Billy and Brian talk to Deanna Bryant, host of the Revive Your Midlife Marriage podcast. Deanna is a retired English teacher turned relationship coach for midlife couples. After facing her own midlife marriage struggles and getting outside help to overcome them, Deanna went back to school to become a relationship coach for midlife couples. She received a coaching diploma from Erickson International- The Art and Science of Coaching and studied relationship counseling at The Gottman Institute. She is here today to talk about how to revive your midlife marriage.
We ask Deanna:
--How did you go from being an English teacher to helping couples navigate their marriages in the second half of life? Can you talk a little bit about what you saw are the struggles in your own marriage and how getting outside help improved you and your husband’s relationship with each other?
--When couples work with you, they focus on cultivating deeper intimacy, updating their communication approach, and creating meaningful shared experiences. Talk about how those three have a tendency to fade in a marriage as we get older.
--How do you go about cultivating deeper intimacy, updating communication approaches, and creating meaningful shared experiences?
--Have you ever worked with a couple and thought to yourself, “You know what…it may be time to throw in the towel”? If so, how does that conversation go?
--When we discussed The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, we talked about how in the book they mention that 65% of divorces by people over the age of 50 are initiated by women, and they made it sound like some of that is linked to what Margaret Mead calls “postmenopausal zest”, which the book describes as a woman feeling freed from menstrual cycles and all that comes with it. Do you see a correlation here with the couples you’ve worked with?
--Which episode from your podcast is your favorite and why?
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Deanna: We have this intimacy atrophy, we’ve let things slide, and what happens there is that there is that disconnect, okay? So we have to get back to this place of intimacy. And, a lot of times, what happens there is it’s an emotional intimacy. We talk about intimacy and what’s the first thing everybody thinks? Sex. If you talk about being intimate with somebody, you automatically think sex. But being intimate with somebody is so much more than sex. It’s the emotional connection. And that is what I find is lacking the most, is this emotional connection. So intimacy starts with this emotional connection and that emotional connection is based on your words, body language, and it’s being able to share everything with your spouse that you need to talk about, your feelings, your fears, your perspective, and you know it’s a safe place.
Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis, a podcast for people navigating the complexities and possibilities of life’s second half. Join your hosts, Billy and Brian, a couple of average dudes who will serve as your armchair life coaches as we share our life experiences, both the good and the bad, in an effort to help us all better understand how we can enjoy and make the most of the life we have left to live in a more meaningful way. Take a deep breath, embrace the present, and journey with us through The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Billy: Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. I’m your host, Billy, and, as always, I’m joined by my good friend, Brian on the Bass. Brian, how you doing over there, man?
Brian: I am prominent today, Billy.
Billy: Oh, why are you so prominent today?
Brian: You know, just when you think of podcast hosts, I should pop into your head, one of the top five, at least. I mean, and you should be in there too, of course.
Billy: I appreciate that. Thank you for lumping me into that, I really appreciate it.
Brian: Speaking of prominence, our guest today is fairly prominent, is she not?
Billy: Yes, she is. Speaking of podcast hosts that you should absolutely listen to, our guest today is Deanna Bryant. Deanna is a retired English teacher turned relationship coach for midlife couples. I’m actually excited to have this conversation because I don’t think we’ve had a conversation around relationships and marriage yet. We’ve talked about love languages and stuff like that and we’ve talked about your marriage so now we get to talk about relationships that might need a little bit of work. So we have Deanna on today. After facing her own midlife marriage struggles and getting outside help to overcome them, Deanna went back to school to become a relationship coach for midlife couples. That also gives me a little bit of hope as a former English teacher that there are other things that I might be able to do with my life. She received a coaching diploma from Erickson International, the art and science of coaching, and studied relationship counseling at the Gottman Institute. Her podcast is called Revive Your Midlife Marriage and you can check her out at www.reviveyourmidlifemarriage.com. She has courses that she offers there. Welcome to the show, Deanna Bryant.
Deanna: Thank you. Thank you. It is delightful to be here.
Billy: Deanna, where are you from?
Deanna: I’m from Cleveland, Tennessee. Now, are you hearing an accent? Because that’s what most people mentioned.
