Relationships will atrophy over time. Not because of intentional neglect or lack of love, but because, like any ‘muscle’, relating takes exercise. Use it or it will lose strength and functionality.
I see a lot people in various states of ‘midlife’ crisis confronting their primary relationships from the perspective of ‘time left’. This perspective is different for most of us than the one we had in the early years of relating—even different from the perspective of the ‘maintenance years’ of child-raising and career-building. During these years, there was always ‘enough time’ for either reinventing the primary relationship or, in some cases, completing it through separation or divorce to move on to new experiences.
Having gone through three of these myself, I can confirm that the grass is never really greener elsewhere. While I can think of lots of reasons to end a long-term relationship, lack of ‘zest’ or ‘boredom’ aren’t among them. What it means when we lose the fire and passion in a relationship is that we are beginning to confront our own limitations. We are awakening to the fact that we are finite and mortal, that we need to get on with whatever we want out of life. It is no longer possible to rationalize that there is still “lots of time left”.
Many people in midlife will have transformations and wake up to suppressed dreams that need to be fulfilled. Their primary relationship will be experienced as either an ally in that or a liability. Other than clear, consistent and committed communication of who a person is experiencing themselves to be and what their dreams and requests of their partner are, there is no success formula. This awakening can be disorienting, particularly if the couple has not tended to the ‘weeds’ in the garden of their relationship. But in all cases, it is a good thing if both parties can acknowledge this as a big part of what aging is all about… a kind of second (or third) phase of growing up and taking responsibility for our lives.
The opportunity here is to validate and acknowledge that it is only through the love and space provided by our partner over the years that we are able to have the opportunity to engage in our midlife inquiry and build the future we’ve always wanted.