Hitting 40 ushers in a period of upheaval for lots of women-the combination of menopause, family obligations, a busy career and caring for ageing parents can send stress levels to hit new heights. And it’s our relationships that suffer the most.
“All of us at midlife have to renegotiate our relationships with ourselves, our partners, our children, sometimes with friends,” says life coach Diann Wingert. This means your relationships might not look how they once did-and that’s okay. Even so, it doesn’t make these shifts any less jarring, especially if you didn’t see them coming. Here, six relationship changes that are totally normal-but you'll want to brace yourself for.
Your relationship with yourself may get rocky
To maintain a healthy relationship with yourself, you must genuinely feel good about where you’re at in life. However, this is easier said than done, thanks in part to something called the happiness “U-Curve.” Here’s how it works: In our fun-loving 20s we start out at the top of the “U,” but toward the end of that decade, a long, slow decline in happiness persists until we reach the half-century mark, which lives at the bottom of the “U,” says sociologist Christine Carter. The good news? “I tell all my friends when they hit 50, ‘You’re bottoming out, sister. It just gets better from here.’”
Ease the transition: Focus on all the good stuff you've got going on. A gratitude journal can help: Every day, write down five things you’re grateful for. Do you have a career you love? Write that down! Do you have a furry friend that brings a smile to your face? Write that down too! The point is to shift your focus away from the things that didn’t turn out how you planned and hone in on what’s positive.
Dating is harder than it was in your 20s
About half of women in their 50s are single, and for those reentering the dating scene for the first time in decades, it can be a bit jarring; the landscape has changed a lot over the last twenty years. Many women are told they have to try online dating. But it's not for everyone.
Ease the transition: If you decide to go the online dating route, Match.com and Eharmony.com generally attract 40+ daters looking for more serious relationships, while Tinder tends to draw 20-somethings who aren't necessarily looking to settle down. If meeting people in person is more your thing, consider joining a meetup group. It’s one of the best ways to connect with people who share your interests.
It becomes clear that not all relationships are created equal
The amount of friends women have peaks in their 20s, Carter says. Typically by their 40s, that group has shrunk considerably. “The 40s are really hard on relationships and just hard in general, so we lean on our primary relationships more and also lose more friends.” On the flip side, at midlife, we may narrow our friend pool by choice, and that can actually be quite healthy, Carter says. “A beautiful lesson of middle age is that sometimes, it’s ok to break up with your friends." You may realise that some people just aren't for you anymore.
Ease the transition: If you’ve fallen out of touch with friends you still care about, make an effort to go beyond double-tapping on Instagram, and pick up your cell. Set up weekly phone dates with your close friends and plan a yearly girlfriend getaway so you can spend quality time together in person creating new memories.
“The only time spouses are spending more time together is watching television”
You may spend less quality time with your spouse
Research suggests that couples who spend more time together are more satisfied, and yet, the amount of attention we give our friendships and our marriages as a society is at an all-time low, Carter says. “The only time spouses are spending more time together is watching television,” Carter says. "That's not really togetherness.”
Ease the transition: Commit to one tech-free date night per week. (No phones, computers, iPads or TV!) If getting out of the house is tough because of the kids, plan to do something special at home. Cook dinner together and open a bottle of wine or have an adult game night complete with homemade snacks you prepare together.
You may become less satisfied with your relationships
A lot of the unhappiness in women in their 40s can be attributed to thinking that their life is not what they imagined it would be in terms of family life and career, Carter says. “Expectations tend to be the seed of all disappointment and frustration in our relationships. It’s not that it’s wrong to have high expectations. It’s that it’s an inherently frustrating thing if your expectations are unrealistic.”
Ease the transition: The next time you feel let down by your partner or friend, remember this: Happiness doesn’t depend on how well things are going but whether things are going better or worse than you expected. To chase away negative feelings, you must shift your expectations, says Carter. If you lower the bar and expect less, you may just find that you’re pleasantly surprised by people and events in your life, which can help boost your happiness.