By Sarah Tolmie
“I think my husband is having a classic ‘mid–life crisis’. He is unhappy in his work. Looking at distractions. Taking up cycling even! I am just waiting for the sports car. I feel distant from him and angry.”
I can really hear the hurt and frustration in your words. Maybe I can hear an unspoken “but what about me?”, or “I am here, why doesn’t he reach out for me?”. Or it could even be, “I have worries and fears too, but I don’t have the luxury to be so selfish”. These would be valid and legitimate reactions, and yet, if were they voiced that way, I am sure there would be conflict. However, if they are not voiced somehow, the resentment will brew.
It may take different forms and manifestations but the mid–life moment happens to many many people, and not just men. And not just at mid–life. In my couple therapy practice I work with many couples at crossroads, crises and transition points in their lives that create relationship tension, conflict, confusion and resentment. This can be unwanted, or even wanted, changes in health, career, finances, relationship etc.
When it becomes most problematic is when couples can’t talk about it and share their feelings and experiences together. This can lead to unilateral decisions being made and actions taken that don’t consider, consult and care for the other.
In every and any relationship dynamic there is always an ongoing and natural tension between the needs of each individual and the shared needs of the couple. Add to that energetic allocation, the needs of the children and greater family unit, and you can see how it becomes a delicate ecosystem of continual change, negotiation and prioritising.
When we arrive at mid–life, what can often happen is our time frees up. Children are older, work and career might be more comfortable, and suddenly we can think about ourselves again. As we stare down the next half of our life, a ‘reckoning’ can take place. “Am I happy?” “What’s next for my life?”.
What I remind my couples is that they have a dual responsibility. A responsibility to the wellbeing and authenticity of the self (the ME) and an equally important responsibility to their partner and the relationship, (the WE). The best way to traverse change and challenge is to continue to share unfolding changes and your experience with your partner. Communicate your feelings and needs. Invite them into understanding what is going on for you. Cultivate a shared space to understand each other.
Sometimes, yes, we will need to re–evaluate our lives and make changes. It is OK to take time for yourself and immerse in a time of rediscovery of self and create a ‘next phase’ in your life, but don’t forget to bring your partner along for the journey with you. That is not to say it is easy. You will have to negotiate new needs and, yes, the road might be bumpy. You must not relinquish your relationship agreements. You can still honour your “journey” but that does not mean you stop consulting, communicating and considering the impact to your partner.
For you ‘dearly beloved’, I would invite you to sit and listen to understand your husband’s unhappiness. Honour and attend to his feelings as real and try to understand his experience and what he might need. Ask how you can support him and also, share with him how it feels for you to be left out. Ask also for what you need too. Find a way to share this together.
There may be a middle path where crisis and change can be met with creativity and collaboration. There may be wonderful transformations for you both, and your relationship.
Sarah Tolmie – Life & Love: Sarah is a marriage therapist, life & love and relationship coach, end–of–life consultant, an independent and bespoke funeral director and holistic celebrant. She provides holistic care, mentoring, guidance, healing and transformation for individuals, couples and families at their most important times of life & love – at end–of–life, in love & relationship, and in ritual and celebration. Sarah has a relationship online course for couples called “Creating a Miracle Marriage” and a free resource and video series for families facing dying, death and grief called “Landscapes of Life & Love and Loss”. To find out more, visit www.sarahtolmie.com.au.