If you have reached adulthood with your parents’ marriage still intact, you may assume they will always be married. Surely they are in the home stretch of life and love and wouldn’t know how to live without one another. Surely they wouldn’t be hiding an unhappy marriage at 50 or older, right?
At the risk of bearing bad news, perhaps you shouldn’t assume they are home free. Age and length of marriage aren’t guarantees of making it to the finish line together, especially for Baby Boomers. As a matter of fact, according to a Pew Research study, “gray divorces” — divorces among those 50 and over — have almost doubled since 1990.
Perhaps it’s not your parents whose marriage is in question. Maybe you are the one struggling with an unhappy marriage at 50. Perhaps you are deep-cleaning more than just your closets and are feeling discouraged by the clutter in your relationship, too. And if that’s the case, you may be pondering those three sorting boxes: keep, toss, repair.
Today’s marriages come with higher expectations than they once did. Couples now want more than a union based on raising children and staying with one job until retirement. They want to ride into the sunset with great sex, emotional connection, and intimacy. In short, they want it all.
An unhappy marriage at 50 or beyond, therefore, isn’t a signal for resignation. It’s a wake-up call. And the wives are more likely to be at the helm of feeling the discontent and initiating change.
Today’s middle-aged women are, after all, more independent than middle-aged women of just a generation ago. They provide (or at least share equally in) their security. They are, therefore, less likely to turn a blind eye to their marital discontent.
Mid-life crisis and unhappy marriage at 50.
A common cause of an unhappy marriage at 50 and beyond is the proverbial midlife crisis. Often the person in crisis doesn’t even realize it. It’s the spouse who feels the frustration, insecurity, and sense of something being “not right.”
A midlife crisis is often a perfect storm of a person’s awareness of aging and mortality, coinciding with recent life problems or losses. The person may feel depressed, question or regret life choices, experience boredom, or desire a new and passionate intimate relationship.
Whatever you choose to call it — a midlife crisis or an unhappy marriage at 50 — you have choices to make. Keep as is. Toss. Repair.
If you decide to stay in your relationship, you have a few options. You could keep the status quo and hope for the best. Or you could focus on the things you don’t like and continue to needle your partner to change. Finally, you could shift your focus to the positive aspects of your partner and relationship and talk about ways to enhance the quality of your connection.
The mindset you choose will determine how you navigate the bumps in the road and get through to the other side.
To reinvent your marriage, you’ll need to do an honest and thorough examination of its current condition. Next, with eyes wide open, you’ll need to compare your findings with your vision of the marriage you want.
You’re not 20 anymore, physically or emotionally. It’s okay that your relationship needs have changed. You have changed. What are your current needs, both as individuals and as a couple? Your goal is to create a relationship that is relevant to who you are today, not to who you were then.
Strategies for dealing with an unhappy marriage at 50 and beyond.
Go back to the beginning.
What made you fall in love with this person you would one day marry? What can you do to reconnect with the essence of that person?
Chances are, despite changes in physical shape, preferences, and other factors, the essence of each of you has stayed the course of time. Seek to revisit that connection and the spark that came from it.
Keep a long-term mindset.
When you are feeling at your limit of frustration or dissatisfaction, ‘til death do us part can seem like the dark side of forever. But reinventing your marriage at midlife starts with holding onto your commitment, against all the odds set up by our disposable society.
Take comfort and confidence in the fact that even the most successful marriages can attest to periods when things looked bleak.
Don’t use the “midlife crisis” term.
Steer clear of labeling that can feel diminishing. Predictable emotional transitions naturally mark this time of life, and depression and personal uncertainty can add to the difficulty.
Open up the communication lines.
Even if you don’t feel that your spouse is as committed to your marriage as you are, you can still inspire significant change by showing genuine interest in your spouse’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Adopt a stance of curiosity and listen to them like you would a friend.
Put your heart into connecting with your spouse and be open to seeing them in a new light without your assumptions of how well you know them. Try to allow room for and encourage changes and refrain from falling into the common trap of belittlement or sarcasm about their new habits, interests, or needs and wants.
You, too, will need deference and respect as you grow and change. And, ironically, you may be the one to model this behavior for your spouse as you struggle to evolve.
Give one another space.
Shift the focus to yourselves and spend time looking within yourself to identify what’s getting in the way of your contentment. Carve time out for yourself to socialize with friends, engage in a hobby, or learning something new.
Self-development and care are fundamental to your personal health, not to mention an attractive quality. And the healthiest relationships are made when two healthy individuals join together.
Ask the experts.
If you’re struggling with an unhappy marriage at 50, chances are good you didn’t arrive here overnight. It may be difficult to pinpoint how you got here or when you realized you were unhappy. It’s probably unrealistic then to expect that you will know how to reignite your marriage.
What subjects are best to tackle? What’s the most effective way to approach delicate matters? How do you prioritize topics, so you don’t get overwhelmed? What if you suspect infidelity? What if you aren’t allowing yourself to feel all your feelings? How are you supposed to know what you want? What if the two of you don’t want the same things anymore?
Now is the perfect time to consider a marriage retreat weekend to jumpstart your marriage’s return to vitality.
By immersing yourself in an intensive format, you can relax into the assurance that you are emotionally safe and expertly guided to explore significant areas in your relationship. You will have the bipartisan interaction of a husband-wife therapy team to validate and balance concerns unique to each gender.
It’s the best way to make the right decision for the right reasons and to reframe your perspective of your relationship and get guidance to redesign your relationship based on changing needs and wants..
If you’re struggling with an unhappy marriage at 50, take heart and know that you’re not alone.
Midlife brings about intense questioning, the awareness our time on this earth is limited, and the emergent, strong desire to use the remaining time wisely.
Knowing that your questions and yearnings are natural can help bring you together as allies in the journey. Instead of seeing your discontent as caused by your relationship, your unhappiness may be a stepping stone in your evolution, your spouse’s evolution, and the evolution of your relationship. Your discontent may be a message for you to look more profoundly and turn out to be the first step in a journey of rediscovery.