Category: <span>marriage</span>

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. And, the resentment had to be one that was proving difficult to let go of. The next step was to work on letting go of the resentment.

The participants had all lived long enough to have experienced disappointment, hurt and anger in one or more relationships. They should have found this exercise easy. Yet, the middle aged group of men and women unanimously decided to postpone completing the exercise. No other exercise had evoked the same reaction.

Well, it’s not really a surprise that these folks wanted to avoid this topic. Forgiveness does not come easily or naturally to many people.

I have often seen middle aged couples stuck because one or both partners are unable to move beyond past resentments. And the couples’ relationship often struggles as a result. New emotional hurt and resentments get created and added to the old list. By the time they reach mid-life, many such marriages give way under the weight of piled up resentments.

Why is letting go of resentments so difficult?

The theatrical “I will never forget” or “I will take revenge” gives characters in movies and books motive. It also helps one to hold on to anger that one feels is justified.

But why is there such a strong pull towards carrying on with anger and resentments? Well, anger is a strong emotion. And, it often helps one feel more powerful. Holding on to anger implies holding on to power. For someone who feels wronged, it seems like a better option.

Most people prefer to be the one expressing anger than to be the one on the receiving end of someone’s anger. Being shouted at, being blamed for things, criticised, or on the other hand, being ignored, discounted is no one’s idea of fun. Yet we all feel justified expressing anger, we feel we are in the right.

People who hold on to resentments also feel completely justified in holding on to their grudges. They are convinced they have been wronged.

And then there is the question of fairness. If someone has hurt us and we consider the hurt to be unfairly inflicted, then we often feel that the person responsible should pay for it in some way. Punishing them by withholding affection and/or constantly reminding them of their actions seems justified. In fact, we believe that our own hurtful behaviour in the present can be justified because of their actions in the past.

For some people, forgiving is akin to being walked over. They believe that by letting go of the anger and resentment also means that they have accepted the injustice. This not only has implications for the past but for the future, as well. They fear that if they let their guard down, they will get emotionally hurt again. For them, holding on to the memory of the injustice is crucial for protecting themselves from emotional pain, maintaining their self worth and self respect.

Impact of resentments on relationships

While the promise or oath to never forget is glorified, in reality things work differently. The inability to forgive has a cost. It hurts close relationships and sometimes destroys them.

I have often heard people say, “I know she/he is trying to change, but I can’t forgive her/him.” Of course, some hurts may never be forgiven and forgotten in their entirety. Especially when they involve sexual/emotional abuse or domestic violence. However, hurts that are recalled and rehearsed only make one feel angry and helpless.

When we carry resentments and past hurts we tend to look at everything in the present from the lens of the past. Even if the other person, against whom we carry resentments, makes a change in behaviour or attitude, we ignore those changes. The result is that we dismiss the present because we are dragging along the past.

Impact of resentments on one’s own mental and physical health

Now, dragging along the past also has a cost for oneself.

Some mental health researchers point out that anger, naturally, on its own lasts for 90 seconds. Beyond that we continue to experience anger because we continue to think about the incident and its implications. In other words, we continue to rehearse it. And there is no natural end to how long we can continue to rehearse something. To stop thinking about it, take a different perspective, and move on is a conscious move that many people are unable to make.

There is interesting new research on the impact of forgiveness on people’s physical health. Researchers studied two groups of people who had undergone similar kinds and amounts of stresses in their current lives. And, they found that the people who tended to forgive more and move on were in better physical health, despite the stresses, than those who tended to be less forgiving.

The final analysis

Holding on to resentments may seem to have some benefits. But the costs outweigh the benefits. Holding on to resentments harms our physical health. It also prevents the person against whom we hold resentments from making amends. It serves to destroy relationships rather than help correct wrongs or improve the quality of our relationships.

So, this does not mean that we need to tolerate or live with behaviour that hurts us. We absolutely need to stand up for ourselves and voice our problems. We must point out specifically behaviours that are not okay with us in all our relationships. And once we have done that, we need to move on.

We need to give the other person a chance and acknowledge positive changes in behaviour. If we feel that the person is not changing their behaviour and continuing to do what hurts us, we may need to end such a relationship. And then, move on. Staying in a relationship or situation while keeping a tally of hurts and resentments is neither good for our physical and mental health nor that of the other person.

