Too many times in my experience and the experience of many of my marriage and family therapy colleagues, a middle-aged couple (40s to 65-ish) will present for marital counseling, and the husband will be shocked to discover his wife is done. These couples often come for counseling at the husband’s initiative, a reversal of the usual pattern of wives requesting counseling. Too often, the wife has agreed to counseling in order to find support for her husband in dealing with the ending of a marriage she has already left emotionally.
This is a cautionary tale of all middle-aged men who make the fatal mistake of taking their marriage for granted. Look in the mirror! What are you doing to nurture and enliven your marriage?
Here are some areas to consider:
- Your appearance:
Yes, we all age. That is part of the blessing of still being alive.However, taking care of our bodies, keeping ourselves relatively healthy and attractive, has a direct effect on our relationship.
A noted marriage and family researcher, John Gottman, has said, Foreplay begins in the kitchen. The sharing of household task builds the bond and trust in a marriage. No woman wants to take care of a middle aged teenager who prefers laying on the couch to sharing in household responsibilities. Not sharing in chores leads to resentment and emotional distance.
- Being present:
Do we make ourselves available for conversation, meals, walks, and dates? Are we available in times of difficulty and stress? Or do we escape into television, alcohol or reclusive activities that deny our spouse companionship? Being present is necessary for healthy marriage.
Is our general demeanor and outlook on life and other people positive? Do we create a negative and critical atmosphere that drives others away, including our partner? Negativity is not attractive!
- Connection with others:
Have we developed and maintained friendships that encourage and support us so that our spouse does not feel sole responsibility for our well-being? Couples need friends in their lives who provide healthy and life-giving relationship.
- Spiritual growth:
Do we have a connection to something beyond ourselves that sustains us and encourages our attitude, our behavior and our hope for the future? Spiritual life can be a rich resource for our marital experience.
All of these issues deserve our consideration and continued attention. Marriage requires us to take care of ourselves and our relationship in a consistent and connected way. When we do this, we will reap the benefits of a vibrant and healthy marriage where we will be aware of the clues our partner sends us and we can respond in ways that create fulfilling marriage for each of us.