I want to name three broad stages of marriage for the purposes of describing a learning curve. The life span of a long-term couple will cross some important hurdles. We have to get past the seven year itch, then move beyond midlife to reach the goal of the golden years.
It’s good to look at older couples and learn from them. Couples at midlife can learn from those with real longevity in their relationships. Those couples just starting with their relational careers can compare their struggles to those who are ahead of them and learn from their successes and mistakes.
I’d like to share an anecdotal, nonscientific observation from years of clinical experience. Folks go through a midlife crisis. Shocking right? I know you’ve never thought of this before, but it’s true. Call it a middle pause. Folks hit the pause button and review their lives up until to this point. They often wonder, “What have I been doing? Am I doing what I want to do?”
Men and women seem to do this differently. His midlife crisis or middle pause may look like a Harley, a Corvette, an affair or coloring his hair. These are all ways to regain a perceived loss. The behaviors have nothing to do with those close to them, they are more a form of panic. Life seems to be slipping away and must be grabbed before the moment is lost.
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Her middle pause may look like a moment of selfish insanity. She may engage in a naked sweat lodge looking for an authentic spiritual path. She may go to the gym at 5 a.m. for boot camp and a pre-baby body. These are manifestations of this grabbing, searching and striving to hold on to perceived losses.
“Fried Green Tomatoes” is a great film showing this transformation. Evelyn, played by Kathy Bates, is trying to capture her inner Idgie, a wild and free female brought to life by Jessica Tandy and Mary Stuart Masterson.
So, young couples need to learn from these trials by fire so they are tough enough for the golden years. What do the golden years hold? Loss of physical functioning, loss of vocational options and children moving on with their lives. The later years are not for the unworthy. You only get there after being proven by the refining fires.
And yet, we see so many older couples who are apparently models for long and happy marriages. Was it easy? I can only guess they faced the same challenges as you and I.
What does it take the weather the storms? I would suggest a few basic attitudes. Start with acceptance of differences, add in an attitude of allowing, and then probably a healthy dose of flexibility. Remember to always serve the other with the aim of meeting their needs. Just try to live from a position of loving and not fear.
Bruce Conn is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and works with individuals and couples. Contact him at Bruce@BruceConn.com or call 478-742-1464.