How To Give Your Marriage A Mid-Life MOT
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Let’s start by covering some of the reasons a couple might start to grow apart in mid-life…
“As we progress through life, our experiences shape us and we can become very different people. This can mean a couple finds their ideas and interests have changed radically, which makes it hard to maintain a sense of friendship and compatibility, especially if they each have a different moral compass. Routine and responsibilities can also have an impact and it is easy to take each other for granted. With busy lives, finding time together to enjoy each other’s company can be hard, potentially leading to unresolved conflict. Marriages will always go through ups and downs, but if you are spending less time together, have stopped communicating or are arguing excessively, this could be the signal to get help in your relationship, particularly if there are children involved.” – Therapist & bestselling author, Marisa Peer
How do things like children moving away and retirement affect a marriage?
“It is so easy to get caught up in life revolving around childcare and work that you assume a role in a family – then, when it finally comes to children flying the nest and retirement, many couples find themselves a little lost. Suddenly they have so much more time on their hands and less responsibility. For some, this can be a positive experience, but for others it can be an uncertain time. When these parenting roles are no longer full time, many people struggle to see who they actually are and have to rediscover what they want from life. Often this can lead to separate interests, although it doesn’t have to. This can be a great opportunity to become closer as you rediscover what you like to do as a couple.” – Marisa
How do you know if a marriage is in trouble?
“When partners want a marriage to do things that it can no longer do for them – such as fulfilling their needs for love, self-expansion and sexual expression – partners can become angry, resentful and distant. Moreover, when partners feel like they’ve done everything to make the marriage work and still feel misaligned, the issue ultimately boils down to incompatibility. This means the life one partner wants to lead is incompatible with the life the other partner wants to lead. At this point couples should ask themselves whether they would be better off apart.” – Limor Gottlieb, founder of Love Evolved
“If you’re not feeling joy, contentment and equality in a relationship, it’s possible the energy exchange isn’t a fair one. If this happens, it is important to talk to your partner or friend about it, discuss each other’s needs and try to redress the balance. While relationships will go through rough patches at times, if conflict continues over a long period of time and resentment arises, it can be unhealthy for everyone involved. Lack of communication, constant arguing and toxic behaviours are all signs that a relationship is in trouble.” – Marisa
And how do you know if it’s salvageable?
“Whether these issues can be resolved or the relationship should end depends on the circumstances and the commitment from both sides to make it work. Many people tend to romanticise what a relationship should be based on how they are portrayed in films, books and on TV. If you think it should always remain in that early, intense state of limerence, you’re going to be disappointed. If you are in doubt, ask yourself:
- Are you communicating with each other or arguing more than talking?
- Do you spend quality time together?
- Is the trust and respect still there?
- What are you getting from the relationship?
- What do you need from the relationship?
- Do you see a future together?
If you feel you are putting all the effort into a relationship but not getting anything back, it is important to talk to your partner and explain how you are feeling.” – Marisa
What’s the best first move for suggesting your marriage might need work?
“It’s important to constantly check in with intimate partners and have conversations about the state of the relationship regardless of if there are problems. As people change over time, so do relationships, so partners need to constantly evolve together. Schedule a time that is convenient for both of you to have this conversation. You should both feel relaxed and not have any distractions. One way is to have the conversation over a nice meal or glass of wine or tea. When your partner is open and receptive, you can start to address your concerns. Make sure to be very clear when you express your feelings and thoughts, don’t blame or attack, just simply and calmly state how you feel and what you need. Then ask your partner how they feel about things – what works for them and what doesn’t – and see if you can find a solution together.” – Limor
What role do affairs play at this stage of life – do they always spell the end of a marriage?
“There are many reasons why people have affairs. There are interpersonal factors as well as individual differences that play a role in cheating. Ultimately, people should be free to determine for themselves if they want to stay or leave after the betrayal. An affair doesn’t have to mean divorce, and divorce may not always be the better outcome when so much can be at stake, such as children, grandchildren, social networks or finances. In fact, an affair can be a wake-up call for the couple to re-evaluate things and start afresh. In some cases, the relationship that follows a betrayal can be stronger, deeper, more honest and meaningful than the one before. Choosing to forgive a partner’s betrayal is one of many processes that protect and promote relationships over time, because they override a partner’s immediate self-interest in favour of the relationship.” – Limor
What are some ways to move forward in a marriage after infidelity?
“Open lines of communication will be key. Giving the aggrieved partner the opportunity to vent their feelings and frustrations freely at first is important to ensure they feel heard and are able to express themselves, so things don’t build into tension and resentment further down the line. However, this shouldn’t turn into them raising the affair at every opportunity or whenever a disagreement arises. Discussing each partner’s needs and feelings is crucial, as is having a commitment to spending quality time together and being honest about what each wants from the relationship. Also, you have to understand that rebuilding trust will take time.” – Marisa
“Couples who successfully recover from an affair tend to switch their language from ‘you’ and ‘me’ to ‘our’, meaning they look at the affair as an event that occurred to them together, rather than something one person did to the other. Instead of blaming one person as the perpetrator, and portraying the other as the victim, both partners take accountability. These couples are more likely to move on and not get stuck in the past, because they can view an affair as an event that could transform their relationship into something better. However, it’s important for partners to understand that forgiveness doesn't happen overnight, and it will take time to re-establish trust.” – Limor
Why is communication so key, generally speaking?
