When we set out to write our book on midlife relationships (which is due for release in the fall), we hit upon the idea of a “relationship roadmap” because it seemed that midlife relationships are sometimes hard to navigate. The truth is, we all have our own internal “relationship roadmaps,” based on our past experiences and beliefs, and some of them lead to destinations we don’t want to visit!
Our parents or other adults in our household give us our first set of directions for relationships. Think about it. What did you learn while growing up, and from whom? The way we see parents, stepparents, or other adults in our families treat each other makes a huge difference in what we expect for our own relationships. Charles and Jennifer had very different experiences in their families. In his household, he witnessed very little open affection and no one really talked about how a man and woman should relate to each other. Jennifer’s parents adored each other and were openly affectionate and loving. This created different sets of expectations that we had to learn to explain to each other.
The next set of “driving instructions” we receive comes from our dating and marriage experiences early in life. We learn to behave a certain way within a relationship, partly in response to how the other person acts. For example, if our partner turns out to be harsh when angry, we may learn to avoid conflict and keep our opinions to ourselves. This pattern can continue into later relationships, where it can make it hard to be open and emotionally close to a loving partner.
We also pick up a set of directions from the media and other aspects of society. Many of us came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, when roles were changing rapidly for men and women, same-sex relationships were finally out in the open, and sexuality became a topic of conversation. We received mixed messages about who we should be and how we should act in relationships. It was exhilarating, but confusing at times.
Fortunately, most of us have the capacity to draw our own relationship roadmaps. We can decide what we want in a partner, how we want to interact, and what we consider healthy and worthwhile. If we can identify and acknowledge the directions we were given in the past, we can change them, if that is what we want to do. As you get to know a potential partner, you will want to describe your vision of the road ahead, and ask for theirs. You and your partner are continuously creating your journey together.
Northwest authors Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck, PhD, a psychologist, and her husband Charles Peck are write a weekly column on midlife relationships. They are working on a new book, "Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40."
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