Marriage/Till Death Do Us Part? The Final Countdown/Part 3

Is marriage in today’s American society still “till death do us part?” We have been exploring the critical mass point that most American married couples face when they reach the middle years of their lives…. You can call it the empty nest syndrome, you can call it the mid life crisis, often it is a fatal combination of these two super emotional events, but it IS real and it does exist as a real life issue to be dealt with…This is the 3rd and final installment on this thorny but all too common problem….

Statistically, over 50% of all marriages end in divorce, and remarriages have an even more dismal failure rate…There are many reasons for this, but the primary one is that the couples who once vowed undying love for each other in their youthful passion have drifted apart over the years of marriage and child raising and now no longer barely speak or hardly recognize each other…It is like they are living with a stranger, somebody that they used to know…

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Portrait of a young unhappy African American couple lying on the bed and arguingaacouplesfighting

Suddenly, they are face to face with each other for the first time since that first child was born, since before they plunged headlong into the maelstrom of pregnancy, the birth of that balance tipping, relationship altering first child, any subsequent pregnancies and children, the frantic madness of balancing the children’s needs with the relentless pressure of work world, the scheduling of day care and babysitters, plunging into a whole new life style…

Things do tend to slow down after the children start going to grade school, there is a return to a semblance of normalcy, a schedule, a pattern, a routine starts to settle in, but it is still not the routine the married couple had when they first got together, when all they had to do was please each other….In most American families, the children’s needs and desires always come first, and for many husbands, as the secondary care givers, this is often seen as a symbol of rejection….

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It is precisely at this emotional low point, this lack of attention to each other-after all, there are only 24 hours in a day- that couples that want to stay together need to rely on, confide in, and trust each other the most…If they do not do this early enough, they begin the slow and inexorable slide towards drifting apart that will explode in their faces at the mid life point…

If, on the other hand, both parents make a concerted effort to be mutually supportive caregivers to their children, to share the upbringing of their children, as well as to reserve a little private space for each other, then the marriage becomes what it should be…A joint venture, an investment of time, emotion, trust and love, and then they will be more able to weather the rigors of the children leaving the house and being back together, alone again…

If they have kept their emotional attachment strong, vital and healthy, if they have truly shared each others feelings and been there for each other in the inevitable times of stress and the ups and downs of everyday life, then they will not only be able to weather the storm, but they will also be able to rejoice together at a job well done….Marriage is a joint venture, and that definitely includes the sudden emergence and the subsequent accommodations that children bring into the house….

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The children should be a source of joy and pride to both parents, and if they are shown love and affection and a demonstration of consistent, even handed, fair minded strong parental team work by both parents as an example of how to live and comport themselves, they will themselves be more likely to become strong, healthy independent adults…

And isn’t that the point of marriage? Some of the most loving, intimate moments in a married couple’s lives are time shared together as a family, whether it be an extravagant trip to Disney World or a weekly stroll in the park every weekend….

This is the time habits and patterns are established, family traditions are formed, and the solid groundwork and foundation of a family built to last, built to withstand any negative outside influences is being cobbled together…It’s not easy, it takes love, trust and a true sharing of each others problems and fulfilling each others needs to make it all work, to get it down and keep it all together…

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Girl celebrating her birthday with parents

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Gail Sheehy, in her marvelous book “Passages” brilliantly explores some of these all too common problems…From my Google sources: “She discovered that these ‘passages’ happened with predictable regularity at roughly the same ages. People tried to blame external events for how they were feeling, but as with herself often the outer events were not the answer. Dissatisfaction with lives that had seemed fulfilling only a couple of years before indicated there was something going on at another level.

There was a difference between ‘marker’ events like graduation, marriage, childbirth and getting a job – which all obviously have an impact, she noted – and developmental stages which change us from within. We tend to attribute how we are feeling to the marker event itself, when more often the event is simply a catalyst to move us forward into another stage of life. Though uncomfortable, often painful, these transition times should not be feared, as ultimately they mean growth. If we choose to embrace the change, we at least know we are growing.

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The search for self-identity is what Jung called ‘individuation’ and Maslow ‘self-actualization’. Sheehy’s phrase for it is ‘gaining our authenticity’. Whatever you want to call it, this is the aim of the successive life stages. At each point we have the chance to either further define ourselves, or succumb to the ideas of the group and its expectations. We have two selves: the one that wants to merge with others and things, and the one that that seeks creative independence and freedom. Throughout our lives we may alternate between one or the other, or they may be competing within us at the same time.

To have greater awareness of the stages of our lives does not mean we are giving up all control; what it does is allow us to see that the problems which seem unique to us have probably been experienced by millions of others, and may have more to do with your time of life than other people or situations you may be blaming.”

Although Sheehy’s book, published in the 1976 is now outdated in many ways, there is still a core element of truth that resonates in her writings… “This begs the question: What form will transition points or life crises take when, as scientists predict, people are healthy even beyond 100? Perhaps we will become more willing to see life as a series of inevitable transitions, separated by relatively stable periods. Perhaps we will abandon the old distinction between ‘youth’ and ‘maturity’ and instead see ourselves as fluid, constantly evolving creations instead of having a fixed identity.”

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Happy mature couple showing ok and laughing.

I think this is the core, the heart of the matter…People must adapt to life’s changes, must roll with the punches, go with the flow, maintain, hang in there, to be able to resolve the issue of marriage in America in the year 2015 after the children are all gone…If they have taken the time all through their relationship, have dedicated themselves to be true partners in their marriage instead of role players from the very start, they will no doubt continue this intimacy…

If they have been able to communicate their needs, their fears, their insecurities and desires all through the relationship,on a day to day basis, then they have an excellent chance of rediscovering that old magic that first attracted them to each other…In which case, yes, marriage, even today, CAN be till “death do us part.” It’s all up to you!

Life is what you make of it, and it should be a shared adventure…Just remember, in for a dime, in for a dollar!

For more information on Midlife Crisis see:Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, Gail Sheehy OR: http://www.butler-bowdon.com/Gail-Sheehy-Passages

For more articles by John Whye, click on http://www.johnwhye.com

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