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?
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