Couples and Change: Examining Your Relationship

Being comfortable in a relationship feels awfully good – but functioning on automatic pilot can get you into trouble. For some couples in the Sandwich Generation, the impetus to examine their partnership comes from the different energies that each wants to invest in family, career or leisure. Don is torn between his own needs and those of his wife: “We’re at different junctures right now. My wife worked part-time in nursing when our children were young. Over the past few years she has discovered a passion for business and has developed her own medical registry. The problem for me is, now that she is immersed in her work, I want to cut back and spend more time together. I’m not sure how we can find a balance.”

If there is mutual trust in your relationship, both of you can enjoy the freedom of exploring new options and goals. With her husband’s support, Rhonda, for the first time in 22 years, has achieved space within the marriage. “I have arrived at this crossroad with more confidence and trust in my personal choices. I just hope that my being stronger will not weaken our marriage.”

A disruption of equilibrium at this stage is common – often initiated by changes in your shared environment or by a more subjective and internal process. When you read the examples below, do you recognize any of these changes in your relationship? Look carefully at the emotions that surface when you step into new roles and give up the ones that have defined you in the past.

1. Are you facing an empty nest and trying to adjust to changes in your identity? When your last child moves out, you experience a cascading and wide range of emotions: sadness, the need to hold on, fear, a sense of freedom, the desire to begin the next chapter of your life.

2. Time itself can erode your marriage if quality time together has been put on hold while raising your family. Now, without the buffer of children, it may be apparent how much you’ve changed and how far apart you’ve grown. Could you instead begin to anticipate getting to know each other again and creating an improved future together?

3. Have you or your partner gone through a career change? When you’re not on the same page about the significance of work, it can impact your relationship. It brings up issues about who controls the major decisions and who assumes responsibility for daily chores. Maybe you are again struggling over who manages the checkbook and who does the laundry, like you did early in your marriage.

4. When one of you has been diagnosed with an illness, the physical and emotional challenges to both of you impact and threaten the stability of your relationship. You and your spouse may be experiencing shock, fear, anxiety, depression – and at the same time, a sense of deep support and renewed strength.

5. Do you have increased commitments now that either your parents or in-laws are getting older and need more assistance? Perhaps there’s conflict about who takes care of what responsibilities or about not having enough time for your own needs.

6. If either of you has made bad choices, like deciding independently about joint finances or being unfaithful, the emotional damage can endanger the future of the relationship. When trust is broken, there is a buildup of frustration, anger, or disappointment, even despair as you make efforts to adapt to the new reality.

7. Are you experiencing angst about your relationship or actively searching for some deeper meaning in your life situation? As you redefine your self and partnership, it will lead to your gradually feeling more powerful. By becoming more at ease with who you are, you will go from being afraid of your future to feeling excited about what’s ahead.

Finding perspective is a valuable strategy when you are facing transitions. It helps to take a step back and see the present situation from a different angle. As high expectations are always difficult to meet, try to be realistic – and know that you will both grow from the challenges you are facing.

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