“Is it possible all my friends and I fell out of love with our husbands in the same year? Why do I hate being married now?”
One of my clients recently said this, and I realized the idea resonated completely. There seemed to be a sudden and seemingly resolute down-shifting of feelings after 15 years of marriage.
All of these couples are around 48 years old and have been married between from 15-18 years. If they have children, the kids are all around middle school age.
Is it possible marriages or relationships go through a midlife crisis? Is it contagious or a coincidence every one of a certain age seems to be going through this?
What I’ve observed about married women in their mid-to-late 40s:
1. Marrital disillusionment seems to be a trend.
What my client was describing in her own marriage were feelings of apathy, boredom, and disconnect where there were once passion, appreciation, and connection.
She describes this feeling coming on slowly over the past few years but realized it was happening outside of her consciousness.
Then, suddenly one morning, she woke up and was no longer “in love” with her husband. She still wanted to be married to him, saw how amazing he was as a father, and felt the value in their union and life together.
But mostly, she felt apathy toward her husband, his body, his sense of humor, and his hobbies.
2. It includes the feeling of being a “team” has broken.
Now, to be truthful, all of these relationships had issues, but there seemed to be a common feeling of purpose or a sense of “team” that unified them — even when times were tough.
Once I saw this pattern in my clients and friends (and my own marriage) — I could not help but see it everywhere. Everyone in their mid-40s seemed to be having a marital midlife crisis.
In searching for answers, I found a wonderful resource in Dr. Jed Diamond’s book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best Is Still to Come. In this book, Dr. Diamond talks about this exact phenomenon and outlines what is happening as the five stages of love..
3. It’s part of the five stages all marriages go through.
1. Falling in love
2. Becoming partners
4. Real love
5. Combining forces to change the world
He states all couples go through these stages and they have to go through the tough ones in order to find the deep love and deeper connection when they are older.
The “falling in love” stage is what it sounds like — this is the beginning of a relationship when we are filled with love, hormones, perhaps illusions of who we are marrying and, of course, high hopes for the future. It seems as if we have found the perfect partner and can’t imagine a time when we won’t feel this euphoria.
This is closely followed by the “building a life” stage, which he calls “becoming partners.” It’s during this time we develop our communities, grow our families and build our careers.
The primary focus is on the work of life and on growth. The main feelings in our relationship during this stage are partnership and security. For many couples, this stage can feel boring but there is usually a common goal to unite couples.
4. It’s because time wears away at love.
After a few years (or a decade), the day-in and day-out of life compounds and wears away the illusions we had about marriage.
We begin to see the reality of the person we married. Dr. Diamond calls this stage “disillusionment” and it feels like a perfect description. It’s as if the curtain has been drawn aside and ugly truths are visible — a reality of marriage that is unappealing, unexciting, and not particularly passionate.
It’s during this time most couples separate, have affairs or divorce. It feels inconceivable anything can be salvaged in the relationship.
However, after all his research, Dr. Diamond did find there is a way through this stage. The path, however, doesn’t take you back to the illusion-filled “falling in love” stage, but rather asks you to move beyond illusions toward a connection with the good-enough spouse you have.
5. Will it happen to your marriage?
Dr. Diamond states very clearly all marriages hit this space — and he even suggests they have to go through this stage in order to get to a deeper love. Disillusionment is a requirement for the next stage.
If couples can hold on and work through this very difficult time, they move into “real love”.
Dr. Diamond’s idea is this stage comes about when individuals are able to see the links between their family of origin and their own expectations of marriage. There is an acceptance of yourself that unfolds with an acceptance of your spouse and your marriage.
You discover a new deeper and more satisfying way to be together.
The final stage of marriage is entitled “combining forces to take on the world.” Dr. Diamond describes couples in this stage as shifting their focus from themselves to the outside world. They work together to enact change or create a community.
I brought up this book and these ideas and the overwhelming response was relief. Relief they are not unusual, but also relief there is hope.
Feeling disillusioned does not mean I have to leave my marriage — it means I have to hold on and find a new way to connect.
What do you do if you find yourself in disillusionment about your marriage?
There are tools, skills, or actions that will move you quickly and painlessly into “real love”.
The number one thing is to take a deep breath and realize you are not alone. All couples hit this stage. You might be surprised by how much shifts when you can discuss something as difficult as this — and truly name it — without reacting or exploding.
By seeing marriages as having specific steps, it also allows you to begin to envision what your next stage might look like. There is a tremendous amount of power in visioning — talking about future plans and dreams.
Sometimes, the only connection you have is the hope (or maybe knowledge) that what you wish to happen will come to pass.
If you are currently in a marital midlife crisis, this is an important time to work on yourself. Take time for your body (yoga, exercise, meditation, floss), for your career, your friends, and for your mental health.
Explore ways to grow and ground yourself in your own needs and dreams. Part of this exploration and caretaking might lead you to change your relationship with your parents or family.
It’s a normal part of our late 40s and 50s to reevaluate our relationship with our extended family and reorient ourselves in regard to their expectations of us. This is usually accompanied by a release of old roles that don’t fit us anymore.
You can also focus on the small things that once kept you together.
Reenact the small and seemingly nonsense inside jokes you giggled about when things were well. Consciously enact these — turn on that song, do that silly dance, and make the old rhyme. It may seem silly but these small connections deepen the more you lean on them.
Being in the middle of a marital midlife crisis feels unbearable and hopeless. It’s important you find the support you need as you work your way through this stage.
Ashley Seeger, LCSW is a couples counselor in Boulder, Colorado. She has over 17 years of experience working with couples as they struggle with intimacy, communication, and transitions.
This article was originally published at Ashley Seeger, LCSW. Reprinted with permission from the author.