Independent feature, 8th August, 2023 - Midlife Marriage MOT
Aug 09, 2023
The kids have grown, retirement is still a distant vista and while you perhaps don’t have to go as far as redoing your vows, saying ‘I do want this now for our marriage’ is a healthy thing to do.
“I was scared that I’d lose my marriage because I wasn’t prepared to live the rest of my life the way we’d functioned to raise our children,” says Patsy (57) about when her kids had left home. “We were on such different pages it took a lot of work to give us this new marriage we now have.”
The choices, changes and challenges of midlife can profoundly affect a marriage, perhaps no more so than when the kids grow up. It may be no surprise that many separations are instigated at this stage in what is called an ‘empty nest divorce’.
“I was always the chief organiser, and with four under six, it was a really busy, exhausting time,” explains Patsy. “As the kids became more independent, I just reached a stage I was ready to make some time for myself.”
It’s a challenge that many couples face when the co-parenting partnership dynamic that bound you as a team for 20 years is no longer the main focus of your relationship.
For Patsy, she quickly realised there was no new shared vision. Married in 1991, they had quickly developed the necessary dynamic to raise four kids and run a family business.
“I was business manager and had done extensive post-grad degrees and training and worked really hard. I longed for a significant change of pace once the children grew up but my husband never saw it coming. So there was definitely no shared vision.
“We ended up at loggerheads and it caused endless arguments and deep unhappiness. I realised if I didn’t have an idea myself what I would like for this next phase of my life, how could I even begin to discuss change with him?
“So I invested time in some coaching to really get to grips with what shape I wanted my life, as well as my marriage, to take in the next new years.”
There is always a risk, of course, that two people will want different things. But talking about your expectations allows you to identify any differences and then work to solve them rather than live in the friction of mismatched assumptions.
“For a long time we weren’t communicating properly,” says Patsy. “He somehow thought that I was rejecting him. I had to actually write him a letter explaining I was leaving our business, not him, that we had built a fantastic life together, raised four wonderful people, had a lot of fun doing all that, that we have a unique and wonderful connection and that I wanted very much for us to find the fun, dynamic relationship we once had. I wanted out of that old rut, not out of our relationship.
“It was so hard, but eventually he understood. After all these years, we’re still a work in progress and always will be. It’s forgetting that, that can cause the problems. We drive each other nuts but I could so easily have thrown away the best thing in my life because we didn’t take the time to figure out what’s next for us both, and our marriage.”
With perhaps 20 years of vibrant living still ahead after the main family-forming function has eased, it’s important to strive to thrive as individuals, as well as regroup as a couple. Rather than a drift, there has to be an active willingness to move forward together, and develop a new shared vision for you as a couple.
“We met when we were 18, and got married at 23,” says Jo Geaney (67), an artist from Nenagh, Co Tipperary. “Forty-four years later, we’re still evolving, which is what makes it so interesting, I think.
“Like most couples, the first part of our marriage focussed on paying the mortgage and raising a family. We had two boys half raised when we had another son 10 years later.
“I’d always wanted to go to art college but wasn’t accepted when I first applied at 18 and then marriage and the kids arrived. I ran my own fashion boutique for nearly 20 years and my husband Michael was busy working for the HSE.
“But as the youngest got older, I decided it was now or never to pursue my dreams. Michael really encouraged me and so at 48 I quit my job and went to art college for a four-year degree course. When we got married, we worked as a team as we juggled our jobs and kids.
“We’ve always been busy people and so when this new stage of life arrived, we just kept the same dynamic but changed the focus of our energy from raising a family to raising a new business: my art.
“Michael retired from the HSE and switched his skill set to helping me out with the business side.
“We both travel together delivering to exhibitions and festivals and after working so hard for so many years we’re really enjoying our time together.
One way is to think about what percentage of your time do you want to spend on yourself, the family, and on each other.
This could look like 20pc on the former family unit, 30pc on you — your health, passions, work — and 50pc on a new shared vision as a couple. There is no wrong answer as long as you both can find a similar equation.
“The transition was easy because we kept really busy,” says Jo.
“This is the best time of my life for me personally because I’m doing what I love and with Michael helping, we’ve created a really successful business.”
As we gear up to celebrate 25 years of marriage-seekingBridget Jones(the first film in the series,Bridget Jones’s Diary, was released in 2001), we now get to redefine marriage in light of an extended midlife.
As Bridget’s mother, so bored in her marriage she ran off with the tanned home-shopping presenter, said: “I feel like the grasshopper who sang all summer, and now it’s the winter of my life and I haven’t stored up anything of my own.”
Now we get to sing for longer, so with the family-rearing focus finished, marriages need to be able to let individuals sing, as well as come up with a new joint chorus.
“We went into marriage not knowing what it would entail and we’re still discovering and that’s what makes it so interesting,” says Jo.
“If you thrive as individuals, you become better partners.”
Check in with where you are first as an individual and decide what you need next.
Communication is key. You need to be clear about your expectations of each other and where you each want to invest your energy as individuals, as a couple and as a family.
Ask who you need to be to attract the partner you want, as much as who do you need them to be.
Alana Kirk is The Midlife Coach and author of ‘Midlife, Redefined: Better, Bolder, Brighter’. See themidlifecoach.org
Jo’s art can be found at josephinegeaneyartist.com