Time was when women were lucky to live till their 50s and 60s. And if they did, and they had a viable man, they stuck to him like glue.How times have changed.
Nowadays, we expect to live to mid-life – and when we do, we find that it’s challenging, exciting, but sometimes confusing too.
Children leave home. Parents get ill and die. We worry whether or not we’ve got enough money to see us through our old age. Partners start to retire. And many of us make plans to do all the things we’ve wanted to try but never had time for before.
So, it’s an interesting, stimulating and transitional period, but it can evoke a sense of restlessness. And that is certainly true when it comes to relationships. Increasingly, many mid-life individuals – women in particular – are looking at a long-term spouse and thinking: Is this actually what I really, really want?
I think that one of the reasons for this is that loads of baby boomer women lived on the fringes of the sexual revolution of the 60s and the free-love era of the 70s, but didn’t personally join in. And now, they’d like a piece of the action before it’s too late.
Maybe they’ve seen their daughters having great sex with a variety of men before settling down. Perhaps they’ve got girlfriends who’ve left redundant relationships and taken up with toy boys. Or maybe they suddenly feel more confident sexually but are hitched to a guy who is losing his potency, or is just plain boring between the sheets.
It’s not just sex, though.
When I wrote my book, Too Young to Get Old, I discovered that women often have far more plans for their futures than their men do. They want to start businesses, move house, go travelling, do a degree, write a book – and that’s just for starters. But many of them complain that their partners are hell-bent on having a more conventional retirement where they watch Sky Sports, play golf and generally potter around.
As one former client, who dumped her husband some 10 years ago, said: ‘I’ve no regrets about having got out of a dull marriage: particularly when I look at the lives of my girlfriends who are still in one. Their guys all seem to be giving up – and getting ill, or needing surgery – while the women are fizzing with enthusiasm and still energetic and ambitious to do all sorts of things.’
But not everyone who emerges from a long term relationship finds life as a singleton is all it’s cracked up to be. Life after divorce can be lonely. And most women are financially worse off after divorce, and plenty of them do not find Mr Right.
The same cannot be said of their discarded man. A mid-life man may be balding and have a paunch, but if he has a pulse, another female will snap him up. Sometimes a woman who’s left her ‘boring’ partner is totally amazed – and not a little miffed – to find that her reject has been transformed into someone else’s love-god.
So, if you’re considering getting out of your relationship, this is definitely something to ponder.
The other thing is that no matter now civilised you are, a total break from a long-term partner – particularly if he’s the father of your children – means that life will never be the same again. Christmases, birthdays and holidays could become battlegrounds. And your split may have a huge and unsettling impact on your grown-up children and grandchildren.
In other words, if you’re thinking of leaving a long-term relationship, this is one of the hugest decisions you are ever going to make. So, is there anything you can do to ensure you get it right?
I would certainly say that if a woman is in a violent marriage, she should end it. But most relationship difficulties are less clear cut.
One way forward is to ask your friends who have left their partners what they’ve experienced and whether they have regrets.
Another strategy is to try to establish whether there is any life left in your relationship.
Often couples at a crossroads go on the holiday of a lifetime – or at least on a hot date to some extremely fashionable and expensive restaurant – in a bid to ‘re-connect’.
Sometimes this kind of gesture breathes fresh romance into an old coupling. Sometimes it just highlights the sorry fact that this particular man and woman have nothing left to say to each other.
I would say that you might want to save your money, and – if you’re having serious doubts about your future with your partner – try having a prolonged conversation with him, in your own home.
You never know, he may be feeling anxious about the future too. He may have ambitions that you know nothing of. He may worry that he’s ageing too quickly and that he’s missing out on good sex.
Sometimes people are able to renegotiate how they want to live – with, for example, some new freedoms built in – and stay together.
But if you’re someone who is ambitious and active, and you’re living with someone who is not, then having a serious conversation about it all may finally persuade you that it really is time to go.
If you remain undecided, ask yourself if it’s possible that your restlessness is more about dissatisfaction with yourself rather than with your partner. Sometimes if you can grasp the nettle and sort yourself out, it turns out that your romantic partner is fine.
Other good questions to ask yourself – which more specifically apply to him – are:Does my partner make me laugh? Do we still have lots in common? Do I love him? Does he love me? Do I enjoy having sex with him? Does he make me feel better about myself? Does he praise and encourage me? Is he kind to me?
If you answer ‘no’ far more than ‘yes’ you may decide that your relationship has passed its sell-by date. And if that is the case, then it’s probably a good idea to extricate yourself from it while you’re both still healthy. After all, unless you’re made of stone, you may not feel you can leave after your partner has a heart attack or stroke.
It’s tough to get out of a relationship at any time. And a single life at age 50-plus is not for everyone. But you may decide that it’s right for you.