What happens to marriages in midlife? After 20, 25, 30 or more years?
The truth is – a lot!
If you’re not married, you probably don’t understand why marriages fail after 25 years. Really, what could go wrong if your marriage has already lasted 25 or 30 or more years? If you survive all those adjustments in the early years, it seems like the middle years of marriage would be smooth sailing. More and more often, that’s not the case.
In fact, more divorces are happening in midlife and late-life than ever before. Part of that is because midlife and late life people are the former hippies and “free love” and “anything goes” advocates of the 60’s and 70’s when everything was changing and cultural norms were flying out the window.
In real life today, here are a few of the things that usually happen to us after 25 years of marriage:
- Our bodies are changing (usually for the worse!)
- Our kids are needing us less and leaving home, or maybe moving back home
- Our parents are needing more help, getting sick or even dying
- Our job may have become stale, or we’re being replaced by someone younger
- Our life may feel like we’re in a rut or on a treadmill
Either or both partners who have been married 25 years and are not happy, may start asking, “Is this all there is?”
For me, I thought, “How is it possible to have our marriage breakdown after 30 years? After everything we’ve accomplished? Everything we have shared and worked for? Everything we had been through in our 33 years together?”
I was in shock and devastated that he was giving up on me and our life for someone who would cheat on her husband, leave her two children and hurt so many lives in the process? How is that even possible? And just when things were starting to slow down a bit, and we could focus on us again.
Here are some “Stunning Stats About Divorce” that might surprise you. For example, even though the overall rate of divorce in America is falling, divorce among people aged 50+ is rising. In fact Gray Divorce rates “have risen dramatically over the last 30 years.”
Why Marriages Have Issues After 25 Years
Below are some indicators about how a good marriage can “suddenly” go terribly wrong after 25 or 30 years.
During that affair/separation/divorce time, I searched my mind and heart for what caused this disaster in the middle of our seemingly good, successful, full, rewarding life together. Our life didn’t have time to be stagnant! He was a busy, busy professional who wanted to be the head of any and every organization he was involved in. Manager of the softball team. Head of the hospital physicians’ organization. Biggest producer in his group. Trips. Constant activity.
I had been busy taking care of the home front. Managing four children and everything that wives who decide to stay home are responsible for. I was also working part-time from home in our family business and then started my own small marketing and advertising company. I felt challenged and comfortable and content all at the same time. There were a few things I wished were different in our marriage, but nothing I couldn’t live with.
Most marriages are probably much like ours was. During those early stages, we’re busy simply supporting ourselves and taking care of our kids. Going to school or work everyday. Even if there were unaddressed issues that were poking their heads up, we were too busy to pay much attention to them.
We both came from solid, good, normal middle class families. There was no hidden trauma. No PTSD. No lurking issues to cause problems in our marriage. In looking back, though, there were several things that we should have faced and discussed as a couple.
- Our different spiritual desires
- Our different big-picture thinking
- Our different needs for action and/or relaxing
- Our different drinking habits
- One-sided decisions by him about finances and everything else.
Every couple probably has habits and ways of doing things that are not good for the marriage. I never really thought that much about those problem areas, and was just busy getting through the days until the affair happened.
Empty Nest Syndrome
In midlife, when our children start getting more independent and even leaving home, suddenly our life is back to just the two of us. When our children leave home, it’s not just them that’s gone. It’s their friends and activities that are suddenly missing, too.
During our midlife marriage, my ex-husband’s life didn’t change that much when kids left. He still was going to work every day. Marriages with one partner who stays home, and one who supports the family financially have very different daily life experiences. Since all the busy-ness of kid’s activities got less and ended altogether for me, I had my new business to keep me busy, too, and kids and grandkids close by, so life was good…I thought.
How many times have you seen a middle aged couple out to dinner who never say a word to each other the whole evening? No joking around. No touching fingers during the meal. Nothing. Marriages don’t often show so clearly that there is a communication gap. Sometimes we want more meaningful communication, but we’re busy and tired, and we let things ride that we should speak up about. I did that.
Looking back, I don’t remember many heart-to-heart conversations in all of our married life. I don’t remember us ever taking a trip together, just the two of us. He liked a crowd. It was always a medical trip, a group ski trip, a trip to visit relatives or friends. I should have insisted that we go solo occasionally, but I just didn’t bring it up.
Like many midlife couples, we were moving along the Railway of Life, usually to the same place, but often on different tracks.
Lack Of Intimacy
One of the most common problems I hear about in midlife divorce recovery work is lack of intimacy. Both women and men search for help because their sex life is sparse or non-existent. Intimacy is about so much more than just the sexual part. Sexual intimacy is icing on the cake … very tasty, and very important icing … but icing just the same. The cake is everything else going on in the relationship.
Lack of other kinds of intimacy usually leads to sex taking a back seat, too. Even though some couples have a vibrant, full and fun sex life without much closeness in other areas, it’s much more likely to be the other way around in midlife marriages.
Women need to feel cherished, special and desirable for the sex part to be as good as it can be for them. When men feel appreciated and valued as protectors and providers, (as old fashioned as that sounds), they are more likely to want to be physically intimate as well.
In midlife, men often start having trouble with the physical part of sex. Women have to deal with menopause and the loss of certain hormones, lack of natural lubrication and/or lack of tightness of the vagina. Lubrication products and special exercises can help, but couples need to be patient and light-hearted about the whole sex thing in midlife. Both midlife men and women can have confidence issues that cause trouble in the bedroom.
