Newsweek magazine published an article called "The Princess and the Terminator," an article about older couples divorcing and starting over based on the Shriver/Schwarzenegger divorce. The author, Susan Cheever, states, "Once apon a time, men and women in their 50's and 60's didn't have serious marital problems-- this was primarily because they were dead."
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The average life span in America has increased by 30 years in the last century. Those additional thirty years have made long term relationships a little more complicated. It's easy to put up with annoying behaviors if you know you've only got a little time left with your partner. Twenty or thirty more years is a whole different story.
The other issue is that many people are much more active well into their later years. Old age really is a mindset, and more people are setting their minds to age gracefully. Data presented in the New England Journal of Medicine recently reported that many people are remaining sexually active well into their 70's and 80's. The more active a person is, the more likely they are to desire a full and happy life. They're unlikely to be willing to put up with a miserable relationship, but few of them have the knowledge or desire to fix the relationship they're in. They assume that the problem lies with their partner, so they divorce.
Granted, there are lots of relationships for whom divorce is an excellent option. People change as they age, and they often change and grow in different directions. We can acknowledge that and part compassionately, moving on to someone who suits us better now. Unfortunately, that's not a common model of divorce. More often, because we don't have many role models of couples who divorce amicably, we create a reason to end the relationship. The most common reason is infidelity.
One of the six reasons I cited here for why people divorce is that they secretly want to end their relationship and they don't know how. So they cheat, and either get caught or admit it. That's what Schwarzenegger did- he admitted to having an affair.
What if we embraced a new model for relationships? What if we could honor each relationship we have for its good points, learn from the parts that didn't work, and move on gracefully when it's time? We'd save a lot of money in legal fees, for one thing. If nobody's the bad guy in the break up, we wouldn't have to fight long, drawn out legal battles over property and children.
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Not only would we save a lot of money, but we'd also save the psyches of the millions of children caught in the crossfire of divorce. Children thrive under conditions where they have one present, loving adult in their lives. They don't have to be in an intact family to be happy; they just need to know they are loved. In an amicable divorce, they wouldn't feel the guilt, fear and uncertainty they do in bitter breakups.
Here's what the new model could look like.
- Open and honest communication forms the foundation of each relationship. Each person is encouraged and empowered to speak their truth in each moment.
- Nobody's wrong; each person is entitled to their unique experience.
- Each person is responsible for their own happiness.
- Couples come together for personal growth, not out of need disguised as love.
- If and when their growth draws them apart, they honor each other and move on.
This is a model of empowered, authentic and conscious relationships. It's not common yet, but I believe it's the wave of the future. I intend to ride that wave, how about you?
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