Mid-life Crisis & Emotional Traumas
Many marriages seem to fall apart after some years have passed… after the initial excitement of the marriage is over. The trigger that sends a couple to marriage counseling can be one or more activities that make a partner feel they “can’t take it anymore,” activities that some may consider trivial and others consider major. The major problems we often see are:
- Lack of emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy
- Change of personality and interests
- Boredom or anxiety
- These activities are sometimes judged as “just a mid-life crisis,” but for the couple involved they are important enough to break up the marriage.
There is a time (often in the period between the ages of 35 and 50) when many people question the state of their lives. They have worked hard and acquired a family, home, status, and the material possessions that they desired, but then some doubts arise. They question where they are in their life and they may exhibit some behavioral changes that could be symptoms of this so-called mid-life crisis (which we fondly refer to as mid-life explorations). Some of these behavioral changes:
- Unusual anger and irritability
- Excessive eating, dieting, exercise, or shopping
- Boredom, exhaustion, or frantic energy
- Sexual affairs
- Dissatisfaction with job
- Drug or alcohol excesses
- Daydreaming, desire for solitude
- Major change in libido
- Anxiety and/or Depression (including panic attacks)
At a Marriage Quest Intensive 3-Day Marriage Retreat the four of us (the couple and Cathie and Israel, the therapists) first discuss the behaviors that have appeared, and then look to understand some of the causes of the behavioral changes (as well as some ways to deal with them). Some typical causes might be:
- Death of a close friend or parent
- Stress because of children (especially teenagers)
- Feelings of apathy at work or unemployment
- A sense of loss during the “empty nest” phase as the children leave home
- Hormone changes including menopause
- Aging parent needing a caregiver
- Signs of aging: aching bones, reading glasses, etc.
- Retirement and a need for some direction
- Feeling that time is passing them by with no goals or challenges left
- Adult children returning home or needing a lot of help
- Recognition of one’s eventual death
A mid-life crisis can play havoc with a marriage, changing a stable family life into chaos. Unexpected behavioral and mood changes can cause untold damage to all family relationships. Often it is necessary to dig deeper, to an earlier time in the individual’s life, to find significant contributions for their current problems.
Find Your Meaning Together
It is crucial to gain an understanding of the causes of a mid-life crisis so that the objectionable behavior will not be repeated. We find that, through a Marriage Quest Retreat, it is possible to use the mid-life crisis as a way to bring meaning and direction to a couple’s lives. The process can be used as a path to gain a new-found understanding of one’s goals in life and to gain help in finding a direction towards them.
Many couples who come to Marriage Quest are in the middle of a traumatic situation needing help with crisis intervention skills. Our job is to help them sort out what happened, understand perhaps why it happened, what their various choices are, and learn relationship and coping skills to deal with all of it.
Some traumas we have helped couples with include:
- Chronic lying and/or deceit
- Sexual affairs
- Emotional affairs or inappropriate behaviors
- Effects of medical challenges on sexual performance
- Illness of self or family members
- Aging parents
- Death of a child
- Disagreements with retirement plans
Triggering old wounds
Often current traumatic events, such as an affair or an illness, will trigger the unresolved pain of past traumas (PTSD) leading to major challenges and trust issues and making everything worse. If the reaction to present day events seem bigger than expected it may be because of old unresolved wounds and feelings of shame.
We have found that working on your relationship is a good way to improve marital satisfaction as well as a good way to heal old personal wounds and traumas at the same time. Traditional psychotherapists are known for saying that you can’t change anyone but yourself. We disagree. While you may not be responsible for changing your spouse, you certainly influence your spouse in positive or negative ways, so work to be a positive agent of change in your marriage.
Psychotherapists also say that you should do your individual work before engaging in Marriage Counseling. At Marriage Quest we believe that it is very useful to do individual therapy before getting married in order heal old wounds and traumas and become a whole and healthy person. But doing individual therapy while married can be hazardous to your marriage and is more likely to lead to a divorce. When marriage therapy is done right we actually get to heal our traumas (particularly childhood wounds) through the marital relationship bonds.
When a person learns to cope with life’s challenges and see things in a more positive manner they gain a new perspective on past traumatic events. At Marriage Quest we believe there are two basic stages of therapy. The first stage is the telling of the “sad and tragic story” of your trauma. Everyone has been wounded by life in one-way or another. Whether it was emotional neglect, physical, sexual, or verbal abuse in childhood, a rape in college, bullying, a near-death experience, parents’ fighting in earshot, or a nasty divorce almost everyone has felt some emotional trauma.
In the first stage of traditional therapy the client may take on the role of The Victim. For the second stage of therapy the story is the same but the “telling” and the feelings are very different. The Victim becomes the Hero or Heroine of the story and realizes that the trauma or wound has made them who they are today and in so doing they embrace it as a badge of honor. Think about your heroes in life. Have they had an easy life? No, probably not. It is in the hardships and how they were handled that wisdom, character, and pride can be achieved. That’s what Heroes are made of.
At your Marriage Quest retreat we will discuss the causes of your current challenges, and see how they fit with past life events. Our goal is to give you insights and understanding as to how you each get triggered, what you can do about it, and how to strengthen your marriage. We want to teach you how to make your marriage better, and we solve two problems by showing you how to heal those earlier life wounds through the marital relationship.
Get Past the Trauma
People can, and often do, spend years in therapy trying to address them. At your Marriage Quest retreat we will discuss your past and present traumas, with the goal of making your marriage sustainable, affair proof, and couple centered in just three days!