Billy: Yes, but I actually love the southern accent, especially when you’re from the north and you get a lot of long vowel sounds so it’s nice to hear that. It’s a change of pace. Normally, most of the people that we talk to are from the Midwest so it’s a nice change of pace to hear a southern accent.
Deanna: Well, thank you.
Brian: And, honestly, we probably have an accent to most people, you know?
Deanna: Yeah, you guys —
Brian: Oh, yeah.
Deanna: You guys have an accent to me, for sure.
Brian: Thought so.
Billy: That’s awesome to get those kind of perspectives. So, Deanna, we always ask our guests to tell us about the 10 roles that they play in their life so what are the 10 roles that you play in your life?
Deanna: Mother, wife, obviously, being a friend, I have a role as a podcaster and helping couples work on their midlife marriage, which is huge to me so I guess you could say I’m a facilitator, mentor to other couples. I have a role as a colleague to other people out there that are doing similar things than I am. I’m a host of a podcast but I also feel like one of my roles is giving back to other people through my podcast. It’s not about me. I mean, we’re not doing this for fame and fortune, after all, or at least I’m not. And my audience is very slim but I feel like one of my roles is to make a difference, to really reach out to people with some of my own experience, to give some of the wisdom I have learned along the way, not that I have it all under control, I just want to say that now. I have a role in my community, which is important to me and in volunteering, I like to volunteer my time. Now that my kids are older, I have more time to do that so I like volunteering in my community. I don’t know if that’s 10 now. I lost my count.
Billy: No, that’s okay. You also say here that you’re a horseback rider. Tell us a little bit more about that.
Deanna: I am. I’m a horseback rider. I have my own trail horse. I don’t do any horse shows or that sort of thing, that was my daughter’s job, but I have a horse and I have a community that I am a part of here and they schedule horseback rides, just trail riding through the woods, through the mountains. I live in an area of Tennessee that we are in the valley but we are surrounded by a lot of nature, a lot of mountains so we do some trail riding. We do that a lot. So that’s a lot of fun. So I guess that’s a role in my community as well.
Billy: That’s very cool. Brian, have you ever ridden a horse?
Brian: Yeah, I’ve owned a horse for a long time. I grew up on a farm, don’t forget, so we had sheep and we had horses and the neighbors, we’d always go over there and cows and all kinds of stuff. So, yeah, we actually used to go riding, I can ride a horse just fine.
Billy: Really? Oh, I grew up on a cattle farm so we didn’t have horses or sheep or anything like that, we just had cattle. Horses terrify me because they are so muscular and strong. I am just impressed with what a physical specimen a horse is. So, whenever I see horses, I just get intimidated because they’re huge. And so I’m always impressed by people like Deanna and, obviously, you who ride horses and just feel comfortable around horses.
Brian: You got to have respect for the animal, for sure. Wouldn’t you say, Deanna? I mean, there’s —
Brian: — it’s a big, powerful animal so you do have to have a whole lot of respect, if you at all care about your personal safety, anyway. You learn that. You learn how to handle yourself around the animal.
Deanna: Yeah, because one horse acting out or pitching a fit or getting scared can get you hurt, and I don’t mean a little hurt but a lot hurt, and most horse people have been hurt, not necessarily because there was a mean horse but because things happen. You don’t know what’s going to happen and I agree with the respect thing, you better know what you’re doing, these are not dogs.
Billy: So what are the three roles that you are most looking forward to in the second half of your life?
Deanna: I am really looking forward to getting out and exploring my own passions. This is the first time since I’ve had children that I get to explore who I am outside of being a mom, because that has been my whole identity, so now I’m switching into this new role of adventure so I’m really excited to experience some of the adventures in my life and also do a lot of things that I haven’t had the chance to do. Read more, research more, get out with people more, enjoy trips with girlfriends, something I’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had had the opportunity. So I want to travel with my husband but also travel with my girlfriends and have adventures, get outside, kayak, hike, all those things I haven’t had time to do, just like you deciding to take a leave to travel. Those are the things I’m looking forward to.
