A few weeks back I met up with my girlfriend for a glass of wine and a long catch-up chat. You know those times? When you finally get together after a long period of both being consumed by the pressing responsibilities that demand your immediate attention. I was especially excited to see my friend because after enduring a difficult marriage and painful divorce she had been dating a man that treated her the way she always wished to be treated. I couldn’t wait to get an update on her flourishing romance!
As we settled through the niceties and critical family updates I asked her, “So how’s the new guy?”
She blushed a little and told me a handful of stories about the dates they had been enjoying and a fabulous weekend getaway. She said they had been talking a lot about what was next for them and the conversation always landed on moving in and possibly getting married. Then, her eyes got a little misty as she said, “He is so good for me, and no one has ever treated me so well. But, I can’t imagine living with him. That is the one thing that is keeping me from committing.”
It wasn’t anything huge that was causing her to question moving in; rather it was their simple differences in lifestyle that concerned her.
Moving from dating to being in each other’s lives long-term meant sacrificing a way of life that she was comfortable living. Maybe you can relate to this dilemma. You see, by the time we hit our forties, we know ourselves pretty well. We know what we like and what we don’t like. Our bed is comfortable. Our closet makes sense. Our pace of waking, sleeping, and eating has cadence. We usually know when we need people or when we need space. In some ways, we reach comfortability with self that we didn’t know was possible in our twenties and thirties.
If we have been in a committed relationship in our early years, we also develop patterns of what we feel like in a pair. Certain organic habits like leading or deferring, taking care of or being taken care of, and making choices from an “us” versus an “I” perspective. All of which set expectations for how we like to operate in intimate relationships.
So, when presented with the option of moving in or marrying the love of your life in midlife the rose colored glasses are off.
It’s like accepting an offer while signing a detail informed consent. We already know many of the challenges and difficulties that lie ahead. Going in with “eyes wide open” can create everything from wariness of commitment to discord when two lives are finally integrated.
Here are four tips to consider if you find yourself trying to merge two worlds together in midlife:
Tip One: Sharing is hard, no matter how old you are.
Learning to share our things and our space is always a challenge. Just acknowledging this can take some pressure off. You may feel selfish at times and want to pull back something you feel like is “mine”.
You may get frustrated when someone else takes over your territory. When these feeling surface, try to allow them to give you clarity about your boundaries rather than immediately getting upset with your partner. Let these moments help you understand what you can and can’t share or stretch you to share in a new way that brings your relationship closer.
Tip Two: Creative contracts are required.
Often we enter into an intimate relationship with preset expectations of how the relationship is “supposed” to work or what roles each of you are “suppose” to play. The titles husband and wife come with some traditional definitions that are defined by society, culture and our previous examples. A midlife relationship typically requires that we toss out traditional views and old habits you may unconsciously try to create or recreate with your new partner.
It is perfectly okay, in fact critical, to define what the two of you want the relationship to be like. What are the rules and guideposts in your union? How do you want the relationship to look, feel and operate? Write that story together.
Tip Three: Acceptance is key.
All partners have annoying habits and behaviors and living with someone 24/7 is going to reveal them all. In satisfying, long-term relationships couples learn to accept foibles in each other and even develop a sense of humor about them. Define your deal breakers, behaviors you can’t tolerate and make sure they aren’t present in the relationship before you commit. Then let go of the rest.
Being rigid and nick-picky because you are overly committed to how you want life to work is isolating and doesn’t foster love and connection. Friendship is built on empathy, the intersection of compassion and understanding. You can’t over use this skill.
Tip Four: Commit fully to the relationship.
It is rare that a marriage or commitment is successful when it begins with a “well, let’s just see if it works” mentality. If you and your partner are going to uproot your lives and merge them, do it wholeheartedly to give it the best chance to prosper; especially if children are involved. Also, if you move in or marry with the mindset that this relationship is about pleasing or fulfilling me and when that is no longer happening I am out of here, you will quickly find yourself wanting to pack your bags.
Integrating two adult lives and their separate worlds into a brand new one is NEVER easy. It will tax and stretch you out of your comfort zone, every time. Level set that reality and commit to the process, knowing that the outcome of lifetime love and companionship is worthwhile. Then, when you are questioning your choice, focus on what you are gaining long term not sacrificing in the moment.
As you consider taking a leap of love in midlife, get support and make a plan.
There is no reason to forge ahead to face the winds of change without being prepared. As you are arranging to move in or get married, it is a good idea to add “couples education” to your to do list. Talking through your expectations, hopes, and dreams for your relationship can be enormously helpful.
Some of the most durable committed partnerships are established later in life because the knowledge in your collective years of experience is an incredible asset. Lean into this wisdom together, and it may very well be that the best is yet to come.
Until we meet again—Love each other well
This article originally appeared on LastFirstDate.com
Relationship Reset reveals the secrets to becoming a better couple through exposing valuable information from current research and identifying critical insights that make relating easier.