A magnificent Chinar tree is a symbol of beauty, strength, and resilience. It witnesses the passing of seasons, transforming its green leaves into hues of gold, red, and yellow.
Similarly, a marriage undergoes its own beautiful transformation, evolving with time in every stage of its journey. From the early days of changing diapers to the transitions of changing schools, houses, jobs, and even countries, couples experience significant life transitions side by side.
Three-Legged Race & Tug Of War
Have you ever participated in a three-legged race? Just as two partners in a three-legged race try to win the race with their legs tied with a rope, two people in a marriage require a similar level of coordination and synchronized efforts.
The journey through married life is not that easy and involves different rates of aging, unmet expectations, personality differences, values, and upbringing clashes. Aging is a gradual process where one partner may require more emotional /physical support or adjustments along the race.
Try playing the tug-of-war sport while you are also running the three-legged race. The combined forces exerted in opposite directions lead to a potentially chaotic situation. That is what happens when married partners engage in power struggles or face challenges or external stressors on individual fronts.
Red Flags & Alarm Bells
As couples age, it is possible for their connection to be overlooked or forgotten by them. This “marriage trap” can subtly erode the foundation of even a GREAT relationship if left unaddressed.
The red flags: Communication breakdown, routine, boredom, and expressions of appreciation and affection (through small gestures or compliments) diminishing over time.
Alarm bells: Couples may lose sight of each other’s individual needs and desires while pursuing personal goals or hobbies. Emotional and physical connect may take a nosedive due to persistent conflicts, trust issues, disinterest, health issues, etc.
Mirror Mirror On The Wall
“Look in the mirror, my friend. Just as she may no longer be the Snow White, you too are no Prince Charming,” The once graceful stride may now resemble the movement of a tortoise.
As time passes, we find ourselves gazing into the mirror of our relationship, questioning whether the person standing before us is still the same individual we married. The familiarity we once cherished seems to slip away, leaving us feeling disconnected.
Couples may yearn to rediscover their partner and truly see them for who they are in this present moment. We may even find ourselves pondering whether WE have changed so much that we no longer recognize the person WE once were.
As couples age, it is important to remember that both partners are growing old together. They may experience reduced energy levels and mobility, as well as cognitive decline.
Low physical proximity heightens the emotional consequences, causing feelings of isolation. “Mismatched expectations may arise when one partner retains physical capabilities while the other experiences limitations, leading to dissatisfaction.”
A lack of empathy, zero communication, neglected self-care (a situation where one partner has to focus solely on the other’s well-being), exhaustion, resentment, etc, becomes the silent killers of an aging married life.
IF one partner falls in the race and the other continues, the partner who remains fit may also be facing challenges as he has an extra burden now in the relationship.
The fitter partners have their own wounds, which the fallen partner may not recognize or acknowledge. They fail to validate or show empathy to their fitter partner, consumed by their own struggles.
They may expect the fitter partner to continue carrying the load without offering adequate support or understanding in return. The fitter partner may harbor resentment, feel unheard, or be taken for granted. When one partner consistently overlooks the struggles of the other, it can lead to deeper relationship issues.
At 27, she effortlessly cooked for 27 unexpected friends, displaying her hospitality. However, at 72, she faces difficulties cooking for just the two of you. In his younger years, he even had the strength to swing you effortlessly. Now he struggles to lift himself. The woman may feel inadequate, while the man may experience frustration and helplessness.
It is crucial to acknowledge that both partners are likely experiencing suffering and burnout in their OWN ways. Empty nest syndrome (when children become independent and leave), the passing away of dear ones, financial/health issues, and retirement play character roles in the burnout saga.
This can lead to Grey Divorces, the phenomenon of older adults, typically aged 50 or older, choosing to end their marriages.
‘The Blind Man & The Lame’
This fable beautifully illustrates how two individuals, despite their disabilities, join forces to complement and compensate for each other’s weaknesses.
In an aging marriage, a similar dynamic can emerge. Just like the blind and the lame, they can draw upon each other’s strengths and abilities to continue their journey together. One partner may possess wisdom and emotional intelligence, serving as a guide for the other during any uncertainty or doubt.
The other partner may provide physical and financial support by being a reliable presence in times of need. By embracing their respective roles, they can bask in true partnership and companionship that can transcend limitations.
Kintsugi, The ‘Golden Repair’
Kintsugi is a traditional Japanese art form that involves repairing broken pottery with gold, silver, or other precious metals. The word “kintsugi” itself means “golden joinery” or “golden repair.” Rather than concealing the cracks and imperfections, kintsugi highlights and celebrates them, transforming the broken piece into a unique work of art.
Couples, too, can choose to embrace their cracks and imperfections. Friendship is the gold that can repair the broken crack, the precious element that brings renewed strength to an aging marriage.
Kintsugi requires a financial investment, while friendship is an emotional investment of time, energy, and emotions for reconnecting with your partner. “It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”
Ever wondered why many ex-couples get along so well? Because their predefined roles as critical, nagging spouse changes, and they focus on positivity.
What is it about friends that we love to hang out with them?
Simply because they do not judge us or try to change us but accept us for who we are and genuinely like us the way we are. If we could become that friend to each other by burying our grudges, the last season of our life could be like a sunrise in our sunset years.
Look into the tired aging eyes of your mate. There you will see a glimpse of the life you started together, built together, the dreams you saw together, or the milestones you achieved together. There, together, you might rediscover the love engulfed in ego.
As the race nears the finale, it is time to untie the rope. Let go of the constraints and take each other’s hand, walking together as friends towards the twilight years.
If a broken pot can be repaired with gold and become even more beautiful than before, so can relationships. Do not give up working on your relationship because you have invested your entire life in it, and it deserves a golden second chance.
The time for competition, jealousy, and resentment should fade away. Release any lingering negativity and replace it with a sense of gratitude for each other. This race was never about who crossed the finish line first but about the love, memories, and relations you earned along the way. Celebrate your legacy and embrace the incredible journey you have shared.
- Sunila Wali is a counseling psychologist with a passion for promoting mental health. She holds a Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is currently based in Mumbai, India.
- Mail the author at sticku (at) jhu.edu
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