A Review of
Marriage in the Middle :
Embracing Midlife Surprises, Challenges, and Joys
Reviewed by Michele Morin
It couldn’t have been original with me, but one life goal, scribbled into a journal as a teen, comes to mind often in this season of midlife. In loopy, adolescent handwriting, I inscribed the words in hope.
GOAL: Organize your life in such a way that when you have a great experience, you will also have a great person to share it with.
Thirty years into a solid marriage with a truly “great person,” I can point to shared experiences galore, common threads of both joy and sorrow. Together, we’ve stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon, attended college graduations, and passed swaddled sons back and forth at all hours of the day and night. We’ve attended the funerals of all four of our parents, driven each other home from colonoscopy appointments, and prayed together for friends who have received a devastating diagnosis.
Dorothy Greco lives and writes from this sort of partnership, and Marriage in the Middle is her declaration that the surprises, challenges, and joys of midlife are best shared with a sympathetic traveler who knows you well–and loves you anyway! Regardless of how marriage has played out in young adulthood, midlife ushers in its own set of challenges. Career upheaval, an empty-ing nest, aging parents, and the limitations of our own aging bodies introduce a dizzying cocktail of disequilibrium that may stress even a strong and stable union. Sobering statistics bear this out, for although the term midlife crisis did not appear until 1965, it has become a cultural rite of passage, reflected in a higher divorce rate for those over age forty-five.
Shaken and Rebuilt
Greco has interviewed nine mid-life couples from diverse ethnic backgrounds who are determined to translate the challenges life dishes out after age forty-five into opportunities to pause, recalibrate, and move into a new and more thoughtful way of staying married. Their input rounds out the discussion as they share candidly about the heartbreak of loss, the obstacles caused by trauma or attachment issues, and the impact of life-altering diagnoses. In his first letter, the Apostle Peter called married believers “heirs together of the grace of life.” Together, taking that inherited grace for the crises that shake us to the core, we discover that the shaking process has unearthed good ground for a new beginning. Three qualities buttress this rebuilding:
- Malleability–”The willingness to be stretched and changed.” (9)
- Resilience–The determination to “bounce back after something difficult or trying has happened.” (9)
- Engagement–The commitment to “pay attention and remain actively involved.” (10)
A Challenge and an Opportunity
For me, one unexpected gift wrapped up in the challenge of aging has been a more gracious acceptance of weakness–my own and that of others. The experience of running out of energy before I run out of day has schooled me in the practice of patience and empathy for those who have less energy by nature. Too, engaged in my lifelong struggle to set healthy boundaries, I am discovering in midlife a degree of self-knowledge and humility that fosters discernment, and I have been helped along in this by Greco’s healthy assertion “that if no one is ever disappointed with me, I probably need to reset some boundaries.” (58)
Bitterness over disappointments may fester at mid-life, but tracing the disappointments to unmet expectations and then paying attention to them while trusting for clarity is a strategy for greater health in every relationship across the board. In this particularly strong section of the book, readers are encouraged to ask probing questions: Have I moralized my perspective to the point where I view a differing view as sin? Am I expecting my spouse to conform to my image rather than the image of Christ? Am I so specific about my desires that I’ve developed expectations layered on top of my expectations?
Marriage in the Middle melds vulnerability with bracing objectivity, offering gentle reassurance alongside strategies for thriving in this strange land where changing roles and shifting priorities may upend even a sinewy faith. However, as we commit to doing the necessary work, as we remain present to and patient with one another throughout the ongoing growth process, we discover that the middle is a good place to meet, after all, for God himself meets us there, the great companion who promises to travel with us through every life experience.