Why so many relationships break down in middle age

February 19, 2019 3 min read 5 Comments

Between the changes that occur naturally in your body and the transition that involves moving beyond the intense years of child-rearing, it can feel like everything is changing at midlife. You may notice that some of your long-held relationships aren’t as satisfying as they once were.There are four reasons why relationships break down at midlife.

1. Your focus has shifted.

During the intense child rearing years, your focus was likely on your home and family—your “private world”—regardless of whether you worked outside the home. As your children fledge, you have the time and energy to pursue or achieve something in the “outer world,” whether that’s advancing your career or having time to explore the world around you. Ironically, at midlife men often turn from creating in the outside world (through their careers) to focusing more on their family and home life. You want to travel, and your husband wants to (finally) stay home and cuddle! It’s easy to see how you could grow in different directions. As you begin to spread your wings, it’s important to skillfully navigate your transformation.This will keep you from sacrificing your marriage or other important relationships. If you’d like your roles, interests, and responsibilities to change, communicate openly before making any unilateral decisions.This will help you move forward together.

2. You've decided to make yourself a priority.

When you’re young and just starting out you have dreams for yourself and the life you’d like to live. As you enter into a committed relationship, and perhaps start a family, it’s natural to make compromises and sacrifices for those you love. For example, you may have been happy to put your career on hold to be home with your children full time.

But after making compromises for two or three decades, it’s natural to want to put your hopes and dreams at the top of your priority list.This may be uncomfortable—even scary—at first. Remember, your midlife transformation presents an opportunity for tremendous personal growth.It’s a developmental stage that, it is as significant as puberty! Take time to figure out what is most important to you now. You deserve it.

3. The relationship doesn't serve you like it once did.

Some relationships are strong throughout your lifetime, but others don’t support you the way they once did. This is true of your relationship to your spouse, friends, work, and even the relationship you have with your body. Think about your body’s resilience as an analogy. You may have been able to run on little sleep, adding a little caffeine or sugar to get you through the afternoon slump when you were younger. Now, suddenly, it seems like your body and mind protest (sometimes with hot flashes, other times with mood issues) at the slightest misuse. As you transition to your wisdom years, it makes sense to examine what’s working and what isn’t in all aspects of your life.Do you have less tolerance for energy vampires, “Debbie downers,” or demanding friends? Evaluate which relationships you want to nurture and keep and which you’re ready to slowly let go of, and why.

4. Your transformation creates conflict or discord in your relationship

While you may be excited to pursue new interests and experiences, your friends and relatives may see your transformation as a fundamental change to the relationship’s dynamic. Let’s say you’ve lost 40 pounds after developing new eating habits. While your mom and sister may be thrilled that you’ve taken steps to support your health, they may not be ready to give up your girls’ movie night, which usually includes hot caramel popcorn and lots of chocolate. Although others may resist, you can pave the way for change by making a suggestion that’s equally or more satisfying than your typical routine. Keep movie night but swap the caramel popcorn for air-popped and serve organic strawberries dipped in dark chocolate instead of the jumbo bag of Peanut M&Ms. Instead of feeling coerced, your family will feel like they’re part of your exciting journey.

While it’s true that some relationships break down at midlife, don’t let that keep you from fully experiencing your wisdom years. Evaluate which relationships are working, which support you best as you explore new interests and make yourself a priority. Yes, some relationships will fall by the wayside, but as you emerge from this powerful transition, you’ll find that you attract more satisfying relationships than ever. 

How have your relationships changed through the years? How have you preserved your friendships as you grow and change? What kinds of relationships will best support you in this phase of your life?


