By Gloria and Anndee Hochman
The summer before Liz’s younger child packed his bags for college, Liz spent an afternoon paddling around the lagoon behind her Aunt Nona’s house on Long Beach Island, in New Jersey. “So, Jesse’s leaving home in the fall,” her aunt said as the two lounged in inner tubes.
“So, it’s just going to be you and Steve.”
“Um—yes,” Liz answered.
“Do you like him?”
Liz nodded. “Good,” said her aunt. “Because this is when you’re going to find out.”
For baby boomer couples like Liz and Steve, both 59, who wed in their Madison, Wisconsin apartment 34 years ago, midlife presents a tricky juncture in the marital road. The kids are grown, careers may be solid, the house may be paid off. And the promise of “I do” may turn into the question: “But do I…still?”
The early decades of marriage “are extremely stressful and busy,” says Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research scientist at the University of Michigan who specializes in the study of marriage and divorce. “Then one wakes up in midlife and says, ‘Okay, things have settled down.’ They take the relationship off the back burner and think, ‘Is this someone I want to be with for the next X number of years?’”
Some couples find that a midlife period of reckoning ultimately strengthens their bond. For others, it can be a moment of truth that severs a long-troubled relationship.
Midlife men and women may find themselves single for the first time in decades, due to separation, divorce or the death of a spouse. Some acknowledge that they are gay or lesbian after years of suppressing their desire and trying to live a “straight” life.