Billy: How do you help people balance being the role of a parent but not letting it consume them? I’m not a parent and so, to me, I’ll tell you, to me, that sounds like the best advertisement for never becoming a parent. So, I’m curious, because you’re working with married couples and I’m guessing that the people that you’re working with, they need some support in order to navigate their marriage and I wonder if sometimes being consumed by being a parent then, in turn, neglects the partner and so, because you brought that up and I’m like, how, I’m curious how you coach people through that so that being a parent isn’t all consuming and you’re still able to maintain some other identities?
Deanna: Well, I think the first thing you have to do is realize that the parenting role is huge and if you’re not willing to give everything to this role, you’re going to miss something. So that’s why we do it. We give everything to our kids, they’re young, they’re impressionable, we’re trying to make them healthy, stable adults, so that kind of gets our focus and it’s so common. So, what happens is exactly what you’re saying, couples begin not to pay attention to each other if they are not intentional. And guess what, most of us haven’t been intentional because we’ve allowed the chaotic schedules, the things the kids have to do, raising families, building careers, and all that takes precedence. And you think about it back when you were dating, what did you do? I mean, your relationship was kind of your focus. It got the best of you and everything of you. And when you have kids, it can pull you away from your spouse if you’re not intentional about it. And yet, it happens so much of the time. I think there has to be a balance. I think what I see a lot of times is if parents aren’t careful, they can allow the needs of the kids to become paramount to their own needs. In other words, we almost enable our children to be selfish, self-centered individuals because we mold our whole life around them. To some degree, that’s okay, but we can’t lose ourselves as parents, as partners by giving so much to the children that we have no time left for us. That might mean when the children are smaller that you say, “Okay, this is bedtime, I’m not gonna lay down with you for three hours and fall asleep and totally miss my partner, we’re gonna have to have some boundaries here. This time, your dad and I have set aside for us, so you can go to a play room or you can go to bed, but this is time set aside for us,” which is great. That’s what we need to do. Also, when we’re juggling getting kids around everywhere, sometimes, we can get our kids involved in too much to where we don’t have time to focus on each other and ourselves. So I think there has to be a balance. You can be a good parent without having your life completely taken over by this parenting role and neglecting your spouse in the relationship.
Billy: Well, I think this is a good start to our conversation around reviving midlife marriages so what we’re going to do is we’re going to take a quick break and then when we come back, we’re going to continue talking to Deanna Bryant. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
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Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We are here with marriage coach Deanna Bryant. You can check her out on her podcast, Revive Your Midlife Marriage. You can also go to www.reviveyourmidlifemarriage.com and check out the programs that she has there. So, Deanna, you and I are both former English teachers so, obviously, the passion for helping others is clearly deeply rooted within us, so how did you go from being an English teacher to helping couples navigate their marriages in the second half of life?
Deanna: Well, we were married about 20 years when our relationship really had a major crisis. And it was at the point of do we go on or do we throw it by the wayside and move on. Surprisingly, my husband was the one that said, “Let’s don’t throw away 20 years of marriage,” I didn’t know if I wanted to stay, but he reached out and got us some outside help and we went and we learned a lot about each other. Even after being married 20 years, we really didn’t know how to be deeply intimate with one another and we didn’t know how to discuss things and situations that were emotionally charged, we didn’t deal with conflict, so we had a total disconnect. So we worked on some of these things and things got so much better and our relationship just really strengthened and like most women in midlife, I was like, “Okay, so this is what I’ve done here, I’ve raised kids, I’ve been an English teacher. Now, what’s next for me?” So typical for women want to know what’s next when the kids are raised. So I begin looking at what mattered, what skills did I already have, and as a teacher, teaching and mentoring and guiding and facilitating, that’s what teachers do. So I decided that I really wanted to be a relationship coach but for midlifers, because I understood the problems that we face when we get in midlife and, let’s face it, I mean, if you look at the demographics, the midlife age group, their divorce statistics have grown more than any other age group. So I thought, if I could just share, if I could help other couples like we were helped to get past this stuck phase and move in to a different kind of relationship, maybe it will help somebody not to just throw it all away because it’s too hard, because most couples get to midlife and it seems like there’s so much water under the bridge. Yeah, it’s too hard. Well, it’s not easy but it can be done if both partners are willing.
Brian: Is there a particular set of issues? What I’m trying to draw a line here, is it a lot different for couples in their midlife versus other times of their life? Are the problems the same? Are they different? Is there some problem you seem to focus on more in these sessions?
