It is quite common for women to experience an emotional growth spurt in the mid-life years. There may be many reasons for this. It might be that the children are a little older, and she has time to think again. Or it might be that she feels a little more independent. Perhaps, once the childbearing is done, she has a burst of creative energy.
Whatever the reason, she is often in a learning mode that may seem insatiable. She may begin to do a lot of reading, writing, or perhaps she takes some classes. This is all very exciting for her. She keeps thinking of more things that she wants to do.
Her partner, however, may not share her excitement. He may feel a little threatened, for it may seem like she is turning into someone else, right before his eyes. She may seem to have less time for him. Other things seem more important. At some point she may begin to worry that she might be leaving her partner behind. He must start to grow too, she reasons. Thus begins her attempt to interest him in her newfound path.
She may share what she is learning, and that sharing may slowly begin appearing as a thinly veiled attempt to teach. The partner, sensing this, may begin to resist. He might argue with the points she is making, put down or discredit what she is learning, or simply refuse to discuss it. If he won’t participate in discussions, she decides that she will give him some books to read. Perhaps an “expert” will have more credibility.
He might be interested, but he also may leave the books right where she left them on the coffee table. She interprets his refusal to join in her journey as an unwillingness to work together to make the relationship better. She is so excited by her own growth, and thinks how wonderful it would be if they could share in the growing process. Instead, they seem to be drifting farther apart.
What now? Well, she is right about one thing. If one partner is growing and the other is not, that can certainly create problems in the relationship. However, not growing is not an option once the urge is there. You cannot discourage someone from new learning when their heart is pulling them in that direction. If you try, they will only become depressed and resentful.
The only way to keep pace with someone who is having a growth spurt is to do some growing yourself.
The key is to grow in an area that excites you. You do not have to become an expert in everything she is learning. In fact, if you are both learning different things, then there is more to share. Conversations are more stimulating.
The relationship becomes more passionate. It is important that you each have respect for the other’s area of growth. A partner may feel that it is unfair to be nudged towards growth. He may feel that she married him the way he was, and he shouldn’t have to change. The important point is that she wouldn’t put the effort into encouraging his growth if she didn’t really love him and want to be with him.
You stagnate at your own risk. Instead of fighting her, push towards growth and embrace it as a wake-up call. It is all too easy to sleepwalk through life, but if you fall asleep in the middle, you’ll miss the best part.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychotherapist.