Point of View: The Male Boomer and Long-term Relationships
Both men and women are short changed when sweeping generalizations are applied to the male psyche. Men can not all be painted with broad strokes. Some comments from a poll we took may help build a more complex picture of the midlife male perspective, particularly concerning long-term relationships.
Often it\’s a struggle for marital partners to maintain commitment to each other. However, many men recognize that the outcome is worth the effort. Henry talked about his secret to success. “We\’ve never lost our focus – we knew we had to work to stay together. It was the two of us in the beginning and it would be the two of us when the children grew up. We took at least one trip a year by ourselves and tried to go on a date every week or so, to reconnect. I guess it worked – we\’re still together after 25 years.”
Bill was determined not to make some of the same mistakes with his second wife that he had with his first. “I used to believe that my partner would be like my mother – with the added component of sex. That she would be there to take care of me, no matter how I treated her. I grew up after my first marriage failed. My second wife made it perfectly clear about what she needed and wanted in order to make the relationship work.”
Shared interests have made it somewhat easier for Gary and his wife to feel like a team. “We share major goals and support each other in our individual pursuits. We just started taking dance lessons – we both love music and want to stay in shape. Collaborating on creative projects in and out of work is important for us.”
Shortly after they were married, Ed and his wife came up with a plan to help them maintain their commitment. “We decided to make Wednesday nights “divorce night.” We knew that we had that time to talk about whatever was going on between us. That way we never felt trapped – we each knew that we had an out if we wanted one.”
The meaning of intimacy can change over time. Rich misses the exciting sexual encounters of their courtship and early marriage. “Sexual intimacy is important – the relationship would have never started unless we were on the same frequency. Now aging and illness have brought problems and we are experimenting with different ways of being sexual.” Matt has been married for 32 years. “Our sexual relationship is just as juicy but less frequent. We are more affectionate, but have fewer moments of passion. My current libido feels like I\’m 35 but my mature mind overcomes dangerous ideas every time.” David feels that, although the sexual relationship with his wife is still important, affection plays a bigger part in their intimacy. “We are very close and physical. We like to touch, hold each other. We are as intimate as ever even though we are not as sexual.”
As a single man, Barry had enjoyed an active sex life and finally married later in life. He was determined to make this relationship work. “I recognize that I\’m not a young man anymore and factor that into my thinking about sex. Since this is a marriage and not a date, there are other issues that sometimes get in the way of our feeling close, like resentments about how we each spend money.”
Husbands in successful long-term marriages believe that mutual acceptance and respect are crucial. Charles and his wife have learned from each other. “I have accepted who she is and I\’m not trying to change her anymore. The years together have made both of us more tolerant. And I sometimes think that she understands me better than I understand myself.”
Mike talked about how he was affected by his wife\’s attitude. “I feel her love and respect for who I am and what I say, even though we do not always agree. This makes me feel safe. I look forward to our life together even though we have no idea where it will be or what it will bring. But I want to enjoy it in small and big ways, daily, for however long it will be.”
Change has probably been an integral part of your marriage – in the roles you each play and in the way you relate to each other. Tom has been able to focus on the changing realities of his situation. “It\’s a matter of accepting what is, rather than what you would like it to be. It\’s not easy and I feel I am always working toward that goal. Our lives have had a series of ups and downs – we both try to be flexible and accept what is. Usually we succeed and are able to move on.”
Steve, retired for several years, summed up his marriage this way: “We began as husband and wife in a more traditional relationship. Overall, I was the noisemaker and she was the nest-maker. Now I\’m more involved around the house – I help with laundry, do the dishes. We\’re a team and our roles interchange, depending on who is interested or available. I have learned a lot but changed only a little. I try to be less temperamental, more compromising, more giving. When I was working, I used to be more focused on only myself. Now I\’m paying attention to me, her and us – and still learning new things about all three.”
Reading what boomer men say about making marriage work likely validates what you\’re already doing in your relationship. If not, talk with your partner about the comments that were interesting to you. Begin to integrate the most useful ideas as you continue to experiment with your relationship.