Changes in our Partnerships
By Jennifer Wright
It has been said that midlife for women is a time of regretting what they have not done, while for men, midlife is about regretting what they have done. Midlife is a time of reflection, contemplation, questions,
and change for women. When women say to me, “What's the big deal about midlife? I don’t see anything different,” I respond with, "Perhaps you're good at denying." Every woman’s journey is her own. As a coach specializing in this generation of women, I accept women where
they are. One of the most significant areas of change for women at midlife is that of their connections, which is related both to the changes in their roles and to their recognition of their unlived life.
Connections, or our relationships, are what define women. These must change for us at midlife if we are to transition to that next step of creating the vision and action for “what next.” All our relationships or
connections with others change, the most obvious being those with our children who grow up and become adults, and those with our parents who grow old and may need us to care for them. Changes to our partnership relationships can be just as profound; however, these are often
not spoken about as the changes are more internal and less obvious.
Our generation statistically has not looked good “on paper” when it comes to marriage/partnership relationships. Forty percent of us are divorced at least once and some of us are on our second
and third marriages. Our culture’s judgment of failed relationships reminds me of the medical model that judges death as a failure and life as success. Success and failure in health and in marriage/partnerships is not so clear-cut as that implies. That grey area of
in-between is where changes occur as we women come to midlife. Kathleen Brehony writes in Awakening at Midlife, “Marital conflict, boredom, affairs, separation, and divorces are common throughout the life cycle of adults, but they occur with the greatest frequency at
midlife and often serve as a primary impetus to the psychological changes of midlife passage. While the image of the husband trading in his wife for a younger model is common, it is the changes in women that are not so well known."
The boomer generation of women has, for the most part, provided care-giving, nurturing, support, and self-sacrifice for our families. We learned how to do this as young women from the examples
in our culture, including our parents, teachers, and religious systems. However, as the women’s rights movement triggered changes in our culture, we were affected in many ways, some not so positive. Suddenly care-giving, nurturing, and support were not so valuable and
instead we were encouraged to be successful in careers. We educated ourselves and took on this success mandate with fervor. Then we married men who had been raised by the same “mother” as we were. Our husbands expected us to nurture, support, and be subordinate. In their
experience, there was no other “model.” This was especially the case as we brought children into the world. Most of us had to juggle the demands of motherhood with the demands of a career. All of us paid a price. We either forfeited our careers or we left our children
behind, and most women did the former. Some of us moved to places away from our extended family or to locations unfriendly to us in order to support our husband’s career. We gave up friends, hobbies, and other interests in order to both work and care for family and home.
Now, at midlife, many women can feel an incredible resentment as we celebrate each new birthday, see wrinkles in the mirror, and consider where we are. Christiane Northrup describes this well
in The wisdom of menopause, “The emotional changes that come about in the years leading up to and during menopause can feel earthshaking and even terrifying, and particularly for those of us who are accustomed to thinking we’re in control. It’s one thing to resist
change from some external force, it’s quite another when the change is coming from within, and everything you cling to that’s comfortable in its familiarity, including your very identity is metamorphosing from the inside out.” She goes on to say that we can ignore this “call
for truth and creative expression” with "disastrous consequences for our health,” or we can hear the call and create our own midlife truth.
What does it mean to hear the call and create our own midlife truth? First of all, it means that we need to live honestly, fully, and healthfully. We need to stop “stuffing”—stifling our own
needs in order to tend to everybody else. In order to do this, we must change our relationships, including our connections with our partners.
As we at midlife gain the sense of who we really are, we can take back the projections of our needs, our ideas of what romantic love should be, and become responsible for our own self
development. Kathleen Brehony writes, “This notion of (romantic) love as ideal and perfect contains the principles of chivalry, bravery, honor, purity. This image does not leave any room for the reality of relationships or life together. At midlife, especially, it cannot
hold the reality of an aging knight and princess." Even in the absence of infidelity, separation, or divorce, at midlife many marriages suffer for a deeply-felt boredom and staleness. Taking ownership of our own projections onto our mates allows us to see them as real human
beings. This is a process and is gradual, not overnight. Here are some ways to get started.
- Journal your process of self-discovery. Recognize that this is your own. Pay attention to your
dreams. Take time to consider your story. You may need to ask your partner for support in allowing you time away or time alone, or taking on some of your responsibilities, in order to do this. I find that this happens often in my six-day adventures with
women in New Zealand. Many are questioning their partnerships and have negotiated this time away to do their own self-discovery.
- Communicate. Know that as you change, so does the world and those who live around you. As our
internal world changes, so then our outer world changes. We often assume that others know that we are changing and what we want. Because we, as women, have lived our lives anticipating the needs of others, we think our partners will do the same.
Unfortunately, after years of doing things a particular “way,” our partners don’t automatically know what we want and may even resist change. We need to have open dialog with our partners to let them know what is happening and also what we would like from
them. As John Gray espouses in his Mars/Venus work, men do want to do things to make their women happy. The problem is, men need to know what to do, and very clearly. They often give up because they don’t know what is needed and they don’t mind-read
like women do.
- Nurture your relationship. I always say that it is hard to be mad as someone you are having fun
with. Create ways in which you can enjoy yourself as a couple. Take a day trip where you have never gone before. Cook together with a new recipe and ingredients. Take dance lessons. The sky is the limit. The key is to rediscover and love this new
- Deal with your own baggage. Most of us enter our relationships with baggage from our past,
especially those of us who are in our second or third relationships. Make a commitment to resolve these issues through your own inner work, or by hiring a coach or counselor.
- Accept what is. This can be the hardest part. When we begin to really see who we are and
discover what we want, and discover who our partners are and what they can do and can’t, we might find that we have a mismatch. What kept us together might have been children, a business, or even the projection onto one another of someone else or someone
we used to be. We now must see each other in our “nakedness.” One of the gifts of age is wisdom. With wisdom, we do not act in haste, but in ways that can see “three directions at once,” the past, present, and future as they impact our connected
partnership. We understand the implications of finances, health, family, and other elements in our lives as we step forward. The answer for each of us is ours and ours alone.
©Copyright 2007 Jennifer Wright, MidlifeAdventure.com. All Rights Reserved.
Jennifer Wright, “Mid-Life Spirit of Adventure Guide
for Women” coaches women globally in over-40 transitions
of mid-crisis, pre-retirement, empty nest, career
change, and workplace adaptations. Her
company, www.midlifeadventure.com was
profiled in the May 16 TIME cover story, Female Mid-Life
Crisis. Visit her and sign up for free newsletter and teleclasses.
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