Deanna: Yes, usually there is. I think all of the things I talk about on my podcast, all these marriage tips and tricks can be throughout the entire marriage. In fact, if we knew them early on in our marriage and continued to learn new skills along the way, we wouldn’t get to midlife and be in this situation where we don’t know what we’re doing, our relationship, there’s this intimacy atrophy, we’re totally disconnected because all these years we spent raising kids, building careers, we really haven’t focused on ourselves, so there’s that intimacy atrophy and that’s what I see most couples come in midlife, feeling totally disconnected, bored, a passionless marriage, and they’re just going through the motions. A lot of times, for younger couples, because the focus is on the kids, they know something wrong but, God, we don’t have time to figure it out, and so we just go on. Midlife couples are faced with the last part of their lives. I mean, our mortality becomes a huge issue.
Billy: What’s a revelation that you learned about your husband? What’s a revelation that he learned about you while you were getting outside help?
Deanna: My husband was, and I don’t think that this was an ego thing that he was trying to be this way to run the iron fist but he was a little bit — he was more controlling than I was and he likes to be the leader, what he thought or felt seemed to make sense to him so that’s kind of the road we took. So, when we began to look at our relationship, one thing we did was look at our family of origin issues and when I began to understand the way he was raised and how he was brought up, with a very strong and domineering father, I started to realize this is what he picked up as what a husband and a father does. It’s not his fault. He’s not a person that is less than, but he’s bringing in his own stuff from the relationship. So I learned about him that he’s bringing in this baggage. He’s not intentionally trying to control me but he needs a sense of being heard and listened to, but that control issue isn’t going to work in our relationship. And while I learned that about him, what he learned is that he can’t be in control of everything, that he has to share that power and, often, there is an imbalance of power in relationships. One wants to take the lead and the other doesn’t and it’s not just men that do it. Women will take the lead in relationship and call all the shots. That’s just not healthy. So that’s one thing I learned about him. What he learned about me is that I always acquiesced. What he didn’t know was I didn’t really like a lot of things but I just kind of said how about I just keep the peace, because I grew up in a very volatile home so here’s my family of origin. I grew up in a very volatile home so I figured I don’t want any fighting, I don’t want any problems, so let me just acquiesce because it’s easier. So he learned that I’m not really happy with the things are going but I don’t know how to communicate it. I don’t know how to share that without fear of there being a problem. So we began — those are things we learned about each other that we really didn’t understand, we didn’t get. All we saw was the behavior. We didn’t understand what was behind it, the perspective, how we were seeing things.
Billy: I love that the person that you worked with helped you all take a deep dive into your relationship like that and to go back to your family origins. This is a real testament, I think, to the work that you do too because when you look at your podcast and the extent of conversations and topics that you cover, it is vast and it’s really, really impressive and you do deep dives on them, like you have part one through part six on certain topics and I think that’s a real testament to you because you really understand how to navigate these relationships, especially when it comes to midlife. And you alluded to this before about cultivating deeper intimacy, but you also focus on updating communication and creating meaningful experiences. So, can you talk a little bit more about how those three have a tendency to fade in a marriage as we get older and how do you go about cultivating and fostering those three things when you’re working with a couple?
