As mid-lifers in the midst of working through some of our ‘issues’, we are acutely aware of how easy it would be to let our individual stuff derail our marriage.
It’s normal for a person in midlife to be irritable and volatile. Some react with depressive symptoms, others get angry and aggressive, others withdraw or self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, work, food, affairs, tv, gaming or exercise. Some cope better than others, but we all go through it in some way.
Being married to a mid-lifer is often bewildering. “Where did all this vitriol come from?” we ask ourselves as our spouse opens the dump truck on us verbalising every grievance of the last 15+ years. It’s a crappy deal. It’s even worse when you’re both transitioning through this life-stage simultaneously.
But it’s important to remember that this doesn’t necessarily mean there is something fundamentally wrong with the marriage.
The truth is an emotional crisis can hit us any time, like a couple we talked with recently. The husband had taken some extended sick leave only to be retrenched when he returned to work. Already under financial stress, he developed depression when the unemployment became prolonged. Forced to move out of their home and into the home of their in-laws, this couple was really struggling.
As the wife stepped up to provide for the family and keep everything going, he felt undermined and got more depressed. Arguments started and the more the wife tried to be strong in the marriage, the more the husband felt like a failure. It didn’t help living under the roof of his critical father who regularly reminded him of his inadequacy.
Couples in situations like these don’t need a divorce. Nor do they need well-meaning counsellors telling one or the other that ‘not all marriages are meant to last’. They certainly don’t need friends or family suggesting that ‘they deserve better’.
At times like this, these couples need the nurturing support of a community who will affirm them in their moral commitment to the marriage. When they begin to doubt their relationship, they need people around them who can speak for the marriage.
When they feel broken and overwhelmed, they need friends and family who walk the journey with them, encouraging them, supporting them in practical ways, and most importantly, praying for them. This is real challenge for our church communities. Whether it be a classic mid-life crisis or an unscheduled stressor like unemployment or illness, marriages can easily come undone if there is no counter balancing voice in the couple’s circle speaking in favour of the marriage.