Repairing Middle-Aged Marriages Requires Commitment And Therapy
Written By: Mark Smith
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Last week we discussed 6 major challenges to middle-aged marriages - mid-life crises, unresolved conflicts, differing interests or goals, teen rearing and financial pressures, the temptation to have an affair and boredom. That is quite a daunting list. If you love the person you married 20+ years ago, but you can sense the life-blood draining out of the marriage, then this column is for you.
The good news about middle-aged marriages is that while there are many forces serving to tear the relationship apart, there are also many strong forces that make it difficult to ever leave. While the relational "glue" of emotional intimacy, sexual bliss and deep bonding many times is lessened, the remaining glue of a long shared history together, kids, financial dependency, spiritual beliefs and values, friends and extended family bonds make leaving such a relationship very difficult. While Hollywood tends to base marital longevity (or lack thereof most often) on the former sexier list, in the real world where the rest of us live, the latter factors are the more important "glue."
However, too many middle-aged spouses rely too much on the forces of social norms to keep their spouses from straying. Once-strong marriages end all the time because they simply ran out of steam. Your marriage is not going to get better on its own, nor will one partner reading Dr. Phil's latest advice-filled book fix things. Desperate times call for desperate measures. You are going to need the help of a good marital therapist. The marriage needs serious surgery, not just an aspirin or two.
Many times it is the wife who makes the initial call to the therapist's office. Her husband tends to be very hesitant about coming to therapy. From his perspective, if he made it 25 years without therapy, then why is it needed now? We always encourage the wife in this situation to go ahead and begin therapy on an individual basis. The marriage is a system and if there are healthy changes in one party, then it will impact the marriage in a positive manner. A great deal of life-changing and marriage-changing work can be done without your spouse having to be involved.
Early in therapy, clients learn how their family of origin issues have EVERYTHING to do with their marital relationships. They learn that they picked whom they picked for a reason. They learn that there are never, ever any victims in marital relationships. They get their focus off of the faults of their spouse and onto the unresolved wounds of their childhoods. This positive, proactive work begins to create a safer and more accepting environment in the marriage. With a greater sense of self-awareness and a stronger voice in the therapy-attending spouse, the marital warfare hits high gear. If he is happily stuck in the status quo and she desperately needs growth, change, depth, intimacy, connection and romance, something has to give. After a few huge fights where the "D" word comes up more than once, Mr. "I'll never go to therapy" finds himself squirming uncomfortably in my waiting room. I always feel a great deal of compassion for these poor fellows. I assure them that therapy, while far from painless, is actually pretty cool stuff.
Therapy is about naming the truth. If the therapist is able to truly figure out what the issues are and then articulate them in a powerful, sensitive, caring, courageous and convincing manner, then that service is worth its weight in gold. If you don't want to learn the truth about yourself then stay clear of the therapist's office. You have too much to lose to not do the work that will be needed to fix your marriage. You will need to be highly motivated to work on yourself first and foremost. You will need to be teachable and open-minded. You will need the courage to face your painful issues rather than finding ways to numb out so as to avoid them. You will need to have the capacity to trust your therapist, trust your spouse and trust the process of therapy. Finally, you will need to work long and hard to re-build your marriage.
I want for you to picture if you will, walking the beach holding hands with your spouse at age 62. The kids are raised, the bills are paid and your career is in the books. The air is fresh, the sun warms your bones, the waves are soothing and there is a twinkle in the eyes of your beloved. You are still in love and what's more, you truly like and respect each other. You have history, and family, and resources, and fire rekindled in your love life. It will definitely be worth the work.
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