Marriage should be a place where you gain comfort and validation for the struggles that come with life. As my husband and I navigate this midlife journey, the struggles we used to have are very different than the ones we have today. Our bodies have changed. We look in the mirror and see a different version of ourselves that can be hard to recognize. We feel thirty and look every bit of our age. We are experiencing children moving out into their own lives without our constant care, which dramatically changes our role in their lives. While my husband has job security, his workspace is made up of younger and younger employees. Seem stressful? It is. Midlife is no joke.
While there are so many new opportunities to do new things, grow, and design a new phase of life that is rather exciting, some of these changes can bring up fear, sadness, and feelings of irrelevancy.
Even though I don’t care for the term midlife crisis per se, I know at times, coming to terms with these changes can certainly make you feel like you are in a crisis.
It is times like these that we need an extra dose of comfort and give an extra dose to our spouses. I like to think of my relationship with my husband as my comfy recliner at the end of the day. My safe space.
I read this the other day: We all want to be known and understood by our spouses. I agree we want to be known, but I don’t think we need to be understood. We will not always understand what our spouse is going through. We don’t always have the same struggles, nor can we fully understand them. My feelings around my children leaving the nest can’t be fully understood by my spouse. I spent my life raising the children as a stay-at-home mom. They were my focus and work. His main job was supporting our family, working outside of the home. While we both miss our grown children, it isn’t the same. My husband is feeling the change of age in the workforce in his profession. I haven’t gone through that, so I can’t fully understand what that is like. So instead of being understood, I believe what is necessary is to be known, loved, and supported. We want to know that we will find love, support, and comfort for whatever we bring emotionally to the table.
So how can we give and receive comfort during the challenges midlife brings? Here are 5 ways:
To gain comfort, you have to stop trying to appear that you have it all together. You aren’t superhuman. Everyone struggles. It is not a sign of weakness. Getting comfort requires vulnerability. Yes, it may feel risky, but we deepen our intimacy every time we share our deepest selves with our spouses. We don’t always have to be strong or have it all together. Being willing to open yourself up to receive comfort is essential.
Tune into your spouse. Become aware of their struggles by listening intently to what they are saying and changes you see in them, such as moods and behavior. Are they more withdrawn, sad, stressed out? Listen with your full attention to the things they are telling you and be aware of their behavior. Just be more intentionally present.
When you see or hear their struggles, validate them and ask powerful questions to explore the depth of the issue for them. Let me give an example. My husband told me the other day, “I’m the oldest one in the company.” Pretty innocuous on the surface. But it got my attention. It was something he was thinking about, and I had to wonder what’s this about. My first thought was, who cares-you have more valuable experience. But, that was not tuning in to what he was saying. My response was, “That must be a big change for you. How does that make you feel?” This opened a wonderful conversation about aging in the workforce. Avoid minimizing or trying to solve the problem. “That’s silly. You’re not old.” Is minimizing. “Just see yourself as more seasoned than the younger ones,” would be solving it. It’s saying, “If you just do this, you’ll be fine.”
When you notice a change in behavior or mood and aren’t communicating it, don’t force them to talk about it if they aren’t ready. Sometimes when we are struggling, we need time to process through it before talking about it. When my son moved 18 hours away a few months ago, I cried most of the day. My husband just gave me space because I couldn’t sit down and talk about it until I got into a better space. Give your spouse time. Until we process things in our minds, we might not have the words to express what is going on. You can offer your support by saying something like, “I sense you are struggling with something. Do you want to talk about it? I’ll be happy to listen.” If they aren’t, leave it alone. You can say, “I hear you don’t want to talk about it right now, but know I’m here for you if you need me.”
Finally, if you are struggling and needing comfort, share your needs and be specific. I have said to my husband, “You have a minute? I need to share something with you.” If I just need an ear, I say that. If I need a hug or some time alone to process, I ask for it. If I need help figuring out my struggle or know I’m not alone, I’ll ask for advice or ask him if he has ever felt that way.
The Little Extra Touches
And if you see your spouse struggling, give them some extra affirmations building them up. Giving a hug, sending a supportive text, doing a random act of kindness for them just to know you are there for them. Do something you know would make them feel loved.
What if my spouse doesn’t know how?
Now, if you have a spouse that isn’t as sensitive to your emotions or struggles as you’d like them to be, it happens in many marriages. Sometimes spouses feel helpless because they have no idea what to do or what their role is, so they avoid it. If that is the case, go to the show notes, jot down the highlights or make sure you share this episode with them for a quick course in comforting your spouse. This will help them have some ideas of what they can do better.
My husband and I have talked about this midlife muddle lately, and I found it very helpful to air the struggles out. We may not be experiencing the same things, but we can show up with love, empathy, and support regardless. May your marriage be your comfy chair at the end of a long day.