Marriage At Mid-Life
Written By: Mark Smith
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You are well past your 40th birthday, you danced the night away at your 25th high school reunion, the last of your kids are in high school themselves, you are still looking pretty good and you are lonely as hell. There is a wall between you and your spouse that seems a mile thick. Listen to an unknown poet's lament of mid-life marital disconnection and hopelessness:
Their wedding picture mocked them from the table
These two whose lives no longer touched each other.
They loved with such a heavy barricade between them
That neither battering rams of words
Nor artilleries of touch could break it down.
Somewhere between the oldest child's first tooth
And youngest daughter's graduation
They lost each other.
Throughout the years each slowly unraveled
That tangled ball of string called self
And as they tugged at stubborn knots
Each hid their searching from the other.
Sometimes she cried at night and begged
The whispering darkness to tell her who she was
While he lay beside her snoring like a
Hibernating bear unaware of her winter.
Once after that had made love he wanted to tell her
How afraid he was of dying
But fearing to show his naked soul he spoke instead
About the beauty of her breasts.
She took a course in modern art trying to find herself.
In colors splashed upon a canvas
And complaining to other women about men
Who were insensitive.
He climbed into a tomb called the office
Wrapped his mind in a shroud of paper figures
And buried himself in customers.
Slowly the wall between them rose cemented
By the mortar of indifference.
One day reaching out to touch each other
They found a barrier they could not penetrate
And recoiling from the coldness of the stone
Each retreated from the stranger on the other side.
For when love dies it is not in a moment of angry battle
Nor when fiery bodies lose their heat.
It lies panting exhausted expiring
At the bottom of a wall it could not scale.
Does that sound painfully familiar? Have you grown so far apart that you don't even feel married any longer? Is intimate connected love making non-existent or almost so? That is so sad. You are way too young to live like that. For the mid-life marriage mired in bone chilling stagnation I would like to present some additional options. Life is just too short to continue to live the way that you are living. If you blink once or twice you'll be 60! In my opinion the other much preferable marital options are either resurrection or resignation.
Let's start on the positive optimistic side of things. Is it possible that romantically and sexually dead unions be raised from the dead? The answer is absolutely, positively MAYBE. It all depends of the workability of both of the partners involved. First of all, somebody needs to wake up and start acting like they are sexually and emotionally alive. As long as both parties are satisfied with sleep walking through life with no spark or passion then while the "marriage" is safe from the clutches of divorce, it is still trapped in boredom, dissatisfaction and emotional emptiness.
Three core qualities must be present before the miracle of resurrection can even begin to occur. First of all there needs to be some PAIN. Our pain is a good thing. It informs us that something is desperately wrong. It takes a lot of strength and courage to face the pain of loneliness, abandonment and possible divorce. It is easier to drink a couple of glasses of wine, mindlessly flip on the tube, relieve your own sexual tension with fantasies of some red hot lover and then get up and trudge through your day all over again. It hurts to be able to feel, but it is worth it. Whoever the first one to feel pain is they need to share their pain with their slumbering spouse. The have to be woken up at all costs, even if that means separation.
Pain then can bring about the 2nd needed core trait - motivation. Most of the couples that I have worked with have had some level of motivation to salvage their ailing marriages. While that is an admirable trait that isn't at all what I'm talking about. For a marriage resurrecting miracle to occur two people both have to simultaneously enthusiastically embrace the radical re-assessment and reconstruction of themselves as individuals. Not everybody is ready for that kind of deep intrapersonal scrutiny. For the most part you are either ready for it or you aren't.
The 3rd necessary quality is teachability. That means being psychologically open to learning and feedback. That means knowing how much you don't know. It means listening much more than talking. I'm talking about psychological walls breaking down. I'm talking about feeling primitive needy feelings rooted in childhood, long blocked off my defense mechanisms. I'm talking about fiercely re-evaluating your work life, your values, your goals, your entire sense of self. If you don't think that you are broken you are wrong. We are all broken. The marriage needs fixed because you need fixed. What keeps you from being able to love deeply and passionately? I'm talking about taking the marital puzzle pieces all apart and starting to fit them together again with some of the new pieces of your new developing selves. I'm talking about not pointing the finger of accusation at your spouse any longer. Are you up for all that Sparky, or are you just darkening my door in an effort to try to change your adversary? You will need a lot of help. You will definitely need a lot of direction from an insightful therapist. Doctors save lives, but they can't save them all. Therapists save marriages and what's more they help people save themselves, but they can't save them all.
While I would love it if each and every couple who comes to see me experiences their marital resurrection miracle. The criteria for such a miracle happening are extremely challenging, as I just documented. It takes two pained, motivated, psychologically open people to resurrect a marriage. Sadly, many times it just isn't possible to resurrect a dead marriage - it takes two to tango If the marriage can not be resurrected, it really needs to be buried. That brings us to resignation. I mean resignation as in "I am terminating this arrangement" rather than the resignation that means just hopelessly giving in to the old dead status quo.
While we are not big believers in divorce we are huge proponents of the possible saving graces of separation. I have seen many unworkable situations become workable after a painful separation. It can be the wake up call to an emotionally dead spouse. However, if after 6 months to a year separation has not produced a humble workable spouse, it is time to move forward. Sadly, many marriages are held together by sheer financial dependence. Many times a woman who has been out of the work force is terrified of having to support herself so she stays and the lonely desolate years slip by.
Life is hard. Marriage is hard. Divorce is a nightmare. But there is life on the other side of divorce. I have seen countless courageous men and women survive and thrive as never before after a divorce. This is actually hopeful, creative and invigorating work - the post divorce re-building process. You will also need a great deal of help and support from a good therapist. Don't say that you can't afford it, you can't afford to do without it. You have a lot of great things ahead for you. You will be piecing together all of your now separate puzzle pieces and seeing how they night fit in the world without the marriage. You also have to face the world of dating again for the first time in decades. A healthier new relationship is in your future. You will make it. It really is an adventure. That is the price of being emotionally alive. Hang on - life is just getting interesting now!
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