My next workshop on Writing for Self  will be held from Dec 22-26, 2018. Please click on

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 is what a lot of midlife couples struggle with. A dissatisfaction with their own career pursuits. Or the desire to live a life different from what they are living.

Midlife is often that stage in a person’s life when they stop to pause and think. To reconsider, recalibrate and reorient oneself with regard to different areas of one’s life. This includes work, before one reaches that point called retirement.

Why do individuals look at career change in midlife?

Well, why do we work? We work for various reasons – to earn money, to fill up time, to make our lives more meaningful, and so on. For most people, the answer to that question changes as we age. Midlife often brings about a very different answer to that question than it did when we were a couple of decades younger. Hence, many individuals want to work based on the new needs/priorities of their lives.

The Indian work culture forces men and women to sacrifice family time on the altar of career success. This often leads men and women on different career trajectories. Men and women who start out as equally educated and trained often end up at different places in their careers by the time they reach midlife. While many women who prioritise family over career do not resent the journey or the destination, some do. Midlife can be the time when such individuals feel free to make more career oriented decisions.

The varied career motivators.

Some people continue to do the same work into midlife and retirement because they have gotten good at it. In most cases, it also continues to give them returns that matter to them. These could be in the form of money, recognition, fame, prestige, a sense of belonging, etc.

For others, the motivators have changed. Money, fame, recognition, etc., do not matter any more. These people are usually looking to do things that they find more meaningful, enjoyable or socially relevant.

Then there are home-makers, or men and women who have opted to focus on raising children instead of growing their careers. When these individuals reach midlife, their kids have often reached an age when they do not require constant care and attention. These individuals may want to then re-engage with paid work or re-focus on their careers.

Midlife career transition – it is not just an individual’s decision.

Most midlife couples are able to transition this phase, balancing and supporting each other’s career decisions. Others work through and reconcile their differences on the topic of work. But, for some couples this difference in aspirations can take the relationship to breaking point.

One spouse may resent the other spouse’s decision to take a career break or decision not to focus on earning big amounts of money. Or, one spouse may not be able to understand the other spouse’s need to begin or continue to focus on work.

What to do if your career decision is rocking the marriage boat.

A midlife couple’s inability to work through career decisions is often a symptom of long-standing relationship issues. It results from a long term neglect of the relationship. Of piled up resentments and unforgiven hurts.

Now, it is always better to begin repairing one’s relationship before it reaches breaking point. But, couples are known to have brought their relationship back, even from the brink of divorce.

If you find that you cannot agree with your spouse’s career related decisions and it is adding stress to your marriage, you are not the only one. But, you do need to figure out what else is adding stress to your relationship. And, begin to take some positive steps to build back your relationship. Or else, you can seek the help of a psychotherapist or marriage counsellor.

Career decisions seem like individual decisions. And, you probably did not make your marriage decision based on your spouse’s resume. However, career decisions can have an impact on the relationship, especially when spouses have different views on money/possessions or family time. These views are not formed overnight and neither are the differences around them. It is important to start sorting out these issues as they arise rather than ignoring them or piling them up.

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 experience. Body or physical health related issues affect sex in midlife marriages. But, there are many more mind related reasons that determine how satisfied midlife couples feel with their sexual relationship. The following are five main issues that affect sex in midlife marriages.

Relationship satisfaction

The most important thing that affects a couple’s sex life is the quality of their relationship. When resentments, anger, constant criticism or disconnection come to characterise the marriage, intimacy gets killed.

Physical intimacy and relationship satisfaction are closely linked – one affects the other. The hormone oxytocine released after an orgasm is believed to create a sense of bonding between sexual partners. This helps strengthen the relationship. Intimacy flourishes in a relationship where there is mutual love, affection, admiration and support. Therefore, a positive loop gets created.

Creating that positive loop is as important for midlife couples as it is for younger ones. An international study examined sexual satisfaction amongst couples who had been married on average 25 years. They found that the midlife couples who were more often physically intimate, and where both partners experienced orgasm, tended to be the most satisfied with their sex lives. And, with their relationship.

Interestingly, the same research found that women were more satisfied with their sex lives later in life than when they were younger. So, the good news is that sex in midlife can actually be better than it was when couples were younger. By the same token, a couple’s relationship can become stronger and more satisfying later in life, too.

There is also a stereotype that men are only interested in sex and women are happier without sex. This has been contradicted by research. Men have reported being more satisfied with their sex life when their relationship is going well. So, it’s not all about sex for men. The same study also found that women felt good about themselves when they engaged in sexual activity. Hence, women are interested in sex, too, for it can make them feel good.

