Many years ago, whilst chatting to a group of friends about marriage, divorce and affairs, I remember someone making the remark “watch out for women in their 40’s”. I was in my mid-thirties at the time and it struck me as a curious remark. I didn’t really get what it meant.
And then finally, I hit 40! And all of a sudden – I got it!
Throughout my 20’s I was totally focused on my career. I met my now ex-husband and got married. We bought a house together and made plans for a family.
Like many women of my generation, I had my first child in my early 30’s and gave up my career to be a full time mother. And so life ticked along. I spent my days changing nappies, taking the kids to parties, making endless meals and clearing up after everyone. Then, by the end of my 30’s life started to get easier. The kids were more independent and off at school during the term time. I had a chance to exercise and get fit again and started to wonder what to do with myself whilst the kids were at school. Not just anything, but something meaningful.
During this period of time, I came to reflect on my whole life. I realised that the sense of identity I had had during my 20’s had gone. I was somebody’s daughter, somebody’s wife and somebody’s mother. I was worn out and I’d had enough.
And so I decided it was time to focus on me.
The problem was, my then husband didn’t seem to “get it”. I had made his life very comfortable at home. When he got back from work there was always a meal on the table. The kids were well looked after, washed, teeth brushed and ready to play with “superdad” until he’d had enough and I took them to bed.
I organised our social life, cooked for our friends, arranged our holidays and sorted out the car insurance. But having had everything done for him on a domestic level for so long, these things I did so seamlessly had become invisible to him. And because it was invisible, he didn’t see or value it.
I started to think about things I could do. Freelance work, setting up a small business, re-training. I had lots of thoughts, but whatever it was going to be, it needed to be done my way and in my own time frame.
I talked to my ex-husband about the various ideas I had. What I wanted was support and encouragement. But what I got was an opinion.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea because…..”
“No, that won’t work because….”
“I think you should do xxx because….”
And so it went on.
My ex-husband really didn’t get it. Like many men, he was at a stage of his career where he was the one giving the orders. And when he got home, I found myself being spoken to like a low grade employee. Having had me as his social and domestic flunky for so many years, he had forgotten that the woman he had married all those years ago had had her own career, her own opinions, the ability to make her own decisions – oh, and a brain.
And that’s when I started to rebel. And the more I rebelled, the more he tried to rein me in and control everything. It was as if I was an unruly member of his team, not obeying his rules. And to him, that was clearly unacceptable.
Finally, after much soul searching and heartache my rebellion ended in divorce.
I knew then that my ex-husband simply couldn’t let me be myself and set me free, within our marriage, to regain my lost independence, feelings of self-worth, and identity. Divorce was not a decision I took lightly – but now, a few years down the line, I have begun to get my ‘old self’ back. Countless friends have commented on the change they’ve seen in me. And friends who have only known me since I have had children, have started to see a whole other side to my personality.
I feel very sad that I couldn’t have had this within my marriage – and that is why I decided to write this all down.
Men, whose wives stay at home when they have children, have pretty much the same weekday life after children. Hang on, I shouldn’t say that… there are of course a great number of men who have given up their career path to be the full time child carer. What I should say is, the person in a marriage who stays in their career has continuity in their life. The partner who gives up work and stays at home, has their life completely changed. When that person at home gets to the point where the kids are older and the chaos of young children has subsided, there is a point at which they want something for themselves again.
If people understood this better, I really believe it could save a lot of marriages.
So, watch out for women (or men!) in their 40’s. Listen to what they have to say. Remember what it was about them when they were younger that drew you to them and allow them to reclaim their identity.