stuck in cycles of disappointment, poor communication, and then not connecting well with our spouses. Greco helps us to come to terms with these limitations as a catalyst for change. She says, “One of the gifts of midlife is learning to recognize our own limitations and then extending grace to ourselves—and others. Especially our spouse. In fact, by choosing to accept and fully embrace our limited spouse, we can actually experience greater intimacy (both emotional and physical), deeper trust, and more fulfilling friendship.”
This is an incredibly practical book. Greco talks about how our changing hormones affect body image and intimacy, the stresses of caregiving for aging parents or crises with teen/adult children, contentment, navigating trauma and loss, how attachment issues affect marriage, really connecting with your spouse, sex, sexual sin, the importance of community and friendships, and having a vision for where your marriage is headed. There is a little in the book about the theology behind marriage, as that informs the author’s views. But for the bulk of the book she is putting skin on that theology in everyday boots on the ground living.
Another strength of the book is how Greco uses other couples as resources. Each chapter begins with a testimony from another married couple who were challenged in the very area the chapter is focusing on. The chapter then ends with an interview with this couple (or one of them) about how they made it through. These are deeply personal struggles. Greco and her husband Christopher are open about their own struggles in the book as well. By sharing so vulnerably, it helps the reader in powerful ways. It’s the difference between abstract ideals and real life.
Another strength are the questions at the end of each chapter. Matt and I don’t usually answer each one, but we find the ones that hit the areas we’d like to discuss. A lot of them involve self-examination and sensitive communication.
And I guess I will end by sharing a little from the sex chapters to give the reader an idea of Greco’s approach. She talks about the different areas of faulty teaching that come to the marriage bed with us, spending most of her time showing how both the purity culture and the sex positive movements miss the mark. She also breaks down the weights we carry, such as pornography and shame, and how destructive they are. She then contrasts that to a biblical sexuality which upholds oneness, mutuality, sacrifice, honor and respect, vulnerability, and healing and restoration.
While getting very real and raw with the challenges and change in midlife, Greco gives the tools and encouragement to appreciate the uniqueness of your marriage and excitement of finishing strong together in the Lord. She probably would sell more copies if she titled it Sex After 50 (technically After 40, to include us younger middlers). But hey, what do I know about catchy titles?