Marriage and the Midlife Crisis

Last week it was my husband’s and my wedding anniversary. We celebrated with hugs and kind words and time spent pottering about with our kids, getting on with the usual chores. In the evening we had a takeaway and dessert. In quiet moments I reflected on our almost 20 years together (13 of them as a married couple).

 

Teika Marija Smits, photo by Andy Rhymer

Teika Marija Smits, photo by Andy Rhymer

 

On the day of our wedding, it would have been good if, along with the marriage certificate, we were given a guide to negotiating the ups and downs of marriage, but as no one presented us with such a guide, like many other couples we bumbled along and came up with our own. Although it took a while to craft, it is, thankfully, short. It goes something like this:

  1. Love and respect each other.
  2. Communicate well.

And voila! That is it!

In the early days of marriage, when we were in our late 20s, it seemed so simple. We had it all figured out. Go us!

But you know what… we got older. We had kids. We were constantly tired. Number 2 sometimes seemed impossible. Simply because there was no time to communicate, let alone communicate well. Time seemed to have sped up and slowed down all at once. There was no time to just be. No time to be alone with each other. But equally, sometimes time stretched on forever… particularly when one of the children was ill or teething or going through a particularly challenging phase of development. You name it… it seemed to go on and on and on…. When we were childless, the importance of time spent together hadn’t even crossed my mind.

So in the glorious muddle of early motherhood I made a note to myself:

  1. Spend time together (with or without the kids, depending on their age & needs).

As the children became more independent and the hazy days of early motherhood began to clear I thought, Aha! We have more time now! We’re back on track. But you know what? We were now middle-aged. And you know what happens at middle age, don’t you? Yep. The midlife crisis.

 

The Uninvited Guest, painting by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

The Uninvited Guest, painting by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale

 

But this wasn’t something that I’d ever considered in my 20s. The midlife crisis was only for men who had a penchant for motorbikes, wasn’t it? Turns out I was wrong.

Suddenly at the midpoint of our lives, it dawns on us that time is beginning to run out. We still haven’t been to Australia, won the Nobel Prize or travelled in outer space. This is the time of the midlife crisis, which Jung says is frequently marked in men by a period of depression around the age of 40, and at a slightly younger age in women.

Some women seem to hit the midlife crisis when their children have all started school and they suddenly have a bit more freedom. Others, especially those who are working full-time, seem to have a later one when the children leave home.

Jung, The Key Ideas, by Ruth Snowden

Whoa! This was serious stuff! And we both seemed to be going through it.

Not only are us middle-aged folk ‘psychologically vulnerable’ at this time, biology seems to be against us too. Our bodies are changing. Growing older. Hair falls out. Or turns grey. Hormones are in flux. Ovaries are on the downturn… For many women it is a last chance to consider having children. Men don’t experience quite the same fertility anxieties. Yet the possibility of other partners – younger spouses – often adds to the mix of the midlife crisis. As does realising that the ‘career-for-life’ (often chosen in one’s 20s) doesn’t quite turn out to be the right career. Where do you go from there – particularly when the weight of financial responsibility is on your shoulders? Job stuck. Heart stuck. Mind stuck. It all sucks.

I hope (I trust) we are through the worst of it, but you know what, it was sometimes rough. Sometimes more down than up. But what really helped was this:

  1. Communicating well.

Although there was the whole ‘figuring out how to communicate’ thing! In our 20s, talking to each other had always come easily, but real proper communication… well, first we both had to figure out how to do that. Turns out it’s dead simple. But hard. It consists of a) LISTENING to the other person WITHOUT JUDGEMENT (that’s a challenge!) and b) LISTENING to oneself and one’s own needs WITHOUT JUDGEMENT (again, harder said than done). After that, comes honest discussion, with solutions put forward for ways to work through the particular challenge. It’s about remembering that if you do still:

  1. Love and respect each other

in essence you’re on the other person’s side. So make time to talk. To listen. To find a way through a challenging time.

Also, in the midst of the midlife crisis muddles I remember thinking that self-reflection was (again) a real saviour. Figuring out that I was a highly-sensitive person as well as a limerent helped. So I added the following to add to the guide:

  1. Know thyself. (Though I think some Greek philosophers got there before me!)

Finally…

Midlife crisis, then, marks the return of the opposite, an attempt on the part of the psyche to re-balance. Jung says that this stage is actually very important, because otherwise we risk developing the kind of personality that attempts always to recreate the psychic disposition of youth.

