It takes more than love and determination to make a marriage work. People in successful marriages know that they have to compromise, accept a certain loss of independence, sacrifice some of their goals, and, more often than not, put the other person first.
As a woman over 60, you were prepared to do that when you were younger. At the time, it was worth it – you valued the sense of belonging that came with commitment, the feeling of closeness and intimacy, and the joy of building a home with someone you love. You accepted the time constraints and the sense of obligation to do things for someone else.
Now that you have been in a marriage for a long time, your days of being single seem more attractive. You may forget about the downside of being alone, the feelings of loneliness, the uncertainty about the future. You just remember when your time was your own and you never had to compromise and be accountable to anybody.
You may marvel at how you have managed to keep a balance between your own desires and the needs of your partner all these years. But, for the first time, you feel the balance may be tipping, and you begin to feel stifled in your marriage. You may even begin to wonder whether it’s better to be single, to be alone and independent.
During these early periods of dissatisfaction you are likely to think it’s your spouse who is at fault. You may decide to get a divorce as a way of getting rid of the problem. Many older people do this.
You might dream about marrying someone else – someone who would allow you to have the freedom within marriage that you crave. But, statistics show that you may not solve the problem at all. You may even eventually begin to feel the same kind of dissatisfaction with your new marriage.
It might occur to you, finally, that it’s not your partner at all. It’s nothing either of you have done wrong – it’s marriage itself, or at least the way we perceive it, that lies at the root of the problem.
When we were young, we believed that we could have freedom or we could have commitment, but we couldn’t have both.
A good marriage, we thought, was one in which partners gave themselves totally to each other, always putting the other one first, never thinking of just themselves.
Modern relationships no longer rely on roles cast by the culture. We realize, now that we are over 60, that we have outgrown these ideas and need to re-define them.
We now know that we don’t have to lose our sense of identity when we marry, or give up our personal goals.
By basing your relationship on fundamental values like respect, honesty and fairness, you and your partner can build a relationship that provides you with a sense of belonging and intimacy and still allow both of you the independence to pursue your interests and goals.
This is not a luxury – having space in a marriage is as essential as having a roof over your head. Without a balance between commitment and freedom, you may becoming resentful, or feel trapped. When these feelings emerge, you have only two choices – to exist silently within your resentment, or leave.
You may feel overwhelmed and sad that you have come to this crossroads in your relationship, but the good news is that now you have the chance to look at your situation with new eyes and either re-new your marriage or start a new life.
You may regret that you didn’t address your need for personal space earlier. But the truth is, it takes years to really know yourself. You are finally getting clear about what you want and need.
It may be harder now, but it is not too late to re-negotiate the rules of your marriage and find the balance you need. Here are some touchstones to get you started – and keep you on the right track:
You must be honest in defining and stating your need for independence. Tell your partner exactly what you need and what it will entail. Do you need time alone every day? Or do you want to take a separate vacation each year? Be clear. Remember, this is not a guessing game. Unstated needs are never met.
Be prepared to talk this out in full, from the perspective of teamwork. Look at things from your partner’s view as well as your own. Be sure he expresses his desires as clearly as you do. Most importantly, you must both pledge to keep your history out of this – remember, this a new chapter.
Mutual respect is essential to this stage of your negotiation. Throughout this process, be sure that your behaviour reflects your respect for each other. Talk and explore.
Don’t assume. Listen, truly listen, to your partner’s concerns and complaints without judgement. Just having someone listen will sometimes open a new door and have surprising results.
Do not go into this process if your intention is not sincere – sincerity, goodwill, and empathy are essential in establishing trust. At this point, you should be ready to discuss and negotiate without playing games. Trustworthiness is not something you can fake. Without trust, the door to confiding and sharing will be closed.
Once you have re-negotiated your relationship, you may discover a new level of closeness and intimacy – to keep these elements fresh and uppermost in your mind, you will need to re-visit and re-live these values consciously.
Lastly, it will help to take a long-range view of your renewed relationship and see it as an agreement to spend the rest of your lives together.
Do you feel you have the freedom you need in your marriage? Does your partner take you seriously when you say that you need more time for yourself? Do you have feelings of frustration and resentment when you think you are being taken for granted? Please join the conversation.
Tags Marriage After 60