Deanna: Well, like I already mentioned about raising kids and building careers, we have this intimacy atrophy, we’ve let things slide, and what happens there is that there is that disconnect, okay? So we have to get back to this place of intimacy. And, a lot of times, what happens there is it’s an emotional intimacy. We talk about intimacy and what’s the first thing everybody thinks? Sex. If you talk about being intimate with somebody, you automatically think sex. But being intimate with somebody is so much more than sex. It’s the emotional connection. And that is what I find is lacking the most, is this emotional connection. So intimacy starts with this emotional connection and that emotional connection is based on your words, body language, and it’s being able to share everything with your spouse that you need to talk about, your feelings, your fears, your perspective, and you know it’s a safe place. When you’re vulnerable with someone and you feel attacked or judged or misunderstood, chances are, you’re going to pull back and you’re not going to give your vulnerability to a relationship. Again, ruins intimacy. So, couples have to get back to really sitting down and talking about everything, and I know that seems overwhelming, but really that’s the happiest marriages is they share everything. There is a friendship involved. And one of the things I work in in my program is developing this friendship again, this being able to have this emotional intimacy outside of sexual intimacy. Because what happens is, hear this in midlife too, women don’t want to have sex anymore. Well, it’s not just midlife. You hear this all the time. Well, men want to have sex, women don’t. I think a lot of times, it’s because there’s not that emotional connection, there’s not that sharing of feelings and beliefs and perspectives and it’s not being honored. So those are some of the things we work on. And then another one was updating our communication approach. What I find is that couples don’t know how to communicate very well. We take and we learn communication skills for work, we know how to put our words together so that they are received well or we think about what we’re going to have to say. In our marriages, not so much. We get caught up in the feelings and the emotions and we communicate in ways typically that don’t foster further intimacy. One of the things we do in conflict or even in conversation is we judge our partners because we think what they’re saying is, well, that’s just not right or you’re seeing that wrong or you always or you never, and I find couples use all the wrong phrases when they’re sitting down to have a heavy conversation, because, let’s face it, what gets you more emotionally stirred? Usually, it’s a major conflict. And, usually, we act out of our emotions instead of acting out from a place of neutrality, calmness, and thinking about what we want to say. So getting to those updated communication approaches, I work with couples in their conflict management because those are the biggest problems, what they disagree about, what they can’t see eye to eye on, and so we sit down and I go through ways to tell them how to communicate their feelings and their beliefs and how to give feedback to their spouse without being critical, blaming, judgmental, using contempt, staying away from defensiveness so that they are able to talk and not only feel safe in a vulnerable situation but also honor their partner and what they have to say and communicate. We lack, a lot of times, in conflict respect for one another. I think we lose that and we get inside the feelings and I’m not sure why that is because we have chosen to share our lives, we love this person but we have a tendency to act out in our emotions. So I teach them self-soothing techniques before conversations, how to step back and take a timeout and breathe, how to put everything on hold for a little while. And then meaningful shared experiences. A lot of people look at that and think, “Oh, we’re talking about big fancy dates or huge trips, places,” and all of those are great, I think they’re wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but meaningful shared experiences don’t have to be big, huge, expensive things. They don’t have to be trips to Europe. Meaningful shared experiences are about making your time together, whatever you’re doing, a point of connection. Because if you have this, and all of these go together, if you have this emotional intimacy, if you’re communicating in a way to be heard and understood and also being a listener from a place of neutrality, then chances are, each moment you’re together can be a meaningful experience if you already have that intimacy together. So, even the little things. I mean, something my husband and I have done in midlife since we’ve been through this journey of working through our issues is we’ll go to the grocery store together, sounds real romantic, don’t you want to go sometime? But we go to the grocery store and we actually, I mean, we’re talking on the way there. It’s, you know, why don’t you run this way and we meet up at the checkout, we’ve got our groceries, and we’re ready to walk out, we talk on the way home. Sounds silly but it’s a meaningful shared experience because we already have this connection going on 24/7 so anything we do together. Now, you still need to do the big stuff. You don’t need to just run to the grocery store or Lowe’s with your spouse and decide that’s all you need to do, okay? Or do chores around the house. But meaningful shared experiences don’t mean a big to-do. It can be little things along the way.
Brian: Could be a TV show —
Deanna: It could.
Brian: — that you guys can discuss like Friends, that’s what we do too, exactly, yeah. You find those little things or, as you were pointing out, the trip to the grocery store, we call those day dates, because we’re still spending time together but we realize that we can’t always just spend time with each other, you know what I mean? So, obviously, there’s children around but we both count that as time together because we’re conscious of it and have discussed it. Yeah.
Deanna: It is. It’s the little stuff. We love sitting and watching Netflix and then we’ll talk about it and then we’ll laugh each other because the other one wants to stay up longer to watch another episode.
Brian: Oh, yeah.
Billy: We did an episode on the love languages and I guess I buy into that. I didn’t think that I would as much as I did, but after reading the book, I subscribe to it, especially after I reflect on some of my own relationships and Brian even commented how being more attentive to his own wife’s love languages and vice versa has improved their relationship. I’m curious, as a marriage coach, how much stock do you put into things like love languages?
