Tag: saving relationship

9 Reasons marriages end up in divorce in midlife

“Did you not know? They got divorced a couple of months ago. The kids are now in boarding school.” This piece of news may have come as a shock because you did not realize your friends were headed in separate directions.

Your friends are not an exception. Divorce is on the rise in India. Not just the big metros, even smaller towns in India are witnessing marital discord leading to separation. Often the affected couples are in their midlife. Many of them have kids. Separation at any stage of life is traumatic for one or both partners. However, when couples with children decide to separate, it affects many more lives.

As a spouse in midlife, this information can be quite unsettling. You may worry for your marriage. But, we can try to make sense of this phenomenon. Let’s begin by talking about expectations. No marriage is perfect. The only time couples walk into the sunset holding hands is in the movies. Most couples in real life go through ups and downs. Almost all have to work towards creating and sustaining a strong bond.

Couples also face different issues at different stages of life. Most marriages go through teething troubles in the early years. Some marriages do not survive the initial challenges. Others that do sometimes run into trouble during midlife.

Midlife is a time when one goes through many changes. The body changes, aspirations change, interests change, responsibilities change. The stresses that midlife brings affects relationships in big and small ways. And, a midlife marriage has to be strong enough to survive these changes.

From my clinical practice, I have noticed the following common reasons for a midlife breakup:

Boredom, feeling disconnected or alienated

Marriages are about choice. Even most arranged marriages have an element of choice. You chose to get married to your spouse because you found them special or different from the others in some way. Or, you felt special with them.

Now, age can erode that sense of ‘specialness’ as you become more familiar with your spouse’s failings (No one is perfect, remember?). Some spouses, in fact, become experts at criticising. They systematically disregard or negate all positive aspects of their spouse’s personality or behaviour. It is the “Yes, but…” on an unending loop. When either spouse is so critical, the “special” feeling gets killed. You don’t feel special and you don’t see your spouse as special, either.

The result is emotional withdrawal and distance. Over time a feeling of alienation, disconnect or boredom dominates the relationship.

Over-involvement in work/career pursuits

Often midlife brings career satisfaction. People may find themselves in positions of authority at this age. With authority and seniority comes a sense of achievement or accomplishment. But with that creeps in greater responsibility.

Most senior professionals find themselves still putting in long hours at work. Work related travel adds to time away from spouse and family. This can make couples feel disconnected. Or, one spouse feels that the burden of house-hold/family responsibilities is disproportionately falling on their shoulders. For couples who are already facing relationship issues, this can add to the list of resentments.

For some couples, over-involvement in work is also a way to avoid confronting relationship issues. It is the elephant in the room that grows bigger with time and eventually stomps all over.

Spouse’s involvement in other pursuits

Midlife is a time when many adults decide to take a break from what they have been doing so far. Or, they may decide to re-prioritise life.

After years of focusing on work and family they may decide to pursue or explore activities that they enjoy. Indian cities now offer a range of recreational activities from ultra-marathons to bird watching. These activities provide the opportunity to meet like-minded people and socialize.

In some cases, the time devoted to such activities is at the expense of the time and attention one can devote to family. When one spouse becomes deeply involved in any such individual interest, the other spouse can become deeply resentful.

Spouse’s worsened addiction

Addiction or dependence on alcohol, drugs of any kind, gambling or sex can become worse in midlife. If a person had got into these addictions earlier in life, they tend to persist unless treated. Some individuals can also fall into addictions as a way to deal with midlife stress. Many a times the addiction is a symptom of an underlying mental health condition, such as depression or bipolar disorder. In such cases, appropriate treatment of the mental health condition is required.

Most of the time addictions affect relationships. Living with a spouse who has an addiction causes great emotional and/or financial stress. At some point, the non-addicted spouse may decide that he/she can no longer endure such stress. Marriages that have survived into midlife can then fall apart.

Unresolved issues around intimacy

Sex in India is shrouded with much mystery and misconceptions. And most Indians do not seek appropriate help for problems with intimacy.

Many couples struggle with sex from the time they get married. Most such couples do not have any physiological or biological problems. The issues arise either from a lack of information and exploration or from psychological issues. By the time couples reach midlife, they have often given up trying to solve the sex mystery. But a feeling of dissatisfaction lingers. If intimacy is an issue and the feeling of ‘specialness’ is also missing, then the marriage is likely to run into trouble.

Infidelity

Not getting into morals and values, the fact is that individuals tend to vary in their commitment to a relationship. Many Indians get into marriage stating reasons other than wanting to spend their entire lives with that one person. In addition, some individuals thrive in the attention they get from the opposite sex. Looks and appearance may matter greatly. Hence, they are open to entering into sexual encounters outside of marriage.

One or both partners may also get into affair if there are long term, unresolved relationship issues. No marriage is perfect and all couples need to work through various differences. However, when one or both partners have created an emotional distance from the other or there is constant fighting and animosity, “specialness” disappears and space for an affair is created.

Empty nest

Children leaving home for college or work causes a big change in the lives of family members.

For couples whose lives have revolved around their children, adjusting to this change is challenging. But it is most difficult for couples who have been avoiding facing relationship issues. Some couples are unable to resolve issues, have long standing resentments and fail to create a mutually supportive relationship. Spouses in such a marriage begin to then rely on their children for emotional support. They connect more with their kids than with each other. The kids may even become the go between the parents. The only reason such couples cite for being together is the kids. When the kids leave, there is no glue to hold the marriage together.

Financial issues

When two people get married they often hold different views on money. Growing up experiences, personalities and family values around money determine how much importance individuals give to wealth and possessions. When two people have similar perspectives on money, it is easier. However, problems can arise if these thoughts diverge greatly. Most couples over time figure out a common policy on money. Any initial differences over whether separate accounts should be maintained or joint ones are usually resolved by midlife.

