Midlife Years: Relationships

by Peter Milhado PHD on July 10, 2018

Because so much hope and so much need is invested in our relationships, the opportunity for disappointment is tremendous.  Most marriages who even make it to mid-life are under great strain.  It is pretty amazing, for those who can admit it, to realize that the enormity of such choices as picking a marriage partner were largely made unconsciously, usually a couple of decades before.  Unfortunately, the same holds true for career choices as well.

Intimate relationships reveal quite a bit about ourselves when we start them.  Beginning relationships are symptomatic of the state of our inner life, as no relationship can be any better than the relationship we have to our own unconscious.  How we are related to ourselves determines not only the choice of our partner but also the quality of the relationship.  This might be a bitter pill to swallow for those who passively ‘ended up’ in a relationship or those who were in obsessive pursuit of the ‘magical other’.  The bottom line is; however, no intimate relationship can be better than our relationship with ourselves. (J. Hollis)

The Fusion Model (1+1=1)

The psychological model for marriage in our culture is one of total togetherness and fusion i.e. (1+1=1).  The assumption is that only through union with another will I become complete; whatever I lack will be made up by my partner.  Whenever we feel that meaning in our life will be provided primarily through relationship with our spouses we end up in major trouble.  In mid-life we have to acknowledge that this enmeshment does not work, because this need to merge with another is largely based on insecurity and fear.  Each person is in charge of their own soul development, we all have to find meaning for ourselves in our naked aloneness.  There is a strong push from inside of us in mid-life to separate psychologically from our mates and to individuate.  This is a healthy impulse and can ultimately lead to much healthier intimacy.  Obviously individuation and psychological separation does not necessarily mean physical separation or divorce.  If only one partner becomes conscious of this and begins to individuate this will bring havoc into the established marriage for awhile.  The status quo needs to be challenged.

The Individuation Model (1+1=3)

Ultimately, we can only serve our marriages by becoming more fully ourselves and separate psychologically.  When we realize this, tremendous strain is added to our relationships…especially if only one in the partnership becomes conscious first, which is usually the case.  At that point the accusation ‘you’re not the person I married’ is actually a compliment.  Whereas in the first half of life we wanted confirmation, in mid-life we must accept difference.  “Where one wanted the simple love of sameness, one must now learn the difficult task of otherness.”(Hollis)

If we stop our growth because we’re afraid our partner can’t handle it we end up chronically depressed and angry.  On the other hand, if we try to block the soulful development of our spouses, we’re committing a spiritual crime.  In mid-life it’s imperative we grow, that we attempt to fulfill our potential and ‘follow one’s bliss’ so to speak.  We must grant the same right to our spouses!  The sooner both partners embrace the necessity of psychological separation and individuation, the greater the chance the marriage will survive soulfully.  Mid-life by definition is a time when change must be embraced otherwise we’ll wither into resentment and cynicism.  It’s either grow or die within.

To the poet Rilke relationship was the sharing of solitude with another.  He would defend the other person’s right to solitude as his own.  Another German poet Friederich Nietsche told us that marriage is a conversation…a grand dialogue.  When couples don’t talk anymore and have exhausted their conversation, growing as individuals stopped.  The ability to separate and be alone is essential, but so is the ability to dialogue and talk.  Long time intimacy requires a long time dialogue.  In a soulful relationship we share our outer and inner journeys with one another through compassion, sexuality and conversation.  When we’re able to stay connected with our partner through dialogue and yet support each other’s separateness we have a new model for relationship, namely 1+1=3… two individual souls who create a third entity, (the relationship) which stretches us beyond our individual limitations and brings us closer to the mystery of life. Gratitude to James Hollis Ph.D. in whose work this article is anchored.

One for all and all for one. Love to Mother Meera

Peter Milhado © 2018

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