Deanna: I think love languages are key. In fact, I love studying the different personalities that make people up. I love the Enneagram. I had somebody on my show that does the Critter Code and it talks about the different personalities and needs and behaviors of certain — he puts everybody in an animal category but they’re pretty funny, actually, because they really fit. But I’m always into that because I think not that anybody falls into one category, per se, but each of us has a tendency. So I love love languages. I think that is a great resource. It’s something I would talk about with my clients as well as a lot of these other things. The Enneagram is too deep for me. I don’t go into that one too much, that’s too broad, but I love the different personality types and I think we all speak a different language, okay? So you know how when you get together at first, you’re speaking the same language, you’re hearing each other, all on the same wavelength, everything is perfect. And then, after a while, you realize, once the lust is over, you realize you have differences in how you see things and it takes a little while for the butterflies and rainbows to go away but that doesn’t mean the relationship is bad. A lot of people think, “Well, we’ve fallen out of love, the relationship isn’t good anymore.” I don’t buy that. But I think if you understand where your partner’s coming from, what they receive, what matters to them, then you can meet those needs. And people think, “Well, I can’t meet the needs of my spouse.” There are needs of our spouse that we need to be attentive to. My husband is quality time together. He wants me to sit next to him on the couch. He wants me to go places with him. I mean, run errands, he enjoys that. Mine is acts of service. If you do anything for me, I am going to feel like you respect me and love me and care about me. So once we understood that, then he attempts to be more helpful and I attempt to be more conscious of the time he wants to spend with me. I have the tendency to just do my thing. I’m really a loner and I can be very selfish with my time and I can think, well, at the end of the evening, I wanna do what I wanna do so I’ll open a book and I’ll just read it and I have a tendency not to pay attention to my husband so I know that it’s because that’s not my love language. And same with him. Once we understood that, then we can meet that need in each other and realize, “Well, when I give them gifts, they’re not too excited about it.” Well, that’s not their love language. You could give me gifts, my husband could send me flowers, that just wouldn’t do it for me because that’s not my love language. So I think understanding love language is key, yes.
Billy: How often do the two of you check in with those kinds of conversations and just say, “Let’s do a status update on our relationship. How are you feeling when it comes to intimacy? How are you feeling with regards to our communication with regards to our meaningful shared experiences, with regards to our love languages being met?”?
Deanna: We talk about it regularly. We used to never talk about our relationship and there we have a standard Saturday morning that has started happening now that we don’t have little kids to run around and get cereal for where we have coffee with each other every Saturday morning. Some Saturday mornings, we just chew the fat. We just talk about all sorts of different things. But there are times that we have check-ins too. And we’ll say, “Are we okay?” One of us will say, “Are we okay? Is there anything we haven’t talked about that we need to? Is there anything I can do better?” And these are not the same questions we ask every week. Sometimes, we notice that one of us is off, something ain’t right, there’s something going on, and that’s the time to check in, “Hey, I noticed this about you. Is everything okay? Is it something you wanna talk about?” So we do this once a week, every Saturday morning. Sometimes, they’re very intense. Sometimes, it means that one of us has to say, “You know, when this happened this week, I felt this,” or, “You know, I felt angry,” or, “I felt hurt.” Sometimes that happens and those issues come up and we need to talk about them. So we’re checking in every week, every Saturday morning,
Billy: Brian, you have three young boys wreaking havoc in your house, but yet, you and Leanne have a very healthy relationship. So, how do you budget that time to do status checks?
Brian: Well, we do the same thing, yeah. It’s usually evenings right after we put the boys to bed then it’s our time, we check in with each other, and that could be any time during the week, but we always get a time to sit down and talk. So, you just have to make time to do it, basically. That’s it. If you care about doing it, you do it.
Billy: So what we’re going to do is we’re going to take a quick break and then when we come back, we’re going to continue this conversation about how to revive your midlife marriage with Deanna Bryant. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
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Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We are here with midlife marriage coach Deanna Bryant. You can check her out on her podcast, Revive Your Midlife Marriage. There are so many topics of conversation on there that if you are going through something with your significant other, I assure you, Deanna has covered it on her podcast. It is there in depth. You need to check it out and take a listen. She also has programs available at www.reviveyourmidlifemarriage.com. So, Deanna, this was a question that popped up to me. Have you ever worked with a couple and thought to yourself, “You know what, maybe it’s time to just throw in the towel,” and, if so, how does that conversation go?