Midlife tends to bring up different concerns around money. Savings, investments, planning for retirement become more important issues. Financial responsibilities can also be significant if kids’ college education and health issues of family members are added to the mix. Job loss and career breaks can cause significant stress. One or both partners may feel unhappy with their financial situation and resent past or present decisions. Some are nagged by the thought that one’s earning years are limited. Resentments around financial issues can cause big rifts.

Social contagion – hanging out with friends who are divorced

Friends are a great source of support. They also play a big role in defining what is socially acceptable behaviour. This is not only true during one’s teenage years but throughout life.

Divorce is gaining social acceptability in India, and more so in the big cities. Knowing people who have gone through a divorce helps one view divorce as a feasible option. It also helps create social support if one decides to separate. Instead of struggling through issues with one’s spouse, it seems easier to call it quits.

 

Whatever be the reasons for marital dissatisfaction, divorce is rarely an easy decision. Life after divorce can also be difficult for one or both spouses and the kids. But, it is possible to save and build back marriages, even in midlife. Hopefully, knowing what leads midlife marriages to the divorce courts may help you course correct before it is too late.

———————————————————

The above article is based on Dr. Dubey’s work with Indian couples.

Four ways to protect your marriage from midlife stress

Hectic 40’s is when we often find ourselves coasting in only one area – our marriage.

 

In our busy, hectic lives, work, kids, ageing parents and in-laws demand much of our time and attention. These are the years when most marriages in India begin to get relegated to the bottom of any list. Yes, couples vacation together. But, most no longer hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes over candle-lit dinners. To many, it may seem silly to even think of doing that. After all, as a couple you have gone through many more significant experiences together, the candle-light dinner seems juvenile.

So, we assume the marriage does not need much attention and care. It is that old, comfy couch that will not go anywhere. But then one day you realize that the old, comfy couch groans and creaks, and eventually breaks. This is what happens to some marriages, too. Affairs, separation and divorce. Friends and family are shocked. Nobody, including most spouses, see it coming.

Most relationships can be prevented from breaking down. Most relationships can be repaired and made stronger.

Here is how not to let midlife stresses affect your decades old relationship.

– Stop avoiding difficult issues.

Often couples find specific topics difficult to talk about. These include intimacy, parenting, finance and caring for elderly in-laws or parents. Whatever be the topic, if you feel stressed by it and avoid talking to your spouse about it, then it may take a toll on the relationship. Resentment over these topics often builds over time and comes out as anger. When one spouse attacks the other in anger, the response is of a similar kind. The outcome is frequent fights or long, withdrawn silences. Both over time undermine the marriage. If you are unable to resolve your differences then it may be time to seek help.

– An hour a day of meaningful conversation.

An hour a day can actually keep the therapist away. There is usually enough and more going on in our lives to keep us super-busy. And, most couples communicate. However, what they talk about is transactional – who’s coming for dinner, who’s picking the kids up from drama class, when is the maid on leave, and so on. Couples do need to work as a team around these aspects of daily life. The problem is that often communication does not go beyond these aspects. Over time spouses become oblivious to each other’s emotional landscape. Or, everything is attributed to personality quirks – “Oh, he always complains about the traffic,” or “She just needs to go shopping to feel better.” No extra attention is then given when either spouse needs support. An exclusive hour everyday talking about what one is thinking and feeling, what one’s dreams and worries are, is the key. These conversations must be uninterrupted by phone, internet or anything/anyone else. This one hour can go a long way in re-establishing an emotional connection.

– Finding fun things to do together.

Having fun together helps create happy memories. The more happy memories one has with a person or activity the more positive one feels about that person or activity. Most couples do enjoyable things together in the early years of the relationship. Over time, though, more mundane, daily living activities seem to take over. The focus may also shift to kid centric activities. Or, either spouse may discover or begin to nurture an individual interest, such as golf or running that takes care of their fun and social needs. The downside is that as the couple does less and less together, there is less and less to bond over, to laugh over, to enjoy together. Exploring and trying out different activities may help you find something that you enjoy doing together. This can bring the fun back in the relationship.

– Resetting boundaries around the relationship.

Midlife is when responsibilities peak. One’s kids are not yet financially or emotionally independent, parents have become dependent, work place responsibilities and stresses are higher. Add to that the feeling that one is neither invincible nor is life unlimited. Most people, therefore, feel the need to nurture themselves, re-discover passions or re-prioritise life. The external demands and one’s internal needs often take away time and attention from one’s relationship. It is important at this time to protect the relationship by openly talking to each other about what one is thinking and feeling. It also means supporting each other through various decisions and handling family challenges as a team. There is also a need for balancing one’s own unique interests/involvements with the needs of the relationship. Hence, it becomes important to balance the time and effort we spend on individual pursuits with the time and attention we give to our spouse.

None of this is rocket science. However, if you have neglected your marriage for a long time, you may find it difficult to implement these suggestions. If you find yourself stuck, do seek the help of a trained marriage or couple’s therapist/counsellor.

resentments in midlife

Why let go of resentments in midlife?

  Recently at a workshop I asked the middle aged participants to think of a past hurt that currently simmered as a resentment. …

changing careers in midlife and impat on marriage

How midlife career decisions can affect your marriage.

She wants the big house, he wants a stress free life. Or, he wants the shiny new BMW, she wants a life more meaningful. This …

Mind related reasons affecting sex in midlife

Mind-body issues affecting sex in midlife marriages – Part 2

The human body and mind are connected and the complexity of this connection is most evident when it comes to the human sexual …