So, feeling good about yourself, enjoying sex with your spouse and being happy in your midlife marriage form a positive feedback loop. If any part of this loop is not working, it is important to fix it.

Emotional wellbeing

Studies suggest that low sexual desire is not, by itself, a midlife malady. However, low sexual desire is an outcome of emotional issues. In fact, emotional wellbeing affects sexual functioning at all ages. When you don’t feel good about yourself, your life, or are preoccupied by life stresses, sex is the last thing to enter your mind.

Midlife brings with it many stresses that can affect one’s emotional wellbeing. Even for those who are in a happy marriage, midlife can bring about many changes. These can include physical changes, health conditions, financial or career related stresses, and family transitions with kids leaving home and elderly parents needing care. All these changes and challenges affect one’s emotional balance.

Mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety disorders, also impact one’s sex life in midlife.

If life’s stresses or untreated mental health conditions are ruining your sex life, it is important to seek help. Not only for the sake of good sex, but also to enjoy the midlife years. Please remember, mental health conditions are treatable.

Perception of self/body image

Body image is how one views one’s body or how satisfied one feels with one’s body shape and size. One’s body image begins to form in childhood. It is influenced by many factors, including personality, family, and media definitions of attractiveness.

Young girls, whether they are in the big city or small village, are sensitive to comments around body size. “You’re fat,” “you’re too thin,” are statements that hurt and invite drastic attempts to alter one’s shape and size. These attempts that begin at a young age often continue into adulthood and midlife.

Women all over the world struggle with ideals of attractiveness imposed on them. But, in countries like India, women are dealt a double whammy. There is a media prescribed beauty ideal that one needs to measure up to. There is also a strong societal message against openly expressing one’s sexuality. Although there are small shifts in attitudes, it is still “item girls” of mainstream Bollywood that have all the liberty to be sexual beings. But then, they are doomed to being one-dimensional characters – sexual beings and nothing else.

It is not surprising then that women not only end up struggling with their body image, but also with their identity as sexual beings.

Unfortunately, studies are telling us that body image, especially for women, shapes their sexual experience.

Studies have found that women’s body related thoughts while they are engaged in sex influence how satisfied they feel with sex. These thoughts mainly include worries around weight, physical condition, and how sexually attractive they think they are while they are engaged in sex. In fact, studies have shown that women who feel ashamed or very self conscious of their bodies during sex feel more dissatisfied with their sexual experience.

Therefore, if the intruder in your bedroom is your body image – it is time to show the intruder the door. There are many ways to do it. If your partner is struggling with body image concerns, counter the concerns by expressing appreciation for him/her as they are, right now.

If you struggle with body image, start by including some positive self talk and expressing appreciation for your body and all you can do with it. Focus on food and exercise as a way to feel fit and healthy and not as a means to lose weight or look thin. Stay away from conversations and folks obsessed with weight and body shape/size. Re-start or explore ways to enjoy your body – dance, exercise, wear clothes that you like, regardless of what the latest fashion is – whatever makes you feel good. You may also find some more ideas in the links given at the end of this article.

History of abuse

Some experts believe that family environment and abuse of any kind in childhood can affect how comfortable a person is with their sexuality in adulthood.

Women who have experienced child sexual abuse often feel uncomfortable with sex and sexuality. They also tend to have a negative body image and often view themselves as sexually unattractive. However, studies have shown that being in a supportive and positive romantic relationship can change an abuse survivors experience of sex. Also, if an abuse survivor is able to view herself as a passionate or romantic person, this view is associated with a more positive sexual experience in adulthood.

Men who have experienced sexual abuse in childhood may also experience some difficulties with sex. Boys who are sexually abused often have concerns around their sexual orientation. Unless these concerns are sorted out earlier, these could continue to affect intimacy in midlife marriage.

If a history of sexual abuse is getting in the way of your being able to enjoy your sexuality and sex in midlife, get help. You can work with a psychologist/psychotherapist/counsellor on issues that might be getting in the way of your relationship.

Internet porn/sex addiction/extra-marital affairs/masturbation

Most marriages are based on an understanding between partners that they will be sexually faithful to each other. For some couples, being sexually faithful is an issue from the beginning. For others, it may become a problem in midlife.