Deanna: That’s a difficult one. That really is. There are problems that if one party or partner is not willing to change, it’s not going to work for the relationship. And some of those that are absolute deal breakers that I would tell couples and I have told some, unless you’re willing one partner to, maybe it’s addiction, alcoholism, it may be a porn addiction, it may be that they’re doing all the spending, they’re running them in debt and they’re not willing to change this behavior, maybe they are emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive those are situations that, unless that partner is willing to do some changing, not all — I mean, I could work my head off, I’m not going to fix that because that partner has got to be willing to make changes. The other time that is difficult is if you have a partner that’s resistant to all change in the relationship. Maybe you can have a narcissist, that’s the catchphrase anymore, anybody that’s a jerk is a narcissist.
Brian: Yeah, it is. You hear that a lot now. You’re right.
Deanna: Yeah, but if you’ve got someone that is not willing to give to the relationship, they’re not willing to change, they’re not willing to compromise, they’re not willing to work on themselves, what can you say? So I have had to say to one partner, you have two choices here. You can accept this as it is and do your own thing, which is doable, people do it, or you might want to look at something else. Because, to me, if I were in a marriage where I was in that situation, with any of those situations I mentioned, I can’t say that I would want to spend the rest of my life in that kind of misery. Now, some people can do it. I know people that are doing it. It’s not something I could do. But I always give the option. There are ways of living that you can accept certain things and then there are things that you can’t accept and that’s when you have to decide, “Am I stay in or am I going?” Because I don’t think you have to stay in a marriage. Of course, I think so many marriages could be changed by learning how to have an intimate relationship with their partner. We’re not taught that, no one teaches us that, it’s all trial —
Brian: Especially guys. Especially men.
Deanna: Yes, exactly right. Men are told to go out there and you conquer, you compete. Even in today’s society, men are still viewed as the main provider and, typically, that has happened because men are paid more than women. Not always but typically, if you go by statistics. So men are not taught how to have these relationships. I don’t know about you but my dad sure didn’t know how to have an intimate relationship with my mom and I see a lot of that happening that they just simply don’t know. But I think the problem I hear with women is all the male bashing that they don’t know and, yet, we can be facilitators of change and I tell wives this all the time, you can sit back and say what they aren’t or what he doesn’t get or why he doesn’t get you but a lot of times, it’s about communicating and talking and we all need to learn how to have an intimate relationship. Men aren’t the only ones who struggle with it. Women do too, but men struggle more.
Billy: So that brings me back to when we were doing our episodes on the male brain and the female brain by Louann Brizendine and so I’m wondering how much through your coaching education, through the programs that you did, do they discuss that? That men are hardwired this way and women are hardwired that way? Or are those outdated methods and discussions and we’re just far too complex of human beings for us to narrow down to that? Because we got pushback when we talked about the male brain and the female brain because people would say that, “Well, you know, you’re stereotyping. This is what this is based on.” We’re just sharing what’s in the book. This is what these researchers have said and we’re just disseminating the information. So, I’m curious, do you see brain research around male behavior, female behavior? How much does that impact the work that you do or is it just not relevant?
Deanna: I don’t like to stereotype genders because to say that a man doesn’t know how to do something a woman does, I’ve seen that crisscross. For instance, what you’ll hear women say is that just men, all they want to do is have sex, and I’m thinking to myself, no, but when you think about sex and men, there is an emotional connection for men and having sex with their wives that helps them feel like they are connected with their wives, okay? Well, women, naturally, that emotional connection makes them want to have the physical connection. So, men, the connection is the emotional, and for women, the emotional makes them want to have sex. And, yes, I believe that there are certain things about men and women, that’s why we’re different. Our society plays in a great deal with the roles we play as men and women. We pick up a lot of our ways of being from the society roles that we are taught, whether in our family, our communities, what part of the country you’re in, because I see it differently. Now, I keep hoping that the younger generation will catch on to all the podcasts and all the books and getting out to counseling because I think it’s less taboo than it was certainly in my generation and, hopefully, that’s better. There is more information out there for younger men than there was for my generation and my husband.
