Thoughts On A Midlife Divorce (yes, THAT one)

Episode 50

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The New & Improved website:
Midlife Re•Imagined, Design Your Next Best Chapter 7 Day Trial: CLICK HERE

Hello friends and welcome to The Midlife. First a little news I wanted to share with you.

I spent the last three months rebuilding my website. It was a huge challenge, a lot of fun and the culmination of the vision I have for giving you a place to start your midlife transformation.

I kinda love this podcast format because I feel it gives you a chance to know the real me and understand my philosophy towards this universal experience of midlife. I didn’t feel like my old website was a continuation of that experience. 

My idea was to create a welcoming place where you can come in and get nuggets of “feel better”. If you head to what you’ll find is a new workbook called jumpstart your midlife transformation, a page with free workshops that I envision rotating from time to time and a clearer explanation of the services I’m offering to help you answer all those gnawing questions we have in Midlife.

If you are feeling sad and stuck in Midlife and are constantly asking yourself well what the fuck now, my program Midlife Re*Imagined, Design Your Next Best Chapter is the combo, self paced course-slash-group coaching-slash safe space hangout that you need. The new website gives you more detailed information about exactly what’s in the program and there’s even a 7 day free trial that you can sign up for to check it out and be sure it’s right for you before you enroll. I want this to be the easiest decision you’ve ever made for yourself.

You’ll also see that I’m publicizing a service that up until now has been referral only. For many years, I have been providing one on one coaching for women in Midlife that want to start a business or have a business they want to take to the next level. If you want to talk about how I can help you reach the success you know you have the potential to reach, sign up for a complimentary 45 minute chat. Whether we decide to work together or not, you’ll leave with at least one actionable idea to build on.

I can’t wait for you to check out the new website and as always, I’d love to hear your feedback.

My intent this week was to talk about marriage myths, but as I sat down to record, news of Bill and Melinda Gates filing for divorce after 27 years of marriage hit the interwebs. I gotta say, I’m kinda shook. It feels like parents getting divorced.

Certainly we don’t know what’s happening inside someone else’s marriage. And frankly, it’s none of our beeswax.

But also…what happened? 

And is there a part of all us that knows exactly what happened? Without speculating about their specifics, I think there’s themes that are worthy of discussion.

27 years is a long time to be married to the same person. It wasn’t so many generations passed that people didn’t live this long. By now, one of us probably would be dead. Instead, are we “stuck” together? Is there a natural progression of relationships? Definitely. Could a relationship outlive its usefulness. Probably. I don’t think it’s too far fetched to assume that since the youngest Gates child is 18, they probably think not living in the same household will have less of an affect on the children. And most likely they’re not wrong. But also, happy graduation after your super shitty COVID senior year, daddy’s moving out.

I really don’t have any right to theorize about the Gates’ personal situation, but I do think talking about the children is a worthwhile conversation. Even adult children. When valuing your commitment to your marriage, I think it’s worth considering what holidays and milestones might look like if you weren’t married anymore. Think you’re going to get all your chickens for every holiday? How about if your spouse has a new significant other; are you entertaining EVERYONE? What happens when your children start marrying. Are you now not only divvying up those holidays with your ex but with the new in-laws too? What about graduations and weddings and new grandbabies and birthday parties? Can you imagine showing up with someone else, your ex with someone else and exchanging pleasantries?

A while back I recorded an episode entitled the 5 Stages of A Long Term Marriage. If you haven’t heard it, it may be a good compliment to today’s topic. I talked about the rise in “grey divorce”, that is, people divorcing over 50. I see a lot of women pulling the plug on their marriages thinking the marriage is the source of their unhappiness. My theory is don’t blame the marriage until you are sure you have your shit together. I’m fairly confident that Melinda Gates has her shit together.

I also spend a lot of time taking about Phase 3. That midlife moment where you think about ending it. There are two things I ask you to consider, one is what would you be looking for if you were back in the dating pool. The other is to objectively consider how many of those traits your current spouse possesses. I think you may be shocked at how many boxes Mr. I’m Not So Sure is checking. 

So when I think about Bill Gates, and I’ll be honest, this is the first and only time I have or will think about Bill Gates in this context, don’t you surmise he probably has a lot of “good guy” characteristics? And I’m not just talking about the 130 billion qualities.

