The other day I woke up to the news that Maria Shriver and The Arnold (easier than trying to spell his last name) split after 25 years. Of course I don't know them, but I am always sadden to hear about people separating after many years of marriage. At this stage in our lives we too often hear about long unions that terminate (yes, selectively chosen) prior to death doing them part. Like many at our stage in life, we have shared the searing pain with friends and close family members who have lived through this cleavage. Watching and maybe trying to help the children cope, adjust, blame, and slowly move on is the most difficult. Both individuals will always be their parents and the recipients of their love, even when there is confusion and anger. In many cases we cannot and do not want to align with either side because the offspring maintains relationships with both. We are torn between our inevitable greater loyalty to one side, be it the family member, the closer friend or maybe the one who we felt was wronged. Yet, for the sake of the children, we need to appear somewhat balanced.
For those of us who have been married for a couple of decades we know sharing life is hard. Most couples have experienced financial issues, career setbacks, health concerns, unwanted parental intervention, child raising challenges and much more. We have learned and accepted that life and marriage is not easy and compromise must be incorporated into our routines without resentment. Perseverance counts and only by figuring out together how to jointly do battle against the external forces that attack the foundation of the relationship does the marriage thrive. There has to be a trust that my spouse contributes meaningful sacrifices, even if it doesn't feel balanced. Marriages only succeed because both spouses work to make it a constructive union and they fail when the two have not preserved the chemistry to maintain the homeostasis of a stable organism.
A marriage that has survived 25 years has fought the fight and won many battles or it wouldn't have lasted that long. So why are we witnessing the dissolution of so many quarter centuryish marriages? I believe it relates to the transition or anticipated transition into emptynesterhood. One or both partners have concluded that now that they have fulfilled their primary parenting responsibilities, it never totally ends, and they are entering a new stage; it is not excessively selfish to pursue life in a style that will make them most happy. No doubt that part of what motivates a fifty something person to decide to divorce is the acceptance of mortality. Hopefully it is not around the corner, but in the less distant future than when the union was formed. It is not unreasonable to want to maximally enjoy the remaining days of one's life. Deciding to accept the inevitable searing pain of separation after so many years means the couple concluded that prevailing against life's challenges together is simply too hard and that going it alone or with someone else will be more satisfying. Obviously it is a gut wrenching decision and has taken years to reach.
I have learned not to criticize either party for choosing this path. But am always saddened because I have witnessed the hurt that both partners, the children, the extended families and the friends share when an established relationship is terminated. Regrettably this is life and none of us likes this aspect of it.