“A loving, healthy and connected relationship is a result of ongoing open, honest and empathetic communication. It’s crucial for relationship maintenance to regularly check in with each other – not only when things are bothering them but also to show appreciation for each other. Arguing is also important in relationship maintenance instead of keeping things bottled up. Even when things seem to be okay, many partners tend to suppress their individual needs and risk feeling resentment over time which could result in breaking a relationship. That’s why communication for emotional connection is key in relationship maintenance.” – Limor
How can you deal with a breakdown in communication?
“Partners should begin the conversation with something positive. For example, don’t start a conversation with, ‘We never have fun anymore’ or ‘I feel like you don’t want to explore new things with me like you used to’. Instead, begin the conversation with, ‘Remember when we went on that road trip? I’d love to do that again. What about you?’ The next step is to express appreciation and gratitude. Don’t say, ‘You never help around the house. I’m tired and feel unappreciated.’ Try instead, ‘I really appreciated when you took out the bins this morning and I was wondering if you could help me organise the kitchen cupboards?’ Most importantly, always begin with ‘I’ not ‘you’. Remember to be assertive. Being assertive means being confident to express yourself in a way that is respectful. Remember partners are not mind readers so clear communication is key.” – Limor
What should you do if you think the marriage is over?
“If you have made every effort to talk to your partner and resolve problems but they have stonewalled you, you need to look after your own interests and consider moving on. This can be hard to do for a number of reasons – because there is still love there, if you have been together a long time, or you feel a sense of responsibility. Give yourself space. Talking to a friend or family member can help you share the load. However, if there is control in the relationship and you are fearful about leaving, consider speaking to a therapist or, if you are worried about your safety, the police.” – Marisa
Let’s assume you both want to work on things – what should you be doing more and less of?
“Giving a partner more space can be good to figure things out and gain perspective as it allows partners to deal with their emotions. However, if one partner craves more space while the other craves more closeness, it is likely that partners have competing needs for closeness and space which aren’t being expressed. This can elicit a toxic cycle of pursuit and distancing behaviours, with one person being the pursuer and the other the distancer. So, if you’re frequently craving closeness but your partner needs space, it may be worth contemplating if you are truly compatible, and if your needs for closeness can be met in this relationship.” – Limor
How might you 'spice' up a marriage up or rekindle a lost spark?
“The important thing here is to talk about your sex life. What is it you like or don’t like? Are your needs being met? How do your sex drives differ? Does one partner want more than the other? The smallest things can often lead to an underlying resentment. Talk about what turns you on and what new things you might like to try. Be relaxed with one another – it shouldn’t be awkward but rather time for exploration. Talk about boundaries and what you feel comfortable experimenting with, but don’t feel obliged to do things that you’re not happy to try.” – Marisa
What's your view on couples’ therapy?
“As a therapist, I obviously advocate therapy for couples if they are experiencing issues they are struggling to resolve themselves. A Rapid Transformational Therapy (RTT) session can help you get to the root cause of the problems which are holding you back, giving you the understanding to help you move forward. In most cases, talking to your partner or exploring options for counselling and support can help, but there are some occasions where this just won’t be possible. For example, in a narcissistic relationship which is all about power, domination and control.” – Marisa
Any advice if you think your spouse is going through a mid-life crisis?
“Everyone experiences a crisis at some point and it is important to make sure your partner feels supported and heard. Get them to talk about their life, what they want for the future, their worries and concerns. Often, a mid-life crisis is triggered by a milestone birthday, major life change or a period of depression. Be supportive but mindful of your own mental wellbeing as well.” – Marisa
How should you involve/not involve your children?
“Children are always affected when couples undergo conflict, and research shows the consequences can be debilitating if couples don’t resolve their differences. Children often tend to blame themselves and feel threatened or at fault. Also, many parents place children in the middle or force them to choose sides. But children can also be affected when conflict is avoided or ignored altogether. According to research, couples who are emotionally withdrawn from each other to an extent of lacking any warmth or affection for each other, may put children at risk for long-term emotional and behavioural problems.” – Limor
Here, Marisa shares three ways to get your marriage back on track…
Dedicate time to one another
It is easy to fall into a rut, so commit to having quality, dedicated time together. Go on date nights, find a new hobby or a fun activity to do together. You could even consider a short break or holiday that you both take time to plan. Make time each day to speak to one another – talk about how your day went, anything that has been bothering you, and plan out the week.
Work on yourself as well as one another
While it’s important to work on your relationship, it is also important to make time to work on yourself. A lot of the time, issues aren’t anything to do with the relationship at all, but a personal unmet need or outdated belief system. Ask yourself whether the issue has occurred in past relationships or is it just this one? If you have experienced the same problems previously, an RTT session could help you get to the root cause of the issues that are holding you back.
Make time to be intimate
As humans, we have a real need for physical closeness, connection and intimacy with others. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve sex but when the energetic connection changes, often the physical side suffers too. Intimacy is really important for mental wellbeing; without it, we can experience feelings of isolation, loneliness and even depression. This is because touching releases oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin – the feel-good, happy hormones that reduce stress, lower blood pressure and even provide pain relief. If there has been infidelity, this can be hard, so try taking small steps at first and consider relationship counselling if this becomes a sticking point.
Limor Gottlieb is the founder of Love Evolved and a doctoral researcher at the Centre for Culture and Evolution at Brunel University London. Her research focuses on the psychology of sex and relationships. Marisa Peer is a world-renowned therapist and bestselling author. Visit MarisaPeer.com.
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