I can’t tell if there are more parents getting divorced at mid-life or I’m just paying more attention.
Let’s face it, we change as we get older. Not just the obvious physical changes, but emotionally, too. As we should. A lot has happened since we fell in love and had dreams of building a future with someone else. By middle age, the distance between the present and the future is a lot shorter than it used to be.
We’ve all likely endured loss, health issues, career changes, financial issues — and marital conflict over some or all of these. Resentments over who did more child-rearing, house cleaning, bill-paying — who was more present, too absent, less tuned-in — they have a habit of festering until one day you and your mate are standing face to face without the distractions of raising a family and you either work through them, or you don’t. Of course, therapists will tell you that working through issues as you go is the smarter way to handle things, but when life gets busy, sometimes that’s easier said than done. Stuff just gets tabled.
There’s a lot of advice out there for achieving a long and happy marriage, some of it actually by people who are in a long and happy marriage. Making time for one another, date nights, kindness, not saying “you always/never…” in an argument, fostering friendships outside the marriage — these are all cited as keys to staying betrothed.
The truth is, it takes two to tango. You have to both want to keep working at a marriage. Sometimes the pain is too deep, the resentment too great. Sometimes, you just plain aren’t attracted in any way, shape, or form to your partner any more. And I get that, I do.
Recently, I was thinking about how I’ve been with my husband now for more years than I haven’t been with him. And that even though I think I know him — after all, I can tell you what shoes he’ll pick out to buy, the TV shows he watches, what toothpaste he uses, and that his breakfast will always be a bowl of Rice Chex mixed with Corn Flakes — that there’s more to him than that. I know this because there’s more to me than my breakfast choices, the side I part my hair, and the color of most of my shirts (coral). After years of living in the family-focused world we created — the roles we’ve played thus far as parents, the way we’ve interacted — well, that world is no longer.
So how do I know all this? It’s not therapy. It’s the Corner Bakery. We’ve been learning about one another over Saturday lunch at our neighborhood Corner Bakery. I order the same thing, he likes to shake it up. We always share a dessert, whatever is new on the menu. And we take our time. Sometimes two hours or more. In the history of being us, this never happened until we started to transition to the empty nest. At first, we didn’t have much to talk about other than our kids. Now we talk about everything, and nothing at all. Sometimes, we read the paper.
We’re still here, together, because we want to be. And though we’re married to each other, neither of us is married to the way we’ve always done things.
So we’re starting over, again, except this time, with the foundation of a shared history. This wasn’t a conscious decision, starting over — it’s more of a naturally unraveling one. Our kids are only home for holidays and summers. Unfinished conversations we had when they were little have stayed unfinished — not because we’re avoiding them, but because they’re no longer relevant. What’s relevant to this relationship is where we go from here. How we treat one another going forward as a couple with dreams that are still unfolding.
As of last weekend, we’re at 24 Saturdays and counting.