Relationships and the Mid - Life Transition
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Claudia Anderson PG Dipl Psych, Registered MBACP
16th August, 20110 Comments
When thinking of the term ‘mid – life’ it is usually associated with the term ‘mid- life crises’, a period ranging from 35 – 50 when we reconsider ourselves as individuals and our relationships on both a person and professional level. However more can be achieved if this period is considered as a ‘mid – life transition’ – a necessary change that enables us to cope with this phrase in life, and reinforces stability for future years that leads from middle age to old age and beyond.
During the ‘mid – life’ year’s people question their lives, with scrutiny and ask themselves,
‘What have I achieved?
‘What am I to do with the rest of my life?’
‘What else have I got to look forward to in my later years, other than old age, illness and death?’
For men, Jung’s interpretation of self - realisation is that,
‘What originally meant advancement and satisfaction has now become a boring mistake part of the illusion of youth, upon which he looks back with mingled regret and envy, because nothing now awaits him but old age and the end of all illusions…. the turnings of the pathway that once brought surprise and discovery become dulled by custom………..’ (Collected Works – Jung)
Women experience this harsh initiation into the second half of life with the onset of the menopause, and a sense of bereavement, when their children leave home. The complexities of an intimate relationship can evolve further, at this time,
‘Do I want to be married to this person for another 20 years?
‘Am I still sexy and desirable?’
During the ‘mid – life’ transition men and women are more susceptible to having affairs, or end their long term relationships. Others prefer to find lovers much younger than themselves, in a bid to reclaim their lost youth. For the partner left behind, there may be a wish to continue, a potentially co – dependent relationship having become accustomed to their domestic role. Feelings of bewilderment, abandonment and frustration culminate, however advice from a friend or professional help, can help to ‘pick up the pieces’ in the wake of the tatters that a relationship has left behind.
‘Why did I not see it coming?’
‘I knew we had some problems but I thought, she would get the affair out of her system. At least for the sake of the children, so that we could remain a family’
‘I forgave his infidelity, but nothing will be same again’
Some partners stay in ‘ bad, dysfunctional relationships’ as it is easier to talk and complain about the faults of their partner, so that they ‘escape’ talking about themselves, and the ‘real’ reasons that has led to relationship breakdown. Lack of honest and open communication is usually an indicator. Resentment can develop, which is a form of communication that can remain non verbalised but illustrated in other forms of destructive behaviour.
For most, the ‘mid – life’ transition is marked by various kinds of upheaval and disagreeable activity. These disturbances provide psychological stimuli, sharp enough to ‘wake people up’ to the reality of their positions in life. This period can be difficult to cope with especially if it is compounded with substance misuse, having to cope with elderly parents, job loss, or financial problems. From the Jungian perspective this period is a part of personal development, which he called ‘individuation’ – described as,
‘Individuation is an expression of that biological process – simple or complicated as the case may be – by which every living thing becomes what it was destined to become from the beginning’ (Collected Works – Jung)
In Analytical Psychology ‘individuation’ is the process through which a person becomes his/ her ‘inner self’ – the innate elements of personality comprised of different aspects and components of a persons’ psyche which become integrated over time. Individuation might thus be summarised as the stabilisation of the personality – a process of transformation, which has a holistic healing effect on the person, both mentally and physically.
The ‘mid – life’ transition can be considered as a time for taking stock, making decisions and for turning something upsetting and painful into a new opportunity. Generally people find it easier to apply this insight, to their outer circumstances, than to their inner lives. They divorce, remarry, change jobs, relocate, which may not necessarily lead to long – term fulfilment. What is needed is an inner inventory – an acknowledgement of what has been achieved, missed and what remains within the self to be fulfilled.
It is the first major time in life that people commit to therapy, this is due to a maturity gained through life experiences such as - death of a friend or loved one; regular and established employment; serious illness; childbirth; marriage; divorce etc. Through a desire to explore and seek a need for change, therapy provides a safe and confidential environment where clients can address the stages that lead from being confused and overwhelmed to acknowledgment and acceptance.
The inner need for change may be due to interests that only you can fulfil, i.e. doing something you have always wanted to do, e.g. Learning an instrument or a new language; starting your own business, engaging in a hobby. On a deeper level, therapy can highlight for example the need for empowerment, the patterns of an abusive relationship, or assessing the reasons for an unhealthy addiction to sex, alcohol, drugs etc. The list is endless, but is all about finding out what is right for you as an individual, a human being, not as a Mother, Father, sibling or spouse. Although it is necessary to point out that inner changes inevitably lead to outer changes as well.
‘A natural inherent process in man, that cannot be stimulated by something external but grows from within’ (Collected Works – Jung)
Others may interpret this as selfish, but if you have spent the last 20 years building sufficient foundations, i.e. for your relationships, family, home, business, friends, these significant bastions in your life, should not crumble whilst you are developing through a process of self actualisation, thereby, enabling the contents of your psyche to become conscious. This process should enrich your life and those who are a part of it, but seldom happens without pain; in order to truly individuate, it is necessary to identify aspects of our personality which we would normally shy away from.
Besides achieving positive mental health and well being, those who have advanced towards ‘individuation’ can find inner peace, maturity and responsibility, releasing disillusionment and discontentment, which can lead to an emotionally balanced life in later years.
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