Marriage Changes You, Too

If it's been a long time since you've taken stock of your marital relationship, be brave but also be gentle when you begin the process. Resist the urge to look only at your partner's perceived deficiencies. In other words, don't project your fears or feelings onto him. “He says the same things over and over” is not a constructive beginning.

Instead, start by looking at yourself. If you find your conversations becoming repetitive, ask yourself, are you secretly afraid that you've become predictable and boring? Then go further and search for parts of you that may be stuck, where you're afraid to allow change or growth to occur.

One of the most important blessings of long-term marriage is the opportunity it affords two people to assist each other in making personal and spiritual growth. It can also provide a buffer between you and the outside world that inhibits this sort of individual evolution.

With the demands of children and managing a household it's easy to rationalize maintaining the status quo of a relationship that may have long ago become stagnant — meaning the marriage remains safe but not exciting or challenging to either of you.

This stasis can last as long as the two partners remain complicit in keeping it so, or until one “falls in love” with someone else, or a loss befalls one or both of you in the form of illness or the death of a child or another loved one.

Or, if you're lucky, your “wake-up call” comes in the form of a more gentle push, such as the departure of the last child from the family home or a retirement, or better yet, the inspiration of one of you to make a change.

The Midlife Married Woman

As a woman makes the transition from her forties into the fifties, she makes a biological shift into menopause, a change often accompanied by a major psychological transformation. If she lived most of her life as a people-pleaser, focused on her relationships, she may get caught up in a new interest, or find a cause to make all her own.

For some women, this is the time to focus 100 percent on career goals, or start a small business. As Gail Sheehy puts it, a midlife woman enters her “feisty fifties,” and then her “selective sixties,” both reflecting a shift from being other focused to a new emphasis on self-mastery.

The Midlife Married Man

Are midlife women less interested in sex?

No, not necessarily. Counter to this widespread myth, a 1999 survey of women of different age groups found that of the 31 percent of women who reported low sexual desire, 64 percent were under the age of 39. Among women in their fifties, the number who reported a low sexual desire dropped to 27 percent.

Again, according to Gail Sheehy and other researchers, the midlife man also undergoes major physical and psychological transformations. With the drop in his testosterone level, a 50-something male wants and needs sex less often. Many men report finding this shift a relief from the constant urge to be sexual, an opportunity to invest emotionally in relationships and other interests. To many female partners of men going through this change of life, these are welcome shifts.

However, it's also true that while many 50-something women are revving up for a new more ambitious stage of life and work, their male partners are in a downshifting mode, anticipating time off, travel, and more attention from their partners. For the long-time married couple these are significant individual changes that can have a huge impact on your relationship.

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