Oh I’m sure he’s a pretty quirky guy but wasn’t he always? I challenge you to think of your spouse and the things that may be driving you slightly batty right now. Hasn’t he always been like that? Are you really within your right to get pissy about it now? And isn’t it possible that some of those things you take issue with now were actually things that you found attractive when you were dating? How fair is it to him to change the rules after 20+ years of marriage?

Melinda Gates gave an interview around their 25th wedding anniversary where she said that Bill needed a little training but that he’d admit to it. What do you want from the poor guy? He’s willing to be trained. My finding is that they all are willing to do so much more for you than you can even imagine…IF YOU’D JUST ASK. In a kind way. And I know that can be a big challenge because you’re angry and resentful.

In their joint press release, the Gates’ reference raising their 3 children and building their foundation which is now endowed at over $40 billion dollars. The quote that hits me the hardest, “We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.”

And I think that’s what I find shocking and unsettling. As we all navigate this 2nd half, side by side with someone for 15, 20 or 25 plus years, the best advice I can give you is to find a shared sense of purpose. I mean, I think three children and a $40 billion foundation changing the world would fulfill that requirement.

But what does that mean, to grow together as a couple? Certainly that’s just spin from their publicist because those are just empty words. 

My perspective on that is little skewed. I think a lot of our problem in Midlife is that we became codependent in our relationship and lost our singular identity. I think Midlife is the perfect time to reclaim or by all means, reinvent that identity. I know that when you are happy and purposeful you will be a better partner and that your growth can be inspirational to your spouse. Don’t be surprised if he feels just a little concerned that you may outgrow him so that he joins you in finding and exploring new pursuits.

At the end of the day, I think the Gates’ divorcing is unsettling because despite their ridiculous wealth, they seem kind of normal. And if they’re normal, what are we fighting for? Is the institution of marriage a farce?

The money certainly complicates things for most. One of the reasons I hear women staying is because they are scared to be financially on their own. Many haven’t worked in decades and some are concerned that half of what they’ve amassed as a couple won’t be enough. Melinda certainly isn’t going to have that issue. So if money weren’t an obstacle, would more marriages end?

I know, I’ve left you with more questions than answers today.

Here’s why I worry about people upending their marriages Midlife. Because I think you’re going to end up settling down in a situation that probably isn’t super far off from where you are now, except you’ll leave a path of emotional destruction behind you. So why not skip the intermission and work on getting to Phase 5 that I describe in Episode 37. Why not find the bliss you seek with the perfectly imperfect person you set down this road with.

How do you do it? Well, let’s start with what was supposed to be the topic of today’s episode, Midlife Marriage Myth #1: It takes two to tango.

Today is one of those days where you’re probably not going to like what I have to say at the onset. Can I just use up some of our goodwill and ask you to listen with an open heart. 

Now before I ever talk about marriage, I want to be clear that if you are married to an addict or an abuser or someone struggling with mental illness, your issues are above my pay grade and I strongly urge you to seek professional interventions.

Assuming you’re married to a decent enough fellow or even if you are single and looking for a relationship and wondering how it could be different next time, then today’s episode is for you.

What if I told you that “it takes two to tango” is the single biggest crock of relationship bullshit? It’s a complete cover and cop out that allows you to skirt responsibility for the boredom, resentment and disenchantment you have with your marriage. 

I’ll make my case in just a minute and more importantly, give you the steps to recovery that you need, but before we get there, let’s get on the same page of the here and now.

The complaints of women in midlife in long-term marriages are pretty common.I’ve heard it all before. Hell, I’ve probably said a good amount of it myself. I think most of them stem from unattainable standards we expect our spouses to meet.

Now I’m not suggesting the road to happiness is paved with low expectations. In fact, I think you do deserve prince charming. And I’m even pretty sure he’s already living in your house, if you’d only give him a chance to show you.

The biggest problem in your marriage right now is you. You have conditioned yourself to focus on all the things your spouse does wrong and have completely stopped appreciating what he does right. You know the old saying, “no good deed goes unpunished”? I’d imagine that’s what it feels like to be the husband in a long term marriage. 

Let me explain it this way. We apply Farenheit instead of Celsius to our thermometers of love and your partner is starting at -32 degrees. Our scale of satisfaction in our marriages starts negative because you apply the basics to just allow him to get to zero. You know I love simple examples because they’re universally understood so let’s use taking out the trash, one of my favorites.