It’s important in midlife to be adventurous and fun and to try new things in the sex department. There are lots of positions you can try in 25 years of marriage and plenty of sex toys to experiment with. Some new things just aren’t going to work for one or another of the partners. Remember, not every sexual experience needs to be earth-shaking!
There is a great book I think all midlife marriages should order. It’s called 101 Nights of Great Sex. The book is filled with fun, simple suggestions to keep the fire going romantically and sexually. The couple shares taking the initiative because pages are designated FOR HIM or FOR HER. The suggestions are also rated for how expensive they are.
Illness (Physical Or Mental)
One of the psychologists I interview in our MasterPlan Program, suggests that some relationships actually improve when physical illness shows up because there is a new closeness between the couple. She continues that some people with a physical illness get more difficult and demanding with their spouse. Face it, the longer we’re together as a couple, the greater the chances that a serious illness or mental issues might show up in one or another partner. Those challenges can bring us closer, or they may drive us to leave the relationship.
Even some medications mess with your physical and mental self confidence. When physical or mental illness happens, it requires flexibility and patience and a new and deeper kind of intimacy.
There are some 25 year marriages that cannot be saved. For 25 years or more, one partner may have endured ever-growing levels of abuse. If any kind of abuse is present in a relationship, the safety of the marriage partners and the safety of any children still at home is top priority. Sadly, there are all kinds of abuse in marriages, and often the wounds are hard to detect. If there is abuse in your marriage or in the marriage of a friend or family member, get help immediately.
For a list and description of some of the most common types of abuse, go to an article entitled Different Types of Abuse And Their Impact On You
Here are just a few of the different categories of abusive behaviors:
- Physical abuse
- Mental/Emotional abuse
- Financial abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Verbal abuse
- Elder abuse
- Child abuse
- Child neglect
Abuse in a marriage can be easy to hide. It can also be very volatile and can quickly turn into a dangerous situation. Victims and loved ones can be at great risk. Below is the domestic abuse hotline:
My husband and I had been married 30 years when he got involved with someone at his work. Honestly, I can understand how a normal man could be tempted by a younger woman. The passion. The excitement. Someone new and fresh showing interest, making him feel young again. The kids are gone. Life is predictable…and maybe even boring. The potential for an affair for those without a strong moral compass is strong.
Most of us can forgive a brief emotional or even physical affair, but most of us cannot ignore or forgive long-term midlife infidelity and continued lying and betrayal after the affair is discovered.
Incompatibility (irreconcilable differences) is listed as the leading cause of most divorces. However, some divorces use that description when infidelity is the actual cause. My ex-husband wanted to put irreconcilable differences on our divorce decree, but I demanded that the court documents enter the cause of our divorce as continuing infidelity.
Is The Marriage Failing?
It’s my opinion, most marriages could be saved if both partners did their part to make the marriage good for each other. But if one partner is guilty of any of the following, it is very hard to save a failing marriage:
- Continued Adultery
- Abuse of any kind
- Continued Addiction
A failing marriage is a relationship where you finally realize that you have been married 25 years and have nothing in common or you’ve been married 25 years and you’re not happy. Marriage is not supposed to be a marathon of painful endurance or a getting to the end with clenched teeth and nothing good to show for it.
Marriage should bring joy and fun and security and happy memories. Sometimes, for many different reasons, a 25 year marriage doesn’t survive. Sometimes it shouldn’t survive. But there can also be a midlife lull in the marriage around 25 years, and then a rebuilding of a better marriage after the kids are off on their own and lots of things are changing for both partners
How To Rekindle A Marriage After 25 Years
Create A Plan
A helpful tool for making our life more of what we really want is to create a vision board. Cut out pictures from a few magazines that illustrate something you want in your life. Our MasterPlan Divorce Recovery Program and Community encourages women to create vision boards after divorce. Actually seeing (and focusing on) the kind of life they want in the future makes it more likely to happen.
You can do the same as it relates to what you want in re-inventing your life or your marriage now. What new places do you see yourselves going? Where do you want to live now? What things do you see yourselves doing together in the future? What do you want to contribute to the good of the world together? This visioning can help you envision what you want after divorce too.
It’s your future. Start planning what you want that to look like and then do something small today to make those dreams become reality.
Once the kids are gone, it’s easier to try some new things that might bring pleasure to both of you. Take up a sport together. Travel to some new places. Take advantage of your home city or town and focus on activities that help you stay physically and mentally active. Focus on each other…your family will love that you are doing that, too!
Sometimes you can try something totally new like ballroom dancing or even better, hip hop! Join a dinner group or interest groups you can find on MeetUp or in your community. Start a couples card and game night. Get more active in missional outreach at your church. Do something good for others while you’re doing something good for yourselves and for your relationship and your connection with others too.
Rekindling Old Activities
In re-inventing or at least remodeling your life, you can also rekindle activities that took up too much time when kids came along…or were too expensive then, but within reach now. Use your imagination to find new areas of interest and involvement.
In all relationships to come, learn to communicate in all sorts of ways. Physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually, sexually and any other way you can. Joke around while you cook. Have great sex together, again…even if there are limitations and adjustments that need to be made. Cuddle again. Whenever my ex-husband and I left my parents house, my mom would say, “Take care of each other.” I say that to my children who are married. And I try to remember that with my husband now.
Sometimes it’s good to get couples counseling to remind each other of the good things you both bring to the table. Start embracing those good things and build on them. Get some individual counseling to maximize your own mental wellness. Do good things for yourself. Get strong yourself physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually and in every other way. Take care of yourself so you can “take care of each other!”