By the time you reach midlife and the oftentimes-simultaneous status of empty-nester, you've most likely been married for quite some time. Twenty, twenty-five years or more have flown by, and if you're fortunate, your marriage has survived the tumult and emotional roller-coaster that is the child-raising experience.
And now it's just the two of you, looking back in shock that all of that is done --looking forward and wondering:
What the heck do we do now?
I'm no marriage expert, but I've made it this far -- 24 years and counting -- and I've observed a lot of married couples over the many years I've been married.
Note: I'm assuming that my marriage will remain intact for the next 24+ years. But you never know. My husband could up and leave me tomorrow, especially if Jennifer Lopez came knocking at our door looking for him. And don't think I wouldn't give it a lot of thought if Idris Elba found his way to my world. If you don't know who Idris Elba is, check him out.
So how do you stay married?
1. Decide you want to.
I don't mean to sound flippant, but in my experience that seems to be the most important thing couples do to remain married. This does NOT apply to those who cheat on each other, or are abusive or mean or just plain awful. This is about those months... years... that are tinged with a touch of ennui.
2. Make the marriage bigger than either individual.
You must do this. Neither individual's needs can be more important than the needs of the relationship. Sure, I'd like to take a few months and go live in a little apartment by the sea, writing and working and just indulging in being, well, alone. But that's never going to happen, because my marriage is more important than my personal needs. My priority is my relationship, not my yearning for solitude.
3. Accept that it will never, ever be 50/50.
You know those people who say marriage is an equal partnership? I say HA! to that. You may be equals and treat each other as such, but there are times when one of you takes a whole lot more than the other, when it's more like 80/20. If you're fortunate (and smart), those times when you both need 80% won't coincide. And rest assured (you probably already know this), the pendulum swings both ways.
4. Leave each other alone.
By the time you're at midlife, you know what you are and how you like to spend your time. Me, I'm a fairly self-contained person -- I live in my head. I can be silent and reading, working , or just puttering around for hours -- that's just how I am. Thankfully my husband knows this about me and -- most of the time -- he lets me be. Likewise, I leave him alone during football season when he
1. attends USC games and acts like a college boy and2. sits on the sofa watching football for hours...and hours.
and, to completely contradict myself...
5. Intrude when needed.
If you want to avoid watching your husband drive off in a (real or metaphorical) red sports car with a 22 year old by his side, you must pay attention and ask questions. Likewise, your husband should be tuned in to your moods and emotions and be able to know when to run interference between you and the bags of potato chips and Oreos in the pantry or case of Sauvignon Blanc in the wine rack.
6. Have sex, but only if you want to.
Sex is very important -- but I know some married couples who have virtually no sex at all and are quite content with their relationships. Really, I do. Don't feel obligated to live up to someone else's standards of what a good sex life is. This is the most personal and private part of your relationship, and it should work for you and your husband and no one else. If you want to improve your sex life, TELL YOUR PARTNER. Likewise, if he is grumbling, pay attention. Remember, that 22 year old is out there.
7. Go out and have fun.
Whatever it is you like to do - gardening, off-road racing, antiquing - do it. Together. Playtime is more important than ever when it's just the two of you.
Remember your lives together. Talk about when your children were small, when you dated, the night you got engaged. Talk about the friends you've had, the people you love. The key is to connect, and remembering is connecting.
Marriage is tough, but here's the thing -- it matters.
Knowing someone has your back all the time is worth all the hard work and infuriating moments.
And having someone's hand to hold in the middle of the night makes it all worthwhile.