“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.” – Mignon McLaughlin
One of my most read post is Divorce, cancer, heart attacks and suicide. This post talks about the changes that are occurring among my peer group which I define as those of us fifty plus years old.
Cancer, heart attacks and suicide are tough topics to discuss let alone write about. Over the last few years each one has touched my life. I lost a fraternity brother just last week to cancer. But I have been thinking a lot about divorce primarily because a good friend and his wife have just separated.
I look at marriage like a pie cut into four slices. Each slice has some commonality but each also has many new experiences. What each has in common is the need to adapt, learn, grow and share.
The first slice is the new, the honeymoon phase. It is a time we are finding our place in the world with a partner, someone we are accountable to and for. Attraction and lust will only take us so far in this phase. Eventually all of those annoying habits that make us “us” will bubble to the surface and we will discover we have no place to hide. For most marriages this is the shortest phase and it is also the easiest to call it quits. A lot of couples do rather than doing the hard work of staying married.
The second slice is the responsibility phase. Mortgages, kids, happen here. The focus moves from the individual to the greater good of the group. Responsibilities become defined, identities become lost and sex and romance become an afterthought. This is a hard phase if both couples haven’t bought in. I have seen men and women decide at this point that life is simply too short to spend the next twenty years being something or someone they don’t see in the mirror.
Kids become the center of the universe. Your friendships with other adults are centered on kids. Typically someone’s career is sidetracked or put on hold during this phase because of children. It is a phase that starts out hard but mellows over time through routine and then ……the kids are gone.
The third slice is the empty nest phase, where my wife and I have been for the last few years. Our youngest left the house six years ago. During the first four, because she was a collegiate athlete, we had events to attend and new relationships to form. But that time is over. Since our world no longer orbits around swim meets, basketball games, or lacrosse my wife and I had to find activities we could share and enjoyed doing together. The common denominator of many of our friendships were children and some were not strong enough to continue without that bond.
This is the phase my friend and his wife find themselves in. They woke-up one morning, realized they had spent the last twenty years focused on taking care and raising three children and wondered “now what”. I know of at least five couples that have separated or divorced in the last year who were in this phase of their marriage and honestly all five were a surprise.
The last slice is the winding down phase. A time for grandchildren, activities, reflection, and health. This is where my parents are. Two people devoted to each other, two people who have survived everything that has been thrown at them, together. It is a bond that only death will interrupt. They take care of each other now but at some point one will probably have to take care of the other.
Marriage is a cycle and like any cycle there are smooth roads and bumps along the way. It requires both partners to continuously adapt, learn, grow and share together. Marriage can be both hard and comfortable at the same time. Can you think of anything else in your life that would fit that description?
“Marriage is a wonderful institution… but who wants to live in an institution?” – Groucho Marx