Sexual faithfulness has varied definitions. The behaviours that one couple views as being faithful may be different from another couple’s view. How one partner defines faithfulness can be different from how the other partner defines it. Women often view their partner’s emotional closeness with another person as being unfaithful. Men only define sexual relationships outside of marriage as being unfaithful. Sometimes, it is these contradictory definitions that cause problems in a relationship.

The use of pornography, internet sex, which includes cyber chats and audio/video exchanges, and masturbation – all evoke varied responses in partners. Most research and relationship experts seem to agree that use of pornography can be harmful, but masturbation is okay. Sometimes, one or both partners may carry out these sexual activities in conjunction with sexual activities with each other. For such couples, masturbation and pornography use may not cause any problems in the relationship.

For some individuals, pornography use, masturbation and/or cyber-sex replace sexual activities with one’s partner. These sexual activities become preoccupations or full-blown sex addiction. As with all addictions, secrecy and lying come to characterise the sex addicted partner’s behaviours. When the non-addicted partner discovers the sex addiction,  he/she can go through a range of emotions. These include hurt, betrayal, rejection, humiliation, isolation and anger. The intensity of these emotions can be the same as when confronting an extra-marital affair with a real person.

Like people who suffer from any other addiction, sex addicts, too, benefit from treatment. Seek treatment for yourself if you think you may have a sex addiction. You may need to get professional help for your relationship, too. You may also need professional help if either of you has had an extra-marital affair. It takes a while to get over the breach of trust, but it is possible to repair the relationship.


The good news for midlife couples is that sex can still be an enjoyable experience for a long time. If it has not been fun in the past, it can become fun now. And, it is worth paying attention to your sex life in midlife because sex is good for you and for your relationship. Remember, the two most important things that determine sexual satisfaction are the quality of one’s marriage and one’s own emotional wellbeing. So, even when midlife pulls you in different directions, taking care of yourself and taking care of your relationship have to be priorities number one.



Heiman, J.R., Long, J.S., Smith, S.N. et al. Arch Sex Behav (2011) 40: 741.

Physical Women, Emotional Men: Gender and Sexual Satisfaction in Midlife
Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2009, Volume 38, Number 1, Page 87

Laura M. Carpenter, Constance A. Nathanson, Young J. Kim

Stephen B. Levine (2010) What is Sexual Addiction?, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 36:3, 261-275, DOI: 10.1080/00926231003719681

Jennifer P. Schneider (2000) Effects of cybersex addiction on the family: Results of a survey, Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 7:1-2, 31-58, DOI: 10.1080/10720160008400206

Patricia Barthalow Koch, Phyllis Kernoff Mansfield, Debra Thurau & Molly Carey (2005) “Feeling frumpy”: The relationships between body image and sexual response changes in midlife women, The Journal of Sex Research, 42:3, 215-223, DOI: 10.1080/00224490509552276




Beauty Redefined Blog

physical problems affecting sex in midlife marriage

Mind-body issues affecting sex in midlife marriages – Part 1

Sex is an integral part of life. Even in midlife. However, for many married couples sex is riddled with difficulties. For some, the difficulties are long – standing: Sex was never fun enough. For others, sex becomes unsexy in midlife. Either ways, this is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Midlife, for many adults, is a time of reflection, reprioritization, reorganisation and discovery. And, amongst the many dimensions of their lives that many men and women re-examine is sexuality.

Some couples realize that the sex life they had in their younger years is a thing of the past. Some middle aged men realize that their sexual drive is lower now. Some middle aged women, on the other hand, feel that they are more comfortable exploring and expressing their sexuality.

Some middle aged women or men may also realize that they have not had great sex so far in their relationship and feel a need to fix this problem.

Now, there is no “normal” when it comes to sex. In fact, researchers at the Kinsey Institute have found that there is no common definition of sex. It means different things to different people. For example, some couples consider manually stimulating each other’s sex organs as sex, others only consider intercourse as sex.

For a couple who is on the same page as far as expectations from sex is concerned, there are usually no problems. But, if there is a mis-match of expectations between the partners, that often spells trouble for the relationship.

The mis-match around sex involves two main aspects – desire or the frequency of sex, and satisfaction or the quality of sex. When there is a discrepancy of desire, one partner wants sex less often and the other wants it more often. When there is a discrepancy of satisfaction with sex, two more aspects are involved. One aspect is orgasm – one partner experiences orgasm and the other does not. The other aspect is experiencing the feelings of love and connectedness during sex. These feelings get created through a range of intimate physical behaviours, such as kissing, caressing, etc.

