Middle Adulthood and Marriage

This week’s readings and videos about middle adulthood were fascinating, but a little too close to home…Middle adulthood is getting younger and younger!  🙂

The discussions in the video, When to Stay; When to Go were of particular interest to me – especially a statement made by one of the interviewees.  “Staying together for the kids is always bad.”  Always?  Consider some of the statistics cited by Broderick and Blewitt (2010).

  • After divorce, mothers and children slip into poverty.
  • Children often report their parents’ marital transitions to be their most painful life experiences.
  • Children of divorce tend to have lower grades and achievement test scores, conduct problems, depression, fewer friends, less peer support, more likely to be sexually active at earlier ages and to have out-of-wedlock children, more likely to drop out of school, experiment with illicit drugs, have more trouble staying married, divorce rates tend to be higher, marital strife and divorce even extends to the third generation, etc. etc.

And “staying together for the kids is always bad.”  Hmmmm….

Consider a family I know.  Years ago, the parents were having problems, but decided to stay together for the sake of their four children.  I talk to the siblings often and they always speak fondly of the loving home environment in which they grew up; how both parents attended every ballgame, choir concert, and parent teacher conference.  And even though it was obvious that times were financially difficult, their parents always managed to squeak out a small vacation – if only for a weekend or overnight stay.  These children remember happy times – growing up playing and laughing together.  In fact, when I asked one of the siblings what she remembered most about her childhood, she said, “I remember laughter.  I remember laughing a lot.”  Their parents ended up staying together after the children were grown – 47 years.  Each of the siblings is now married with children of their own.  (Only one of them has been divorced although she has now been remarried for almost 15 years).  The other three children have been in their marriages 35, 30, and 26 years.

I wouldn’t say that it’s always bad to stay together for the kids.  Nor would I say it’s always bad to leave.  I would say that it depends on how contentious the marriage is and how committed the couple is to their marriage and family or whether their own desires are more important.  (Of course, this excludes abusive relationships.)

When I got married, I remembered my husband saying to me, “We are going to stay married.  We’re going to stay married happy or we’ll stay married unhappy, but we’re going to stay married.”  Basically, he was saying we have a choice.  Now one choice will take more work and it will be hard, but it’s completely do-able.  I think about that every time something upsets me – in any situation in my life.  I can be happy or I can be sad, but if I have to be in this, I might as well be in it happy.”  (We’ve been married 26 years.)

I would also like to mention a comment from the male midlife crisis video.  (I won’t discuss how much the interviewer’s style disturbed me…).  The interviewee stated that when a woman notices the “warning signs” of male midlife crisis, “It’s okay to be suspicious.”  To me, suspicion is equivalent to doubt, mistrust, and skepticism – not characteristics anyone experiencing a crisis needs from their partner.  We need support, honest concern, and open and honest discussion.  Not someone suspecting the worse.  Broderick & Blewitt mention four kinds of negativity that do the most damage to relationships – criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.  I would add “suspicion” to this list. 

As far as marriage, counselors and couples alike would do well with Gottman’s approach (1999).  Gottman suggests that couples think of relationship problems as inevitable, much the way we learn to deal with chronic physical ailments as we get older.  These ailments do not go away, but we learn to have a dialogue with these problems.  “We keep trying to make things a little better all the time, but we learn to live with these problems and manage our world so as to minimize them…So it is in all relationships.” (p. 57)

I agree.

Broderick, P.C. & Blewitt, P. (2010).  The life span: Human development for helping professionals (3rd ed). NY: Merrill.

Gottman, J.M. (1999). The marriage clinic: A scientifically-based marital therapy. New York: Norton.

One thought on “Middle Adulthood and Marriage

  1. Hi Kendra,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog — I love the personal style with which you address the issues. I also agree with you about your thoughts about staying together “for the sake of the kids.” It seems right on that it depends on the context, and I appreciated reading the story about your friends with the four kids – that’s inspiring (and congratulations on 26 years!). My parents have been married 46 years — my mom always says that they just got lucky since they married really young. But it’s also very inspiring to me, as I know there have been tough times. My husband’s parents split up after the youngest son went away to college. While I think they grew up in a household where they knew their parents had problems, I think my husband really respects them for staying together for the kids until the kids were out of the house. As you said, it really depends on the context and situation. Thanks for sharing your (always insightful) thoughts!

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