When you’ve been married a long time you can fall into monotony, but it doesn't have to be that way.
When you’ve been married for several decades, you can fall into a routine. One of the spouses, or even both, may spend their days in an almost meaningless way. They live resigned to monotony, without hope of change.
The relationship may become one of silent cohabitation. Sometimes it may even be unpleasant, because the two spouses criticize each other, complain constantly, and their baggage of accumulated anger and hurt for past mistakes becomes very heavy.
As a therapist, I accompany many couples in this situation. Before the pandemic, they used to come to solve problems caused when the retirement of one or both of them made them face a different rhythm of life. They weren’t on the same page or didn’t understand each other, and often didn’t know each other anymore. As a result of the pandemic and the resulting confinement, more and more couples are coming to us who are suffering from situations of illness, uncertainty, and pain.
This reality has also moved many people to rethink their relationship and to want to fight to live it more fully. Pope Francis addressed some of these issues in 2021:
Different situations in life, the passage of time, the arrival of children, work and illness, all challenge couples to embrace anew their commitment to one another, to leave behind settled habits, certainties and security, and to set out towards the land that God promises: to be two in Christ, two in one. Your lives become a single life; you become a “we” in loving communion with Jesus, alive and present at every moment of your existence. God is always at your side; he loves you unconditionally. You are not alone!
… With these biblical passages in mind, I would now like to reflect on some of the difficulties and opportunities that families have experienced during the current pandemic …
— Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to married couples for the “Amoris Laetitia Family” Year
Being able to look back and discover certain mistakes in managing our relationships and the way we live together with our spouse is a golden opportunity. We can take advantage of this time to learn (or practice) communication techniques that will allow us to better understand our partner or our family members.
To be able to understand our spouse and his or her needs, we need to know how to look beyond superficial impressions. It’s like taking a magnifying glass and learning to focus better, discovering the reality in front of us, seeing it in a different way.
Discovering what the other person needs
Once we have truly seen someone, we are able to discover their true needs. Sometimes, a harsh answer or a complaint can be the reflection of an unmet need (a call for attention, a sign of pain, a need to feel loved, insecurity, etc.).
Other times, a long silence or a hard look may reflect a feeling of sadness, anger, or uncertainty that they don’t know how to express in words.
It’s only in this attentive observation that we discover hidden aspects of our spouse that allow us to recognize once again the person who once conquered our heart.
40 years go by
This is how, despite the peculiarities that we and our spouse may have, the bad temper, or the physical deterioration caused by illness or the passage of time, we can begin to live our marriage more fully again, whether 40, 50, or more years have passed since we made our vows.
The key is not to dwell so much on the negative, but to discover, understand, and share whatever our worries, concerns, or joys are. Perhaps at this point we may think that we already know each other. Surely we do, up to a point, but maybe we are stuck with an idea that is out of date. We might not know each other at this age, after all we’ve lived through and how much we have changed and grown over the years.
Learning to look at our spouse and understand them requires an act of will. We have to consciously show that we want to love them in their need, even if we don’t have the same needs ourselves. It means putting ourselves in their place and walking alongside them. We must learn not to keep silent; to say things to each other clearly, but with affection and respect. We need to learn to ask for forgiveness and to forgive. Mature love—like good wine—improves with time, but we must know how to drink it at the right moment.
The understanding between two people is the fruit of a mature dialogue: of an inner dialogue with ourselves (knowing and accepting ourselves in our imperfection) and of an external dialogue with our spouse (knowing and accepting them in their imperfection).
“Marriage, as a vocation, calls you to steer a tiny boat – wave-tossed yet sturdy, thanks to the reality of the sacrament – across a sometimes stormy sea.” – Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to married couples for the “Amoris Laetitia Family” Year
It is on this journey together, despite the difficulties, that we can continue to discover the beauty of our marriage. We see the true meaning of each situation, dialoguing constructively with our husband or wife. In spite of our human imperfection, it’s possible to live our relationship more fully no matter how many years have passed since our “I do” on our wedding day.