Marriage can be one of the hardest hit areas of midlife. Whether or not divorce is actually in the picture, discontent and the re-evaluation of the marriage by one or both partners is common. Especially if the relationship has revolved around a daily routine of children and work, when midlife brings about the empty nest or a change in career, the couple is faced with more interaction and choices. This can be either liberating or oddly disturbing.
The classic signs of the midlife “crisis” in relationships show up in erratic or unusual behaviors such as suddenly going out more, finding fault with the other, a renewed interest in appearance, more ruminations about the past, more spending, or an increase in unhealthy escapes such as drinking, internet use, or over eating. Some couples wait till the children are away at college to pursue a divorce that has been building up for years but wanted to wait until the children left home. Others find this time very disturbing as they wrestle to make sense of who they are as (older) individuals, what they’ve accomplished and who they are as couples- and the contemplation of divorce erupts as a result.
Indeed, there has been an increase in divorce among people 50-60 years old, almost doubling the rate from 1990, according to Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. in an article from 2013 in Psychology Today. The good news is divorce is not inevitable even among unhappy couples. In fact, it can be a time to spend some time together to consciously learn more about one another. It can be a time to look at values that may have changed over the years. It can be a time to renew some healthy interests, either together or apart. The key is in the communication and in the quality of the conversations.
We are learning more and more about the neurochemistry of conversations. We can actually learn ways to have healthy conversations, ones that promote trust and healing. Some brief suggestions you can begin with are:
- Eliminate the words “always” and “never” from your vocabulary. For couples who have been together for many years there is a tendency to lock the person in a ‘box’ with sweeping generalizations. It leaves little room for discovery and curiosity.
- Agree to a time to converse. Design how you want to be with one another. For instance, agree to be transparent, honest, open and willing to explore. Agree to listen to connect, ask questions and seek understanding.
- Make a list of your values and share them with one another.
- Make a list of the things that you like in each other, of the things you like to do together, and a list of your shared values. Focus on the gratitude, appreciation and celebration of one another and find ways to activate these things.
- Respect and make an effort to honor each others love language based on the book, “The Five Love Languages” by Gary D. Chapman.
If you want to explore this further, please contact me. Pass this along also if you feel it could benefit another. Thanks, friends.