If your husband doesn’t’ take out the trash, you’re pissed. And you allow that missed chore to become a metaphor for all the ways in which you feel he’s failing you. Because you are so raw and so resentful, this simple misstep leads you down the road to thinking devastating thoughts. But you do this over and over and over. The negative thoughts become pervasive. The feelings of betrayal, because he doesn’t do what you want, and loneliness, because you feel like you do everything and you do it alone, become your status quo. If you’ve walked that road can I see a show of hands? Now put your hand down when you calmly say to yourself, but all he didn’t do was take out the trash.

I’m not saying you aren’t entitled to those feelings of resentment. But what I am proposing is that you got yourself there all by yourself and that you can in fact get yourself back from Defcon 1, all by yourself. That is does take only one to tango.

What if everyday you allow yourself and your partner a reset at absolute zero. I have no idea if I’m hot or cold at 20 degrees Celsius but I do know 0 is baseline. Now if your spouse does something that pleases you, even something simple and yes even expected, your satisfaction is now positive, not just climbing back to zero. Make it a game. How many times can you catch him being good and just have an appreciation for the simple things he’s contributing? Can you see how purposely putting positive energy towards your spouse will start to build happy, appreciative thoughts? 

So often, we really are setting booby traps for them. And they’re not even well hidden. We’re like Wyle E Coyote and there’s a chalked handwritten sign on broken pieces of a wooden crate pointing to a hole with a net crudely covered with leaves that says, “fail me here and unleash my wrath”. I guess that would be a lot to fit on a sign. But you get the picture.

I know you’re saying but what about when he doesn’t do the little things? How about you try this novel concept. Tell him. 

Instead of sullenly stomping around pretending you’re not pissed off, could you calmly and nicely tell him what you want done, how you want it done, when you want it done and most importantly WHY it’s important to you. That last piece is critical. The buy-in is what motivates people to want to do what you ask.

Now are you going to get your way always? Nope. But what you will probably get is an honest response about why he can’t or doesn’t’ want to comply. And then you get to choose what to do about it.

I think it’s critical that you understand that we as women set the emotional tone of the household. That saying “happy wife, happy life” is so trite but also so true. You have the power to establish an environment where you give your common dwellers (yes this works for children too) the freedom to do the right thing rather than living under a cloud of never good enough. Which one feels lighter to you?

So far I’ve just told you how to inspire a good roommate. But that’s definitely NOT what we want in our long-term marriages. We want attraction and chemistry. And I’m sure you’ve echoed the complaints I’ve heard from other women that there’s no emotional and physical connection. And a lot of times we blame our spouses for not providing the romance. It’s time to shed that fucking fairytale. 

I know you’re mad and you don’t “feel” like it but your future happiness and the health of your relationship is in your singular hands. Grab a rose, put it between your teeth and let’s talk about bids for connection. Your bids for connection. 

Bids for connection are all the things you do to say hey, I’m here, I love you, I like you and I like doing nice things for you to make you happy. 

Wish your husband held your hand more often? Well pick up his hand first.

Wish your husband showed a little more interest in you? Start asking specific details about his day. Be interesting. Have something to say about your day, your pursuits, your plans. 

Wish he planned romantic dates? Well, you first.

Imagine you were single and going on dates, because that’s really what we’re talking about here, isn’t it. You’d be interested and interesting. And when you were, the guy you are you dating would be wooing you, right? So how about before you excise the person who has shared probably more that half your life with you, you try dating bachelor #1 first.

I’ve had women stubbornly declare it’s a lost cause and they deserve to be happy. Yes. You do. I just want you to be very deliberate about that happiness and I want you to carefully consider that your happiness doesn’t have to be at the expense of others.

I want you to fully realize the power YOU have to change the tempo of your marriage. When you stop being so reactionary, you’ll find your partner is more responsive. All the while you are retraining how you want to be treated. And if your partner is a little dense, for god’s sake speak up. Kindly. Directly. And always include why it’s important to you. 

There’s no downside to trying it my way. I actually think you have everything to lose if you succumb to the status quo. You end up bitterly unhappy in a marriage or starting over out of it. Unless the addition of Bill Gates to the dating pool gets you hot, I hope you see you have a massive opportunity to create the marriage you need.

If you want to work through some of these exercises I’ve talked about, one of the free workshops on my new and improved website is all about marriage and includes a workbook to follow along. I’ll put the link in the shownotes or you can just head to and poke around the full site and find it.

A discussion has already begun around the Gates divorce. If you want to join the conversation or have comments or questions about today’s episode, hop into our private facebook group Muddling Through The Midlife.

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