Jung, The Key Ideas, by Ruth Snowden

So the last point I’d add to the guide is this:

  1. Be mindful of life’s rhythms, and how these rhythms and shifts in circumstances can affect a relationship. Wild beings (Wild Man and Wild Woman too) instinctively understand the importance of taking note of natural rhythms. There will be ups and downs; as long as number 1. (love and respect) is still there, one of the most worthwhile things to do is to hold on to each other and find a way through.

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A guest post about the creation of ‘The Ballad of the Beach’

I was really pleased to be able to liaise with Lisa Hassan Scott so that a piece of my writing about the creation of my poem ‘The Ballad of the Beach’ could be published on her excellent blog.

It was really good to see my poetry on her blog (me? A guest blogger?!) and to have it accompanied by the beautiful art quilt by Karen Bachman-Kells (as featured in ‘Musings on Mothering’). Lisa has a large following on her blog – and I’m not surprised as she writes with great intelligence about parenting from the heart.

If you’d like to read my article, here is the link:

Lisa Hassan Scott’s blog

and why not stop by and have a good read of the articles on her site. You may just find that a minute (or twenty) have suddenly just vanished…

 

 

When being stuck in a bad job is a good thing.


Poetess, book lover, chemist…

I think I created poetry before I began to read and really love books. Then I loved books, and didn’t know whether to study the arts/literature at A level grade or to study the sciences. (I reasoned that I could continue to read fiction whilst carrying out science experiments at school, but that I couldn’t carry on doing science experiments whilst studying literature at school. A wise choice, I think.) And so I studied chemistry for many, many years and was happy until I became stuck in a job that was not right for me. I became very unhappy. The daily commute on trains and tube trains was wearying – in soul and body. The job was wearying – in soul and body. I didn’t know what to do. I read books and escaped into fictional worlds, desperate to be ‘there’ rather than in real life. Months went on. I found fault with everything and everyone… I found fault with myself. Why wasn’t I right for this job? Why couldn’t I make it work? Why couldn’t I be happy in this career?

Yet it was the best thing to happen to me, because it propelled me into action. As I questioned whether this career really was right for me, I began to connect with my inner voice and really listen to myself. What did I want to do? What did I want from my life? Could there be another path I could take? And would I be a loser for leaving the path that I had been on for so many years…? I was sure my male colleagues would think I was.

So I did something brave. I left it all behind. The work I went into next wasn’t quite right for me either, but the main thing was that I had left the familiar, well-trodden path, and tried to find my own path. It was scary to do so, but ultimately, right for me.

I will always remember that ‘bad’ job with fondness. Because it helped me to find me.

So what is a wild woman?

Well… a wild woman is not a screaming, raving banshee. She is not an out-of-control woman desperately clawing at everything and everyone in a mad rage. She is rather like the wild itself; the untamed wild forests, prairies and deserts where everything is in balance – in accord. And like the animals that live in that wilderness, a wild woman lives with her instincts intact. She trusts her own inner voice, is wary of predators, and loves her children and tribe fiercely. She is also in tune with her own – and the environment’s – cycles, and is not afraid of the ‘life, death, life’ cycle. Our ‘civilized’, industrialized culture in the West has attempted to tame the wild woman (and continues to try to do so) with the idea that a woman should, at all costs (and at all times) ‘be nice’, ‘be happy’ and ‘look pretty’. Yet the wild woman is hard to tame… and I believe that within every woman there is a wildness; a fierce loving and glorious creativity that has the potential to be unleashed and empower the woman, if only the woman begins the quest…

But is there time for this quest? Surely modern woman is just too busy; busy with the children, busy with her job, busy with her partner, busy with the house… The list is endless. But this work – the journey to develop the psyche, and to truly listen to one’s own inner voice is, ultimately, the most important work there is. Because a strong woman; a wild woman has the power to live life to the full; to move mountains, change society’s perceptions… she can change the world.

And best of all, wild woman wants to be found. She will help you make the journey. You only have to start…

To the Wild Woman at My Heels


When I think of a wolf, I think of thee;

Fearsome, yet loving, with instinct intact.

O wildish woman, untamed and free,

When I think of a wolf, I think of thee,

And I long to be able to see what you see.

I’m ready to journey; to sort fiction from fact…

*

Now when I think of a wolf, I think of me;

Fearsome, yet loving, with instinct intact.


by Marija Smits


This blog post was inspired by the wonderful book Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.