This is a time we often get sick in body, mind, and soul. In our marriage, Carlin and I both began having problems with our hearts (heartache?) and were diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. I began having serious problems with erections. To be truthful, there were times when it was miserable and we both thought about leaving the relationship.
But we didn’t give up, we kept going. There’s an old adage, “When you’re going through hell, don’t stop.” This seems to be true of this stage of life. The positive side of Stage three is that the heat burns away a lot of our illusions about ourselves and our partner. We have an opportunity to become more loving and appreciate the person we are with, not the projections we had placed on them as our “ideal mate.”
Carlin and I have now been together over thirty-five years. We’ve moved into the next stages of love and feel blessed to have learned the skills for negotiating the stage of disillusionment and can truly enjoy the later stages of love.
Stage 4: Creating Real, Lasting Love
One of the gifts of confronting the unhappiness in Stage three is we can get to the core of what causes the pain and conflict. Like most people, Carlin and I grew up in families that were dysfunctional. Both my father and mother suffered from depression and my Dad tried to take his own life when I was five years old. Carlin’s father was an angry, violent man. Her mother left him in order to protect herself and her daughter. We all have wounds and the wounds need healing if we’re to have a relationship that is real and loving.
Ongoing research from The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study demonstrates conclusively that childhood trauma can impact our physical, emotional, and relational health. For the first time, I made the connection between my father’s attempted suicide when I was five and my adult depression and erectile dysfunction.
Carlin and I learned to be allies in helping each other understand and heal our wounds. As we began to heal, the love and laughter we thought we had lost began to flow again. We began to see each other as wonderful beings who had suffered greatly in the past and had come together to love each other and help heal our old wounds from childhood.
There’s nothing more satisfying than being with a partner who sees you and loves you for who you are. They understand that your hurtful behavior is not because you are mean and unloving, but because you have been wounded in the past and the past still lives with you. As we better understand and accept our partner, we can learn to love ourselves ever more deeply.
Stage 5: Using the Power of Two to Change the World
No one has to remind us that the world is not doing too well. There are continuous wars and conflicts. Racial violence seems to be everywhere. We wonder whether humans can survive. I wondered, “If we can’t even find peace between two people who love each other, what chance do we have to create a world that can work for all its peoples?”
But now, I look at the flip side of that question. If we can learn to overcome our differences and find real, lasting love in our relationships, perhaps we can work together to find real, lasting love in the world.
I believe that every couple has an opportunity to use the “power of two” to address some aspect of the world’s problems that touch their lives. Carlin and I are particularly tuned to issues that face men and women at midlife. We are writing a book, You Two: Renewing Your Mid-Life Marriage for Real Lasting Love. If you’d like more information about our work, drop us a note through our website, www.MenAlive.com.
We’re also interested in your own journey. Please share your own experiences on the path of real, lasting love. Together we can make a difference in the world.