Exploring New Roles
Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40
A new relationship is an opportunity to explore new roles. By the time we reach midlife, most of us have had long-term relationships in which we defined our own role, or had it defined for us - by our partner, by society, or by family and friends. Sometimes we just fall into a role - we do things the way our mother or father did. Sometimes we actively reject that model and are determined to forge our own path.
As you head into a committed relationship, take some time to think about who you want to be within that relationship. Do you want to assume a traditional male or female role? Do you expect your partner to do so? Our view is that the stereotypical expectations for men and women don't fit most people. Even if you are a woman who loves to cook, for example, you may not want that to be your daily responsibility. Most men welcome a partner who shares the financial load and chooses tasks according to ability - or at least, most men who appeal to potential partners in this day and age feel that way!
In our family, Charles does the bulk of the lawn mowing and wood splitting, because Jennifer is not as able (although she does like to drive the riding mower from time to time!). Jennifer, feminist though she is, does more of the inside work. It just works out better for us that way. The important thing is that neither of us feels compelled to take on certain tasks just because they are traditionally male or female. Nobody likes to clean the toilet in most households, but someone has to do it. As long as the division of labor feels fair and reasonable, it doesn't really matter who does what.
Where midlife couples sometimes stumble, however, is when one partner has a certain expectation that the other is either unaware of, or unwilling to fulfill. If they don't talk it through and come up with something that they can live with, resentment can simmer under the surface of the relationship, emerging as anger and bitterness.
It's critical for older couples to have flexibility and an overlap of roles, because sooner or later, one of you will probably become unable to do what you would normally do. If one partner handles all the finances and the other can't cook a simple meal, what will happen in the case of illness or (inevitably) death?
It's also fun to try out new ways to do things. When Jennifer's parents moved to Florida, her mother made the oven serve as a breadbox - she never turned it on. She said, "I've cooked three meals a day for decades, and I'm done." They ate deli food, went to "early bird" seatings at restaurants, or bought prepared meals. It worked for them! Now is the time to think about your priorities, how you want to spend your time, what alternatives are available, and what each of you prefers. Maybe it's time to move to a condo if neither of you wants to mow the grass. If you can afford a cleaning service and neither of you likes to clean, go for it. Don't get stuck doing things because that's the way it always was, or that's the assumption you make about your partner's wishes. Talk it out, get creative, and make your life fit who you are individually and as a couple.
Northwest authors Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck, PhD, a psychologist, and her husband Charles Peck have created the roles that suit them best. You can participate in the creation of their book "Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40" (and enter to win a $100 Amazon gift card) by sharing your experiences in a survey: www.surveymonkey.com/s/MidlifeRelationships2
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