Marriage over 50 can be a blessing or a burden. The trials of life can either tear you apart or bring you closer together. There are distinct signs that your marriage is ending and this can often happen with couples when the kids are leaving the nest. A couple will often wake up and realize that they are no longer connected as they once were. Stress, careers and raising children can take a toll on the relationship.
Do you wake up one day and realize you no longer know your spouse and have nothing in common as we often hear in the media? Or are there telltale signs that a marriage is headed down the wrong path.
There are distinct signs that a marriage is on its way to the end regardless of your age. On average, 20 percent of married women and 13 percent of married men, report having thought about leaving their spouse.
The Signs Your Marriage is Over
There are several signs that are often ignored and before you know it your marriage is over. Learn to recognize those signs as they are beginning then you have an opportunity to resolve the issues and change your behavior as a couple or seek counseling.
If you are hearing or feeling contempt in your relationship then this is a huge sign the marriage is in trouble. Contempt can happen from a long history of undermining behaviors in the relationship that have worn it down over the years or it can come from a major event like infidelity.
With couples who have remained together a long time, contempt typically stems from more subtle behaviors that have worn down respect in the relationship. In a marriage, contempt is acting as though your partner is beneath you or not worth your time. It’s disregarding someone else’s thoughts and opinions or actively displaying scorn for them. Eye-rolling, ignoring your partner in favor of your phone, invalidating their feelings are all behaviors that can trigger contempt in a relationship.
As summed up by The Gottman Institute, “contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about one’s partner, and it arises in the form of an attack on someone’s sense of self.” Gottman describes contempt as far beyond criticism, as it indicates a moral superiority over one’s partner. “If Gottman observes one or both partners in a marriage showing contempt toward the other, he considers it the most important sign that a marriage is in trouble.”
Communication does not just mean acknowledging your partner when they walk in the door. It mean sharing your concerns and joy. Every night we had dinner together as a family and now that the kids are gone we still do. This is our time to connect about each other’s day and get a rundown of the day’s events. I remember a co-worker saying to me, “You tell your husband what happens at work?” YES! I spend more time at work than I do with my spouse! I want to hear all about his day and he wants to hear about mine.
In one study, 53 percent of couples reported that a lack of communication was a core reason for their divorce. In any relationship, communication is crucial to building a foundation of honesty and trust. When you and your partner won’t address relationship issues or share in each other’s joy, or sorrows, it means your emotional intimacy is diminishing.
Mentioning the “D” Word
We have all heard this. Never threaten or bring up divorce in conversations and arguments. Once you take hold of this mindset it can bring on a whole host of other issues. You can take on a single person’s attitude and other factors can creep in like infidelity. You must have a long term mentality and should not be an option in conversations.
I personally have seen couples that have been discussing this option for over 15 years so maybe it is not always a death sentence. However, if you are thinking it, then speaking it, you are more likely to act on it. One thing it will do is undermine the safety of the relationship. If one person always has a foot out the door then the other spouse can not feel safe in the relationship.
There is a difference between a criticism and a complaint. The important thing is to learn the difference between expressing a complaint and criticizing:
- Complaint: “I was scared when you were running late and didn’t call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other.”
- Criticism: “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish. You never think of others! You never think of me!”
If the majority of your complaints turn into criticisms then it can become a problem. A partner who is constantly assaulted this way can not deal with this kind of rejection long term. Eventually, this critical behavior leads to contempt.
This is one that is so important for many reasons. A person who is defensive is typically a person who is not taking personal responsibility in the relationship. But it can also stem from living with someone who is overly critical.
Here is when it is a major issue. I come to you with my complaint. You retort with a defense. In my experience, you are probably not even listening to me. You are taking no ownership for your part in the complaint. And I do not feel validated. Some people are naturally defensive and are always in this mode. They incapable of having a healthy exchange because they live in a world of making excuses. In addition, the defensive person will turn it around on you and try to make it your fault.
Here is an unhealthy defensive exchange.
Did you make it to the bank today to make the deposit?
No, I did not make it to the bank today! You know how busy I am! You should have made the deposit yourself!
Here is a healthy response.
No, I had a jam-packed day. My fault. I will get the deposit to the bank tomorrow.
Lack of Intimacy
As we age many people struggle with sexual dysfunction or a decrease in sexual interest. A lack of physical affection can make one feel unwanted and also cause them to wander. Even if there is a lack of sex drive you can still give your partner the physical attention they deserve. Sex is not the only way to connect on a physical level. Physical attention is a strong predictor of where the relationship is headed and promotes likeability, affection and reduces stress. It also creates a stronger bond for the couple.
However, the rush of fantasizing about a new relationship and wandering eyes can be the nail in the coffin for many couples. Thinking and fantasizing about a new relationship can be the first step in ending the old one in someone’s mind. It is important, no matter the physical issues that you continue to hold hands, hug, kiss and do romantic things together!
Has your spouse ever just not responded in a conversation? This is known as stonewalling and is usually a response to criticism and contempt. Stonewalling can be a protection mechanism that turns into a bad habit. Initially, it can stem from contempt and the person uses it as a way to protect themselves by not responding. They can be afraid that if they open their mouth they will not be able to control their anger. They may feel things will go too far. So they clam up.
How does it become a bad habit? It can be a power play on the part of the spouse who is doing it. Not only is it passive-aggressive but it allows the stonewaller to feel in control while the spouse being stonewalled is feeling confused as to why they can not get a response.
The marriages that seem to survive, have a sense of teamwork and dedication to making it to the end. Let’s be honest, sometimes people stay together because it is easier than breaking up.
I was talking to a friend the other day who has had a really tough marriage. I won’t get into his details here. But he feels that if they stay together then the marriage is a success. I say that can not be further from the truth. We all want a partner who loves and respects us. Someone we can grow old with and enjoy our lives and the fruit of our endeavors with. Sticking it out and living completely separate lives in a miserable marriage does not make it a successful marriage.
It may not be too late, if BOTH parties are willing, to reconnect and rebuild a mutual relationship of trust. I have found in my experience that the marriages that work as a team are the most solid. They are looking out for each other’s best interests rather than their own self-interests and enjoy each other’s company.
After almost 25 years of marriage, I look forward to my husband returning home at the end of the day so I can find out what he has been up to! If I see him struggling to keep up with something I need him to do I offer to help or try to come up with solutions. He does the same for me. We are more than best friends. We are partners and we have each other’s back no matter what the circumstances.
Recognizing these patterns of behavior is not enough. You must replace the unhealthy patterns with new healthy conversations and patterns. I see so many couples having the same fights over and over. But it must be an effort on both parts. You can only individually change how you react though! If your spouse is not willing then you can not control this.
Looking for tips on Empty Nest? Check out our article on How to Fill Your Calendar After the Nest is Empty.