Save Your Midlife Marriage: Disillusionment is Not the Drawback, However the Doorway to Actual Lasting Love
“I love you, but I’m not in love with you anymore.” I keep hearing this from couples who come to me to help me because their relationship is on the verge of doom. It is rare for both to be affected equally. Usually one person is desperately trying to hold on while the other person has one foot in front of the door. Does that sound like you? It was I, with two marriages and divorces, that shamed me deeply until I learned of the 5 Levels of Love.
I’ve been a marriage and family counselor for over fifty years, and part of my shame about the two divorces was that I thought I should know better. I mean, if you are a trained counselor helping others and writing books about men and their relationships, you should be able to be a role model and have your own relationship life in order, right?
Well the truth is, when it comes to love and marriage, counselors can be as blind as the average person. Of course, that doesn’t make it easier when you’re the counselor who got disaffected and two marriages ended badly.
I decided I needed serious help that I reached out and got. Even therapists, perhaps especially therapists, can benefit from swallowing their pride and admitting that they are lost and in need of help finding their way home. I can tell you that I’ve been married to my wife Carlin for 41 wonderful years.
Marriages can fall apart at any age, but they are particularly prone to failure in middle age when the couple could enjoy their relationship the most. Here are the things we’ve learned that I think will be most helpful to you.
Midlife is a real downer
When I say midlife is a real downer, I mean that people around the world are happier younger and older, but bottomed out by midlife. Dr. David Blanchflower, Professor of Economics at Dartmouth College, conducted a monumental research study on data from 500,000 people in 132 countries. In each case, he found that “people’s happiness rose and fell in a U-shaped curve and that it bottomed out at ages 47 and 49.”
Earning a living and supporting a family can be stressful at any time of life, but middle-aged is the most stressful. It’s not surprising that so many midlife marriages fall apart, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The first step is to understand that the problem may not be our partner, but how we see ourselves and the world.
Men are the key to a great marriage
Like most men I know, I grew up feeling that it was my job to go out and make a living to support my family. being the breadwinner was the male role. Taking care of the family was my wife’s job. Even though my wife worked full-time, I still felt that women have special skills to keep relationships alive and healthy. I mistakenly thought that if I were a good provider it would be good enough to keep love alive. I was wrong.
The truth is, women, on average, are more likely to get divorced than men. Numerous studies have shown this. In fact, nearly 70 percent of divorces are initiated by women. This is according to a 2015 research study conducted by the American Sociological Association, which found that two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women. For women with a university degree, this number rises to 90%.
Michael Rosenfeld, associate professor of sociology at Stanford University and author of the ASA study, stated:
“I think marriage as an institution has been slow to meet expectations of gender equality. The husbands still expect their wives to do most of the housework and most of the childcare. “
Just as men learn to become proficient at home and in childcare, so can they learn to take good care of their relationships. If they do this, everyone wins.
Falling in love is nature’s way of causing men and women to come together only to stop living happily
Many men and women long for the time they first fell in love and feel a great loss when love seems to wear off after the initial honeymoon phase. As Harville Hendrix and his wife Helen LaKelly Hunt describe in their book “Making Marriage Simple: 10 Relationship-Saving Truths”.
“In a minute you will be involved in your life as you know it when you suddenly meet one. Your eyes meet, your heart begins to pound. And the fairy tale of romance begins. “
We forget that we are living a fairytale version of love and imagine that we will now live happily. But most of us have seen what comes next. “Love lasts long enough to bind two people together,” say Hendrix and Hunt, “then it rides off into the sunset. And seemingly overnight, your dream marriage can turn into your biggest nightmare. “
You further describe how many couples I work with with experience. “When people are rudely awakened from the dazzling drama of compatibility, they can get very grumpy,” say Hendrix and Hunt. “Desperate to end the pain and disappointment that romantic love leaves behind, many couples get divorced.” Men often get irritable and angry as I discuss in my book The Irritable Male Syndrome.
It can be worse for those who never got the excitement of falling in love but slipped into a marriage because they seemed to have met the right partner at the right time.
Welcome to Stage 3, Disenchantment.
Disenchantment is not the beginning of the end
But the entrance to really lasting love
To understand how we can heal our relationships and prevent unnecessary divorces, we need to understand the 5 Levels of Love and why too many marriages get off course at Level 3:
- Level 1: falling in love
- Stage 2: Become a couple and build a life together
- Level 3: disenchantment
- Level 4: Creating truly lasting love
- Level 5: Change the world with the power of two.
Disenchantment isn’t a signal that we’ve picked the wrong partner and need to leave and find someone to fall in love with. The purpose is to invite us to deal with the illusions that we have brought into the relationship. We all project our hopes and dreams onto our partner. We imagine that they will love in a way our parents never did or could never do. Now we are forced to become real with ourselves and our partner.
We need to realize that they are wonderful but flawed people, just like us. We long to be loved for who we really are, not who we pretend to be. Level 3 is the test field to separate those who want to become real from those who live superficially and want to remain in the illusion of love.
To become real means to accept the reality that 90%
our problems come from the past
The good news and bad news about Level 3 is that 90% of the problems you have with your partner and that you have with them are not the result of anything you or your partner do wrong. That’s the good news. The bad news is that in order to get to level four and have a really lasting love in your life, you need to heal your childhood wounds.
I had to face the fact that I had a mother who was smart, sexy, but emotionally cold and aloof. I found that I was attracted to smart, sexy women who turned out to be emotionally cold and aloof. My two former wives came from families where they lost their fathers. My first wife’s father died when she was nine years old. My second wife lost her father when she became sexually mature and he withdrew from her completely.
We never realized our constant struggles, and the subsequent disenchantment we had in our marriage had roots that stretch back to our unhealed childhoods. With Carlin, we were able to recognize our past wounds, learn to heal them, and step into Level 4, Real Lasting Love.
Real lasting love is what we all want and is
Even better than we imagine
Most couples never experience level 4. They fail too soon or give up finding real lasting love and settle for a relationship that is good but not great. Worse, they stay in a marriage of convenience and never take the risk of going deeper. I tell my clients that a marriage that takes them through all five stages is not for the faint of heart. It takes great courage to deal with the pain and hard healing work that is required in Stage 3. I call it the Graduate Program of Life, and like all graduate programs, not everything has the perseverance, courage, and strength to see it through to the end.
One of the reasons people drop out too early is because they crave the passion, pleasure, and crazy magic that we experience when we are in love. But here is some unexpected, good news. Not only do those who reach Level 4 find that they are falling in love with their partner again, but the love is even better than before because it is real.
If you would like more information on the 5 stages of love, drop me an email and include “Tell me more about the 5 stages” in the subject line. If you’d like to read more articles like this one, visit me at https://menalive.com/the-blog/.
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