Is Midlife Marriage Better?
Do you have to be a hopeless romantic to find love and retie the knot in your late 40s? Some people would say yes. I say making that commitment after (in my case) two failed attempts is the ultimate act of faith -- not hopeless, but hopeful !
So how exactly is marriage at this age different from marriage in your 20s or 30s? As I see it, there are three major differences. There may be more in your relationship. I'm speaking strictly from my own experience here. And it goes without saying that these issues could just as well happen to couples remarrying in their 20s and 30s. They just seem to dominate the relationship when both parties bring as much (or more) life baggage to the relationship as they do on the honeymoon!
#1. FAMILY. A loaded subject, to be sure. I figured out somewhere between my first marriage (annulled, if you must know) and my second that when you marry someone you do not just marry him (or her). You marry their family. Look closely at how your intended interacts with his mother, father and siblings. Look at the model his parents (and siblings) set in their own marriages. Look at the people who will be your in-laws. Unless you have the luxury of putting a large geographic distance between you and them, be prepared to have them in your lives. Depending on the age and health of his parents, you may find them slowly (or quickly) becoming a DAILY part of your lives. That pretty much comes with the territory when you're midlife and the parents are 75+.
Of course no discussion of family and remarriage would be complete without ex-spouses and stepchildren. My generation grew up with the Brady Bunch. Although I always knew it was only a TV show, I held onto the fantasy that a blended family could -- just maybe -- work out that smoothly. Or maybe with just a few tiny lumps. Of course, the Bradys had Alice. I don't have a houskeeper. That must be it! Yeah, right.
Speaking again from experience, I just assumed my son would embrace my new husband with open arms. I assumed his father would act maturely about this new man in the picture, given that we had been divorced for 8 years.
I could not have been more wrong, on both counts. Friends who have done it the "right" way, with years of family blending therapy and co-parenting therapy, tell me it is possible to keep the tantrums (new spouses, exes and children) down to a dull roar. I'm just putting it out there. In our case it was more like crushing boulders in a blender with no top....
#2 MONEY. By the time you reach your 40s more than likely you have achieved some measure of financial security. Or, on the flip side, you (or he) may have achieved just the opposite. In my case, I had let my ex-husband handle the finances, although we both worked. Money was never our "issue." Then, spending several years single, I learned to manage my own finances. Not on any grand scale, but all by myself. I imagine this is not uncommon for divorced women, in particular. I don't mean to be sexist here, guys, as you will see in a minute.
Imagine my surprise -- horror, shock -- to find that my new husband is terrible with money! I just assumed that he had his financial act together because (now HERE's the sexist part) he's a male and owned his own business. On the positive side, his weakness in this area has forced me to develop my own money manager side. Yin/Yang. Spend less/save more. It's all good. An ongoing struggle, but good.
I raise this because marriage is really a financial arrangement. Putting another person's name on your lease, mortgage, credit cards, etc. can be a wonderful thing, the ultimate act of trust. Alternatively, it can really mess up your credit. Even if you don't have assets in the billions, a prenup might just be a good idea. At minimum, think about keeping some things in your own name if you're not sure. Again, I'm just suggesting here! The statitics on 2nd marriages failing are pretty staggering (I believe it's 2 out of 3). You certainly don't want to find yourself too financially strapped to be able to get divorced if it doesn't work out, do you?!
#3 If you expected SEX for #3, you're only half right. Midlife relationships are no different than any others. They typically start with attraction, move into unrestrained lust, and gradually deepen into love (with any luck, of the everlasting variety). But let's be brutally honest here. We're talking bodies that have already seen 20-30+ years of sexual action. We're talking peri-menopause, then menopause for her. We're talking whatever it is that causes men to need Viagra.
More than that, we're talking the day-to-day impact of #1 and #2 above (plus work, plus minor and sometimes even major health challenges). These things can all take a toll on your midlife sex life -- but only if you let them! So my advice on this issue is: Don't let them!!! Because a happy sex life can be apotent antidote to the stresses in the rest of your lives.
Which brings me to the second half of #3, which is ACCEPTANCE. There's a big difference between reciting your marriage vows and living them. It takes a certain maturity. Certainly you don't have to be 40+ to be mature. Plenty of couples "get it" the first time around. But if you're reading this, chances are you're a veteran of divorce, like me. Chances are you're worried about making another mistake if you take the plunge again.
The most powerful lesson I can offer from my own experience is the "A" word. Self-acceptance, spouse acceptance, family acceptance, acceptance of life as it is. Heck, if you've found someone to love YOU AS YOU ARE, that's pretty darned great, don't you think?
I know I think so about my husband. Emotional and financial baggage, in-laws and all, he's a wonderful man. And I plan to do everything possible to beat the statistical odds and stay married to him forever. For me, that acceptance is -- and continues to be -- the biggest surprise of all!
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