5 Responses

Lucy
Lucy

March 30, 2020

I am 55 and go about stunning myself n others. Because I look youthful , my dating spectrum can be very wide. I've always Loved change of people, places n things. I am also the youngest of a once large family , although I was mostly raised as an only child due to a large gap in age with my siblings. I was raised by two loving parents in NY, PR , NJ. I raised two Sons, Completed my Masters Degree and worked in social services n psychology for 20 years. I've suffered severe family loss , yet my Own health is good. All These Wheels Play About My Life Simultaneously. I Have Guilt if I Focus on Me….so I put effort to move lovingly with Me. I Wonder About True Love Now More Than Ever (as a young woman I was never in the grips of jealousy, sorrow or Deadbeat dude behaviors / side chick drama ). I worked, lived, played and moved… TODAY I Choose 2 move Differently. If I trip on Old Age schemes, Prejudices or self rejection…..I Spin Off Opportunities anew and Live presently fully. I Am Listening to Me a lot More. My Courage is Stronger and my Forgiveness Greater. I Am Looking Forward to Building A Family Farm House, Sharing Life with Family & Friends and Traveling around the Planet. Thank you God !

Joan Maxwell
Joan Maxwell

March 30, 2020

Really nice, helpful information. I figured out most of this on my own, but I would have loved this in my 30s, 40s, and 50s. I am 66. It has been a journey, especially negotiating the early deaths, for me, of my parents: my dad when I was 26 and my mom when I was 30. Also I think I became peri-menopausal at 27…so much to negotiate in a lifetime. I really am looking forward to the soon return of Jesus. Your vaginal moisturizer has saved my life the last three years…although it is very expensive for a school teacher in my area… I thank you. Nothing else helped at all. I am now going to pursue the laser therapy if possible. The pain is just more than I can bare, and I must still work to survive. I am hoping medicare will help pay. I can't help but wonder if any of this could have been circumvented sooner. I have lived together with my husband in what I would describe as more of a roommate situation for 30 years. Initially, he promised we could have one child, but then reneged. Suddenly, he no longer wanted to sleep in the same bed. I had little interest because of the pain. I bet there are multitudes of people out there who have needed help so much sooner, who just put up because they were embarrassed like me. Again, from the multitudes who won't speak…thank you.

Terry
Terry

March 30, 2020

I love all of the information you provide to us. I always look forward to reading your emails. You bring a special beauty to the aging process and you are an inspiration, Dr. Northrop. I am 54 and still making myself a priority as I always have. I have never had a problem doing that and I feel very fortunate because of it. I didn't want to have children and instead pursued a really exciting career in service to others and have spent significant time traveling the world with my husband. As I near retirement in my first career, I am gearing up for my second career which involves learning and developing new skills. I find that pursuing new passions, learning new things, and staying curious about life is what is keeping me young at heart. And your wonderful Pueraria Mirifica Plus has helped with all of my physical menopause symptoms. The 50s is a beautiful time in life. Financial security, not sweating the small stuff, boundary-setting, and the permission to truly be who we are without caring what others think are all huge benefits of mid-life. It just seems to get better and better with age. I have had to break up with old habits that I used to be able to get away with (indulgence in bread and wine) to keep extra pounds off, but I have accepted my "new" metabolism and know it is all a part of our wonderful journey. Like Eckhardt Tolle says …resisting what "is" is the biggest form of human suffering." Thank you for all you do for us Dr. Northrop and for your inner and outer beauty.

Kimberly
Kimberly

March 30, 2020

Make yourself a priority. When you do start to be honest with yourself and take care of you everything changes. You find yourself not allowing your time to be consumed by the emotional vampires in your life and let your mind be free. What a wonderful feeling it is!

Chris Berardino
Chris Berardino

March 30, 2020

I am 66 years old and my fiance and I are going to move to Maui from a lifetime in CA. I have 3 children but my daughter, in particular, is very upset with me. We only see each other every couple of months as it is because she lives about 2 hours away but I have told her she can stay with us any time and I will visit CA. We have had a tumultuous relationship the last 4 or so years due to her perceived ideas of things I have done wrong.. We've been mending the relationship and she feels that I am deserting her now. I have a disabled daughter, due to a car accident 22 years ago who lives with her dad and a son. I am a retired teacher and have spent my life in service. I am ready to finally enjoy my life but am feeling tremendous guilt, mostly because of my daughter. Any suggestions?

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