Why Are Midlife Marriages Crumbling?

Two events this past week made me stop and think about marriage. Friday evening, I attended my nephew’s wedding. He married a beautiful young lady with whom he has developed a deep, loving relationship over the past several years. They are young and have their whole lives ahead of them. Earlier in the day, however, when I was at the salon getting a manicure, I met a woman who knows someone that I grew up with. I hadn’t seen him since his step-father’s funeral a couple of years ago so I was surprised to learn that his third marriage had ended in divorce. The news troubled me.

Why are midlife marriages crumbling?

Increasing numbers of women are finding themselves alone in midlife as a result of rising divorce figures. In fact, a Seattle based research group has discovered that 16 years is the new critical point in a couple’s marriage because they’ve stopped having any kind of emotional connection. Women complain that, “It’s just not like it used to be. My husband is no longer romantic like he was when we were dating. The passion is gone.”

According to a MORE magazine survey (April 2005) of more than 1,800 women, nearly 40 percent of wives who initiated a divorce when they were in their forties said they did so because they’d fallen out of love, they felt emotionally unfulfilled, or they felt like something was missing from their life.

Why is it that at midlife, if you’re unhappy, marriage is the first thing to go? Women want the freedom to discover themselves, but they falsely assume that being on their own is the only way they can accomplish this. If you’re currently single, enjoy it. In fact, embrace it! But if you’re married, it’s important to work through your midlife problems as a couple and commit to staying together. Obviously, I’m not talking about situations where there’s physical abuse, addictions, or other unhealthy and potentially unsafe conditions, but if you’re just talking about a lack of feeling connected, then it’s time to renew your marriage “WOWS!”

Action Steps:

  1. Lighten up! Share funny stories, clip out a favorite comic strip, or go see a funny movie together. If one of you accidentally backs the car into your other vehicle, laugh about it (as we did recently). Yes, it’s aggravating to think about spending money on a stupid accident, but put it in perspective. It’s just a car! You didn’t (heaven forbid) run over the neighbor’s child on their big wheeler. Vehicles can be repaired. Let it go! Find the humor in the everyday situations of your life.
  2. Spend time together. Many couples in our neighborhood take an evening walk together. Sit on the porch with a glass of ice tea and share about your day. We purchased a hot tub a few years ago and have enjoyed many winter evenings soaking in the tub while gazing at the stars and retelling the events of our day. It doesn’t have to be a long time. Twenty or thirty minutes of uninterrupted time can do a lot for renewing a marriage.
  3. Show your appreciation. Don’t take each other for granted. You may have fallen into a comfortable routine of which one of you does the yardwork, or the cooking, or shopping for groceries, but take a moment to recognize what your spouse does to contribute and thank them for it. A little gratitude goes a long way!
  4. Renew romance and restore a pleasurable sexual relationship. Work on being more intimate and sensual with one another. Plan dates and practice flirting with one another again. It may not come naturally at first, but if you treat your spouse like he’s Prince Charming, you may be surprised by his response.
  5. Fight fair. When you have a disagreement, keep it current. Don’t drag up past injustices. Stick to the issue at hand. Try to avoid “you” statements and instead let your husband know how you feel. For instance, rather than saying, “You always ignore me. Why don’t you ever talk with me?” simply say, “I feel very alone.” This is less likely to put your husband on the defensive and more likely to open up constructive dialogue.
  6. Dare to dream together. Take time to access each others’ evolving interests and areas of giftedness. Acknowledge changes and accept new roles as children leave the nest and the care of aging parents increases. Explore new opportunities and areas of personal development. You don’t need to be on the same path, but it helps if you’re both heading in the same direction.

A commitment to open, honest communication and a fierce determination to avoid the complications of a third party will go a long way to strengthen the bonds between you. A midlife transition often requires some deep, personal soul-searching, but don’t leave your partner out of it. If you need some space to sort out some things in your life, let them know what’s going on so they can be supportive and understanding during this critical time. By fostering your relationship with your spouse, you’ll have a friend, lover, and lifelong companion to share the incredible second half of life you’re creating for yourself.

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