John and Melinda were in their early 50s with two teenage children, aged 13 and 16. The couple appeared to be content with their lives. The reality was that they were slowly drifting apart though they were not consciously aware of it.
John was into golf and he also loved to surf. Being a company executive, he enjoyed flexibility in his work hours and could pursue his sporting passions. Melinda, on the other hand, had been an athletic person in her earlier years, but now she focused mainly on her children’s schooling and activities.
One day, John announced he was leaving – he had found another woman, Sharon, with whom he had been having an affair for five months. Melinda was devastated by the news. Sharon was a member of the same golf club as John and was into sports herself, so she and John shared common interests. Once John connected to Sharon, it didn’t take him long to appreciate that they had shared common values along with sexual attraction.
This story is not unusual. While the overall divorce rate has declined the past two decades, for the over 50s it has almost doubled these last 25 years. Women are driving most of the increase in divorce rates. The result is often emotional and financial distress.
Many divorced senior women have either lost faith in ever having another relationship or, alternatively, feel desperate to find another man. Men are more likely to find a new partner more quickly than women. It’s culturally acceptable for an older man to be with a younger woman, but not for an older woman to be with a younger man. That broadens the base of potential partners for older men whose wives have died or divorced them, but the base is not correspondingly widened for older women.
There are several reasons for the surge in divorce:
- Mismatched values
During the early and middle years of marriage, people get caught up in the day-to-day chores of married life: work, finances and raising kids. When the children grow up, each partner may suddenly realise that they have nothing in common. They have slowly drifted apart and realise that their values are entirely different.
Everyone has their own unique set of values and when couples initially get together, they may find that they have enough shared values to make the relationship compatible. Our values do, however, change over time. Unless we seriously identify the change in our values and those of our partner, it can spell trouble for a marriage. We need to find a way of linking them, once the children have grown up,
- Communication confusion
In its simplest form, communication is a two-way transmission, with a sender who broadcasts a message and a receiver who responds to it.
But we have many filters that we use to alter the messages and also to change what we allow to come through to us as receivers. These filters are the result of our life experiences. They are influenced by our gender and our personal and cultural experiences. To an observer, a couple may look like they’re conversing in two entirely different languages, neither of which the other understands. What is intended by the sender is often not what is understood by the receiver. Understandably, this causes a great deal of frustration and distress.
In many relationships once the children have left the nest and the man and wife actually have to speak to each other. This may have been absent for many years. Conflict may arise when the focus is on each other. Messages get mixed or are not heard.
An important tool to use is called Active Listening whereby the listener repeats back to the speaker what he or she thought they heard. The speaker can then acknowledge it or correct any misinterpretation.
- Sexual incompatibility
A satisfying sexual relationship with a partner is like icing on the cake. It adds zest and excitement, and can provide the adhesive that binds a couple. In a Sunday Telegraph Stella Magazine survey, it was found that 29 per cent of retirees had sex more than 11 times per month, compared with 24 per cent of people with full-time jobs.
As we age, however, sexually frequency does tend to decline for most people, more so for men. For women, it is more variable. It may be due to illness or hormonal changes such as a decline in testosterone in men and menopausal changes in women. Men who feel that there are no longer virile and suffering impotence issues may resort to Viagra and for validation may resort to an affair. For a woman, if her sexual needs are not met and the man is disinterested and refuses to do anything about it, the result is that she may seek out a sexual partner elsewhere.
Sexual incompatibility can be a real problem but if the love, respect, and trust in the relationship are sound, then professional help in the area of sexuality can be a great help.
When we discount someone we are putting them down. We are indicating that they are not important. In other words, we are minimizing them. Typically, one or other of the partners are in “bully mode”. While this is more prevalent with man discounting their wives, women can also engage in this action. The individual who is discounted is often “walking on eggshells”.
In this sort of a relationship, one is playing a persecutor role while the other is a victim. It is not a recipe for a happy and loving relationship. For relationships to function successfully it is important that both parties are on an equal footing as to their position in marriage. We all bring different skills and talents to a relationship. When we respect one another, we share in those skills and bring a synergy to the relationship.
Let’s face it; anything over time can become mundane and stale if we let it. We often hear of women complaining that since their husbands are retired, they don’t want to do much and just sit around, either watching television or feeling sorry for themselves.
Many aspects of a relationship can be boring. It could be the sex, socialising, lack of passion and emotional connection, or just doing the same thing every day.
This often results in either partner engaging in an affair which spices up their life. Or, they indicate that they are no longer in love with that person and may leave the marriage. The reality is that they have often been disengaged emotionally for some time from their partner. The relationship may have been in its death throes for some years.
If any of these five issues is going on in a relationship, it is imperative to seek out professional help, sooner rather than later.