The short answer to this question is a resounding No. People often think that as we get older, wiser, less naïve and more worldly wise that relationships will all suddenly become a piece of cake. But the reality for many people is vastly different. Even the most steadfast couple can find that as they hit middle age, things become more difficult on the relationship front.
Cruel as it may seem, one of the main reasons for relationship ‘strife’ as people grow older is that sometimes people can become more set in their ways. A common saying is that in middle age your open mind grows ever more narrow, whilst your narrow waist grows ever bigger. This makes conflict resolution more difficult especially if both parties have become less amenable to new concepts and ideas.
People can often find that as the children grow up and fly the nest, that they are left alone with their loved one for the first time in about 20 years. Dreams, which were once shared, have now been realised: the home, the children, satisfying careers etc. Now new dreams may come in to take their place and one party may dream of a quiet country cottage, whilst the other party may envisage travelling the world repeatedly. Often these dreams cannot be combined and dissatisfaction sets in. Two people in a relationship is fine, but two people and dissatisfaction are not the foundations of a happy relationship.
Added to this is the reality that although people may grow older on the outside, internally, many still feel 21. But with those feelings of youthfulness there also lies immaturity, fear, insecurities and all the other emotions that 21 year olds often feel. So a young adult is in the body of an older person and relationships are still as difficult.
So what can people do to ease relationship problems as they age? Should they ignore the problems and hope that they will just go away? Do they need to think about embarking on mid-life therapy or counselling? Or should 40 year old people (and older) just throw in the towel and forget about relationships?
Well there is no right and wrong way of dealing with middle age relationship problems, because even though a person may have hit the golden age of 40, they are still an individual. They still have their own unique slant on life, coupled with a range of world and life experiences that may make them cynical, jaundiced, tired or restless.
But if you find that relationships just don’t seem to be getting any easier after you are 40, then there are some things that you can do to make sure that you at least give your relationship some much needed oxygen.
The first thing is to realise that no one knows everything in life and although you may feel as if you have learned much in your time on Earth and have experienced and seen lots of different things, this does not make you an expert in everything. Rather you should accept that there are always new ways of seeing things and new experiences to be had. So if you are having a disagreement with someone, why not try to see things from their side? Could they, ahem, be right? Have you actually been closed off to new ways of thinking? Or are they simply closed off?
Many people start to realise their fragility after the age of 40. Until 40 you are almost invincible. Whatever life throws at you, well you know that you can cope. Then suddenly you have a health scare, or your other half does. You begin to have friends who get sick, get cancer or heart problems. This fragility can often be translated into being fearful and frightened of what lies ahead, or conversely, people start to want to live life at a fast pace and not waste a second on being bored, quiet or at peace.
So in a relationship, two people can often suddenly veer off in different directions, almost at two extremes. Understanding why one of you suddenly wants to unicycle up Everest, or go abseiling in Kathmandu can often hep you achieve resolution and compromise. Instead of pulling away from each other, instead seek to understand why these urges or desires have come about and then seek to fulfil them, but also to compromise. Compromises are not about weakness, but about achieving an outcome that both sides can live with.
Fear can be a strong negative in a relationship and you may find that if you stay with a partner until the children leave home, then stay with them just because you do not want to end your days alone, that you end up feeling as if you are living or have lived, half a life. At this point, much soul searching is required as to why you want to be in the relationship and you have to think not just about what you want, but also what is fair for the other person. Do they deserve someone to love them and cherish them or someone who is there just out of fear?
Whether you are 40, 50, 60, or 70 plus, even if you have health problems or have health scares or are experiencing financial difficulties etc then try (even though this is much easier said than done at times) to still make some time in both your lives for a little frivolity, joyfulness and even playing. Fun is a wonderful thing and if you can have a little fun, enjoy a shared experience and try something new, then relationships can indeed flourish and instead of growing apart, you can even grow closer. And don’t worry about people thinking that you are silly or too old for something: the wonderful thing about being over 40 is that you care less about what others think and (hopefully) know more about what you want!