I have noticed a trend lately, in which divorces are instigated by educated individuals in their 40’s. The profile of the 40-something I am describing looks something like this:
– Got married in their 20’s, sometime after completing college;
– Focused on career development after marriage;
– After becoming established in a profession, began to have children in their early 30’s;
– Gave primary attention and focus to their young children through early adolescence (typically the wife/mother) but may also have continued to focus on career advancement;
-If one spouse is the primary wage earner, they will have focused on career advancement, many times, by putting in long hours at the office.
Unfortunately, babies and work strain forced the marriage to take a back seat. By the time a couple fitting the above-referenced description have time to make their relationship a priority, like they did in their 20’s, the marriage may be broken down beyond repair. Once the children are old enough to be self-sufficient, somewhere in their teens, the couple has hit their 40’s and may feel the need to re-assess their life. For the first time in well over a decade, both parties may feel an urge to consider their own needs more closely.
I had a client, fitting the above description in my office recently. This client told me that the husband she was divorcing, the father of her children was what she considered her “starter husband.” Sounds a bit harsh, I know. But upon further examination, is it really that far off for those who marry young, begin careers and then have babies? Honestly, what do you know when you get out of college? You yourself are still a kid. Is it any wonder then, that as we mature, our needs mature as well? Should we be making a decision at such a tender age that will impact us for the rest of our lives and assume that growth won’t change us? A life that could last 70 plus years after we say “I Do”? Sounds sort of crazy if, you think about it.
People of past generations, as recent as 50 years ago, married early because they died earlier. The age of a person at marriage is impacted by life expectancy. Marriage also was founded on a survival mode. Spouses provided comfort and protection in more primitive times. But our needs in the 21st century are much different than the needs of past generations. We don’t need a spouse for protection and we are all living much longer. But despite these facts, about sixty percent of the U.S. population marries before the age of 30.
After raising a family and establishing a career, I think many people are looking for an emotional connection with their spouse that may cease to exist beyond two people sharing a home for a couple of decades and raising children. Connection – a real heart-felt connection – is what is often missing from the marriages I describe. The lack of connection is often accompanied by a breakdown in communication between the couple. The parties sleep walk along, feeling dissatisfied, frustrated and unhappy, yet they can’t quite determine the cause of their angst. Sadly, many who experience this problem end up having affairs, as they are vulnerable to the attentions of others and quickly become addicted to the excitement and passion a new romance can bring. The affair often times is just the catalyst that brings to light just how troubled the marriage is.
If the above scenario even remotely sounds like your marriage, here are some thoughts that might be of help:
-Find a great marriage counselor. Interview several, if necessary, until you find one that seems to understand your predicament and the crisis your marriage is in. Obviously, both you and your spouse must be on board with this idea. If your marriage does end in divorce, you will gain a better understanding of your husband/wife’s perspective and be better co-parents as a result;
-Take space and time. It took a long time for your marriage to break down – it will therefore take a long time to repair as well. There are no short-cuts or quick fixes;
-Communicate, communicate, communicate! Say the hard things and ask the hard questions. Don’t be so concerned about the outcome and lose focus of the importance of the process. It is incredible how liberating it will feel to be completely honest. No matter how scary it feels, speak the truth;
-Expect to feel pain from your spouse and cause pain as well. This is normal and you can get through it to the other side. Pain is a part of life that we all dread but must experience in order to learn and move on;
– Check the balance of power. Has the balance between you and your spouse become way out-of- whack? Do you still respect each other? Your relationship will not be a good one in the future, whether or not you stay married, if you do not have basic respect for one another;
-Develop ways to recreate intimacy – this is really hard and will require you to take the steps listed above first; and
Finally, give yourself a break, breathe deep and know you have begun a process that, if followed, will ultimately lead to greater peace and happiness for you, your husband or wife and your children.