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Divorce proofing your relationship
It seems that a growing trend is upon us, the spike in divorce of those over 50. Once upon a time, we saw our 50's as a period of empty nesting, planning for retirement and a comfortable and secure time of intimacy. It was believed that with the challenging and stressful years of career building, child raising and each individual's growth and change behind them, a couple would be stronger and closer than at any time in their history. Did we have it all wrong or has something changed? Actually, it's a bit of both.
When a couple is newly married, it is easier to break up due to not having the entanglements of children, enmeshed social networks, and a well-worn lifestyle with the related financial issues to walk away from or disrupt. As they progress through time, they may decide they have too much at stake to walk away easily. However, as children grow and move on and the couple approaches retirement/plans to downsize, and begins the serious process of "what next"--both are confronted with the reality that this person and that life are what's left for them, for better or worse. Apparently many folks are deciding it would be worse and are opting for divorce over is this all there is.
A frequently cited reason for later divorce is that the couple has had long-term issues such as lack of intimacy, infidelity, conflicts about money, or different goals--but did not move towards divorce earlier because of the children, financial issues and/or fear of being on their own.
Then there are the issues of changing feelings, goals and even once strongly held beliefs that can happen as we move through the life stages. What felt right at 25 may feel very wrong at 55. Or the terrain traveled together may have revealed new previously unknown sides to one's spouse that caused a partner to loose affection, trust or respect for him/her or highlighted very basic incompatibilities that were masked by the passion of youth.
Then there are the unexpected "for better or worse" events that can shatter what was once believed to be a solid marriage. The marriage worked well until one of the individuals had a career crisis, or was diagnosed with a chronic illness or some other life changing event that led to a destabilization of their relationship/family/financial status. The marriage may have been mutually satisfying until a sudden tragedy struck--(death of a child, an accident or illness that left one individual incapacitated)--and this led to a loss of intimacy, fueled by blaming, resentment, and anger.
Lastly (and my personal favorite), the marriage seemed good enough, though not that interesting or exciting anymore--and one partner reconnected with an old high school flame or college sweetheart, often through a site like Facebook, and decided to pursue that relationship or be free to pursue any new relationship that had the potential to help them feel and experience what they had not for many years.
So what should singles look for in a perspective partner and what is important to pay attention to if you are married?
* Choose your partner wisely. Make sure they have the same or similar values, know what they want in a future life (as much as anyone can early on), and are truly ready for commitment. If something feels off, it probably is. If they are resistant to moving forward and need a push to get there, beware. If you sense something is wrong but want to overlook it for love, you will probably regret it later on.
* Don't rush into marriage because of your age, desire for children or any of the rational reasons people cite as they talk about their desire for divorce. While it is useful to make conscious and thought out choices--if you don't have those three aspects of chemistry in some measure-physical, friendship, intellectual-you have a greater chance of not going the distance.
* Avoid taking your partner for granted. Yes, this happens at least in small ways throughout a shared life--but unless you pay attention to their needs, nurture your bond and make the marriage a priority, you put the relationship at risk of burning out or falling prey to a partner's search for romance leading to a connection with someone who offers that possibility.
Summing it up--long standing unresolved problem issues, a gradual loss of respect and trust, a breakdown of communication, alienation of affection and friendship, or a crisis that one or both can't cope with can all lead to a growing distance and potentially to the end of a relationship or marriage. Choosing a partner wisely, nurturing your relationship and making it a priority, and addressing problem issues or getting the help needed to pull together and not apart during times of extreme hardship and stress--are all ways to help you divorce proof your future or present relationship.
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Toni Coleman, LCSW
© Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.
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