Ten Things You Must Do To Save Your Mid-Life Marriage and Live Happily Ever After, Part I

Developing a successful mid-life marriage is one of the most difficult tasks human beings ever engage. It’s also the most rewarding. Whether we are straight or gay, legally married or living together, these are difficult times for long-term relationships. In 1996 the census bureau recorded a significant spike in divorce rates among leading-edge Baby Boomers born between 1945 and 1954. Although we think of mid-life men leaving their middle-aged wives for a younger woman, it is actually the women who are leaving in increasing numbers.

According to Gail Sheehy’s new book, Sex and the Seasoned Woman, among women who left their first marriages sometime between the ages of 40 and 74, almost three-quarters left in their 40s. A 2004 AARP study found the following surprising facts about mid-life divorce:

  • Two-thirds of divorces among couples over age 40 are initiated by the wives.
  • One-third of divorced or single women over 40 are dating younger men—a reversal of past behavior.
  • The single woman in their 50s is much more likely to be divorced or never married than widowed.

But most of us would still prefer to find a good partner, get married, have a relationship that continues to grow closer and more intimate as we age, and remain together until at death we do part. So how do we accomplish this seemingly impossible task? Here are my suggestions:

1. Recognize the hidden stressors that keep us hypersensitive and irritable.

There is a reality we learned in biology class. If you put a frog in boiling water, he immediately jumps out. However, if you put him in cool water and slowly heat it up, he swims around until he cooks to death. The truth is we live in a world that is slowly (well, not so slowly any more) heating up. Global warming and all the attendant stresses of modern life are building up in us. We often aren’t consciously aware of the “heat,” but deep inside, we know. We become more sensitive and irritable, frustrated and worried. Not realizing it is our deteriorating environment that is stressing us, we often get down on our partner. When we recognize the real source of the problem, we can focus our energies in the right direction and quit blaming each other for our unhappiness.

2. Run for your life and give thanks.

For most of human history stresses came from such things as wild animals coming into the camp to eat us. We dealt with those crises by running away and climbing a tree or chasing after the animal and killing him if we could. Either way, we got our body moving, burned up the stress chemicals in our systems and our body/mind/spirit returned to normal. We sat around the fire at night and told stories about how lucky we were to still be alive. The stressors are different today, but the need to run off the tension and give thanks every day for being alive hasn’t changed.

3. Tend and befriend for a long life and joyous relationship.

A landmark UCLA study conducted by Drs. Shelly Taylor and Laura Klein found that the classic fight/flight response, thought to be a universal reaction to stress, was how men responded to stress. They found that women usually responded quite differently. Under conditions of stress they reached out to other women and children. The researchers called this the “tend and befriend” response. As we get older and the world becomes ever more complex, the fight/flight response doesn’t work so well. Men need to learn how to make and maintain deep friendships if we are to have successful marriages. Carlin and I are both convinced that one of the main reasons we have a wonderful relationship after being together for over 25 years is that we are each in a gender-specific support group. She is in a women’s group and I have been in a men’s group for over 26 years.

4. Give up being right and begin being happy.

If you’ve lived more than 40 years you know that we develop a sense of what’s right and wrong. Life teaches us many lessons and we believe we have a pretty good idea of what’s right, right? Wrong! I can’t tell you how many fights Carlin and I have had when one of us was sure we were right and felt it our marital duty (for the other’s own good, of course) to point out the error of their ways. The longer I live, the less sure I am of what is right or wrong. I can tell you what feels right for me in this moment, what I believe will make me happy. When I tell you “my truth” not “the truth” and listen to your truth, I find I am much happier and enjoy our relationship much more fully.

5. Know that no one else can make you happy.

This is one that has taken me a long time to learn. For most of my marital life I was convinced that the only way I could be happily married was if my wife did things that made be happy. I wasn’t asking for the moon. Just basic things that any good wife would want to do for the man she loved. Like have sex whenever I wanted. O.K., I didn’t need it whenever I wanted, but most of the time.

It would make me happy if she would get ready so that we could leave on time for the party. She knows how I hate to be late. It would make me happy if she would rub my back without having to be asked. She knows how much I like my back rubbed and after all, I rub her back a lot more than she rubs mine. I “knew” if she didn’t do these kind of simple things to make me happy, she probably didn’t really love me, or at least not in the way I needed to be loved. It was a great revelation to me when I discovered that there were times that she would do all the right things and I still wasn’t happy and times when she didn’t do the things I wanted her to do and I was happy anyway.

What have you found that is most helpful in enhancing mid-life marriages? Stay tuned next week for my other 5 suggestions including why I think you should stop having sex.

©2010 Jed Diamond

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Jed Diamond is the internationally best-selling author of seven books including Male Menopause, now translated into 17 foreign languages and his latest book, The Irritable Male Syndrome: Managing. The 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression. For over 38 years he has been a leader in the field of men's health. He is a member of the International Scientific Board of the World Congress on Men’s Health and has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men’s Health Network since its founding in 1992. His work has been featured in major newspapers throughout the United States including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. He has been featured on more than 1,000 radio and T.V. programs including The View with Barbara Walters, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, CBS, NBC, and Fox News, To Tell the Truth, Extra, Leeza, Geraldo, and Joan Rivers. He also did a nationally televised special on Male Menopause for PBS. He looks forward to your feedback. E-Mail. You can visit his website at

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