So, how can couples bridge the sex gap? Well, the first step is figuring out what is getting in the way. Based on my work with Indian couples, which is corroborated by western research, there seem to be three body and six mind related reasons that affect couple’s sex life in midlife. The fact that six out of the nine factors are mind related shows that sexual satisfaction is not purely about the physical act.

Let’s first talk about the physical or body related factors that affect sex in midlife marriages:

– Figuring out the mechanics of satisfying sex

Male orgasm is quite well understood but female orgasm is even now shrouded in mystery. Many women believe that they are incapable of achieving orgasm. However, experts believe that every woman, including women in midlife, can experience orgasm.

The problem is that even in today’s day and age, the female sexual anatomy is not widely understood. Most women do not know that the clitoris is the sex organ that is involved in women’s orgasm. But, for many women, the clitoris does not automatically get stimulated during vaginal penetration. Hence, they do not experience orgasm during sexual intercourse. Therefore, other ways of stimulating the clitoris have to be explored.

The good news is that researchers have found that women’s ability to achieve orgasm through clitoral stimulation is not affected by age. In fact, women are equipped to experience multiple orgasms with continued stimulation. Therefore, there is a simple solution to this problem – explore and experiment with sexual touch and sexual positions to find what works.

– Physical wellbeing

Chronic illness often affects how people view themselves, their bodies, and their relationships. Research has shown that women in midlife who are suffering from a chronic illness have many concerns. They are bothered by the changes their body is undergoing, worried about meeting the needs of others, and concerned about expressing their sexual needs and desires. Hence, it is difficult to engage in sex or enjoy sex when one is preoccupied, worried, or feeling negatively about oneself.

Physical illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or cancer, are sometimes accompanied by sexual problems. However, researchers have found that couples who have had problems in their relationship or experienced sexual difficulties before the illness, are more likely to face sexual issues after the illness is diagnosed.

Sometimes, the illness itself can create sexual dysfunction when none existed earlier. For example, MS can cause sexual issues that the male partner experiences, such as, erection or ejaculation related problems. Or, the female partner may begin to experience discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse.

Common midlife health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, can also cause sexual dysfunctions. These dysfunctions are primarily experienced by men and include conditions, such as, erectile disorder.

If your sex life is being affected by a chronic illness or health condition, get help. Talk to your doctor about the impact your condition is having on your sex life. And, check out the additional resources given below that give suggestions about dealing with problems, such as, painful intercourse or erectile dysfunction. Also, seek help from a psychotherapist/psychologist to work through your relationship issues or individual issues related to the illness.

– Hormonal issues

Sex hormones play a role in men and women having satisfactory sex. A change in the level of these hormones, therefore, can take one from good sex to bad sex.

Menopause is a reality for women in midlife. Menopause, as a normal part of growing older, leads to reduced levels of the sex hormone, oestradiol (oestrogen). This sometimes affects women’s ability in midlife to experience arousal, sexual pleasure and orgasm.

Women who enter into menopause at a younger age because their ovaries have been surgically removed may also experience sexual issues. For women undergoing treatment for breast cancer, chemotherapy can also induce menopause and sexual problems.

The normal process of ageing for most men in midlife involves a reduction in the levels of testosterone. But this decline in testosterone levels that begins around age 40 occurs at a very, very slow rate. Its impact on men is, therefore, not as dramatic or significant as the impact of menopause on women.

However, for men, too, endocrine problems can lead to significantly lower levels of testosterone, which may cause sexual problems.

Please look at the additional resources section at the end of this aricle for suggestions on how to deal with sexual issues. Please also speak to your gynaecologist, if you are a woman, or urologist, if you are a man. Or, speak to an endocrinologist to figure out ways to deal with hormonal issues that may be messing up your sex life.


Physical health problems that affect one’s sex life in midlife have many solutions offered by the medical profession. Some solutions are well tested while others may be somewhat experimental. There may be pluses and minuses to the different treatment options.But, getting your sex life sorted is worth the effort.

Coming up: Part 2 of this article where the mind related issues that affect sex in midlife marriages are discussed.


Additional Resources:

Article on how women experience orgasm:

Article on the men’s genitals and possible genital problems:

Article on women’s genitals and possible problems:

Articles on how to deal with painful intercourse:

Articles on how to deal with premature ejaculation:

Articles on how to deal with erectile dysfunction:

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.


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.

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