One thing in life is constant: change. How we embrace change —or resist it — can dictate how happy we are at any stage of life. One of the biggest changes all humans face are the ones that come with aging and its infamous transition period dubbed, “mid-life crisis.” This is a time when many marriages become strained, but it doesn’t mean that your relationship is over.
If you’re of a certain age and your marriage is in trouble, it might be time to take a look at the mitigating stressors that come with mid-life. Here are three major factors to consider when you’ve lost that loving feeling.
Shifting roles and the long good-bye. Chronic illness or the death of your elderly parents can take a huge toll on you and all of your relationships. If you have become the primary caregiver for your parent(s), your focus and energies may be channeled into them at a time when your spouse needs you, too. The loss of parents signals a shift in dynamics in the family. (Now YOU are the elder!) What’s more, if your relationship with your parents was strained, their demise may dredge up long-held resentments and trigger unresolved issues. Recognizing the stress that you and/or your partner is under may relieve some of your marital tension. Talking with a skilled therapist or spiritual advisor can help you work through inner-child issues, as well as processing the grief that comes from loss.
It’s not you … it’s my hormones. Physical changes can impact relationships in many ways. For women, the decline in estrogen during menopause and post-menopause (typically starting in their mid-40s) can lead to a host of physical complaints, including insomnia, hot flashes, moodiness, lack of interest in sex, hair loss, loss of muscle tone and weight gain. In men, testosterone levels begin to drop in their mid-30s and continue to decline as they age. Twenty percent of men in their 60s and 30-percent of men in their 70s experience low testosterone. So disinterest in sex and physical intimacy may be due to hormonal changes — not dissatisfaction with your partner! Your doctor can conduct simple tests to determine levels and prescribe hormone replacement therapy, if needed, to alleviate the problem.
The kids are gone, now what? When you’ve spent 20+ years talking about dirty diapers, report cards, football games, recitals, and proms, once your kids graduate from high school and enter a more independent phase of their lives, some couples are left wondering what they have in common. This classic empty nest syndrome is enough to place many a marriage in crisis. But just because the kids are grown doesn’t mean your partnership is over. Anticipating the adjustment to your household can help make the transition smoother. Perhaps it’s time for a second “first date” or rekindled courtship? Finding new activities and interests to replace the time and energy you invested in parenting may take some effort, but it also can ensure that your second half of life together is just as fulfilling.
If your partner is experiencing a mid-life crisis, patience can be key as he or she sorts through the emotional flotsam. But there are limits. Emotional, financial or physical abuse is not okay no matter what phase they might be going through. Set and hold clear boundaries for yourself. Consult with experts to gain an understanding of your legal and financial situation. Take steps to make sure that shared assets are secure. And finally, seek out your own support system in the way of friends, family, and professional counselors.
When the crisis clears you might find that change is good. A mid-life crisis may be a wake-up call for couples who have hit the snooze button too many times due to child-rearing, careers or other responsibilities. The process of reevaluating your relationship may end up bringing you closer than ever before.