Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Who Did I Marry Anyway?!

Titles can be incredibly misleading. While some are intended to be that way, others are just the result of sloppy craftsmanship. This one was intentional…but it wasn’t personal. I simply wanted to point out that some couples find themselves married to someone quite different from the person they first met and fell in love with years earlier.

I’ve been lucky. For any number of reasons, not the least of which is my wife’s enduring patience, I’ve been married for forty-two plus years and it’s still going strong. I married a very intelligent people-savvy woman who continues to challenge my lifestyle, my writing and other associated idiosyncrasies. But for us it works and remains part of the chemistry that has held us together for all these years.

Over that time I’ve changed and evolved and a few might even suggest gotten a little more mature. I don’t claim credit for that latter accomplishment if it is true. I just grew older and continued my quest for lifelong fulfillment in a plethora of different areas. Perhaps if I were Native American it would be called my ‘vision quest.’

Luckily for me that fulfillment came in the form of child-rearing, writing, entrepreneurship, running, real estate and other sundry areas of interest. As I changed or recharged my areas of interest, my wife continued her own subjective host of activities and work/family involvements. Somehow it all worked out for the both of us. 

But that isn’t always the case for other couples.

This is the first generation whose retirement could outlast their working years. Many couples are not aware that they could well face another thirty years or more of retirement. It’s a whole new world out there for many couples and a lot of them aren’t prepared for it.

What I’ve witnessed over the last couple of years is a gradual growing apart of some couples or the stagnation of one partner at the expense of the other. Negotiating midlife together is a challenge. It can become a totally clouded vision when the partners are psychologically in different places in their respective lives. It’s sad to watch but fascinating none the less.

What was once cute and quirky in a partner is now a refusal to grow up or reluctance to admit that age and gravity are working against us. Perhaps it is one partner accepting their senior position in life while the other isn’t ready to give up quite yet. People change and evolve and not always in the same direction.

We used to have a handy label for it. We called it a midlife Crisis. But the fact is that only 10 to 26 percent of adults over 40 report having a midlife crisis. Perhaps midlife transition is a better moniker for the changes many adult couples are going through. Not surprisingly many of those changes facing both men and women are the result of physical, social and psychological issues associated with aging.

Many folks, especially men, use middle-age as a turning point for re-evaluating their life thus far. Too often reflecting on regrets of what could or should have been, they wonder how the second half of life might be different this time around. I did that with My Lost Years and then again In the Company of Old Men.

Amazon lists over 2000 books dealing with midlife. Men and women often navigate their middle years in different ways with different needs and challenges. It seems inevitable that for married couples the impact they have on each other is going to be dramatic.

Aside from the easily identifiable issues facing anyone who is aging, I think there is another issue many couples as well as individuals are unaware of and in many cases, totally oblivious to. That is the gradual erosion of meaningful activities in their lives. I tried to address that issue in my blog The Living Dead. But I also gave credence to a wonderful example of just the opposite in Sister Dorothy and the Myth of Catholicism.

The desert is full of retirees whose idea of a full day is visiting the post office, the supermarket, cards at the senior center and then an evening in front of the boob tube. It’s a life devoid of passion for anything beyond the evening news and repetitive sports reports
Many of these men are especially lost without their name badge and desk title to remind them of who they really were back then. Today they are just another statistic mad at the world for growing old. At first I thought their actions were quite out of character until they spoke of growing up with the feeling that something was lacking in their lives. 

I know several men who are still trying to prove to their fathers that they are worthy sons…except that their fathers have been deceased for a very long time now. I know of daughters who want to be worthy of their mother’s affections and not yet can’t accept the fact that there was no affection to give on their mother’s part…to anyone.

Swedish Psychologist, Eric Erikson in his well-regarded eight stages of psychological development seemed to confirm this observation. His studies confirm that some people carry unresolved issues from earlier stages in their lives to their later years. Being able to let go of the past is the first step in embracing the future. 

Finding one’s passion should be the goal for all of us. Settling for less should not be an option.

“Hope is both the earliest and most indispensable virtue inherent in the stage of being alive. If life is to be sustained hope must remain even where confidence is wounded and trust impaired.”
         Erik Erikson

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