Billy: Oh, absolutely. That was part of the reason why we wanted to do the show was we’re like let’s get information out there so that people can access it.
Deanna: And when I studied relationships at the Gottman Institute, John Gottman has written over 40 books on relationships. He started in the 70s researching what good marriages looked like and so he started with all of these couples and he began to look at their relationships, they came in to his laboratory, they hooked them up to machines to check their heart rates and to see how their physiology was when they were having conflict or having conversations and he studied everything about what makes marriages work or not work. Because he followed these couples from the time they came to him, he would call them back in at 10 years and ask them how their relationship was going and he would call them in later after he had worked with them and tried to teach them. So, what he did is a lot of his statements were, “Women do this, men do this,” and it was based on his studying men and women and all these relationships for his entire career. And it made sense. And when I began to think about some of his ideas about the differences in men and women, when I would start talking to girlfriends or other women and men, they were shaking their heads. Well, yeah, that is true, that is kind of the way it is, so, yeah, I think, you know, what was that book years ago that was so famous?
Brian: Men Are from Mars —
Billy: Women Are from Venus.
Deanna: Yes. I mean, you either have people that go, “Oh, that’s so true,” or you have people that are like, “No, stereotyping,” and I think there is some stereotyping. For instance, you hear that women are more affectionate than men. Not true. My husband’s more affectionate than I am. I have to think about being affectionate with my husband because it doesn’t come naturally to me. So you’re not going to fit in all one pile. We really aren’t. But, typically, there are some truths to the different sexes and how we think and see things. We’re just wired differently. That’s why I kind of like being married to the opposite sex is because I get a different view of life and I’m not saying same sex marriage is you don’t but I like that male brain. It balances me out a little bit.
Billy: You had alluded to this earlier and this kind of goes along with what we’re talking about right here, when we discussed the female brain book, we talked to women’s health nurse practitioner Krista Margolis about the emotionally mature female brain and, during that conversation, we talked about how, in the book, they mentioned that 65 percent of divorces by people over the age of 50 are actually initiated by women and they made it sound like some of that is linked to what Margaret Mead, who is a researcher, she calls it the postmenopausal zest, which the book describes as a woman feeling freed from menstrual cycles and all that comes with it, along with being freed from being a parent, and I feel like you also alluded to this in one of your more recent podcast episodes. So, do you see a correlation here with the couples you’ve worked with?
Deanna: I do. And this is what often happens is a husband has typically, of course, he’s been a father and a husband but most of his duties, it seems like, have been going to work and you would think men should come home and share the lion’s share with the wife, that doesn’t always happen. Statistics still show women are carrying the majority of the load in the home. Yes, so men are getting a lot of their social interaction and that feeling of accomplishment from work, and I’m not saying that women don’t work and enjoy that as well but they’re coming home and they switch hats immediately and become moms. They carry a lot of the load. And my husband was great about sharing that but, typically, it’s not the case. A woman’s children leave the home and I think if you’ve identified yourself as a mother and that’s been your primary role in your life, you begin to question, “What’s next?” And men question, “What’s next?” too, definitely so, but I think there is a liberation for women. “I’m no longer having babies. I don’t have to worry about having babies. I have all of this freedom now to do whatever I want to do.” And there is an excitement. I hear women talk about this excitement in midlife and one of the greatest things about being a woman in midlife is being able to reinvent yourself. Typically, men are slowing down in careers, they’re coming back into the home to kind of settle in in midlife, they’re getting closer to retirement. Women’s amping up. “This is my second chance, I’m gonna do something else.” What happens is you’re in that midlife marriage and it’s overwhelming. And it’s so easy to say, “I’ve got this new life, I’ve got this new identity, I can do whatever I want, I’m just gonna throw everything away and do because it’s so hard, I’m just gonna do something new.” That was kind of where I was in my own relationship. I was like, “I just wanna do something new,” but doing things that are new doesn’t mean you have to shuck off everything behind you but sometimes that’s what feels like what’s right. So there’s this new zest for life and sometimes we forget what’s back there, but in midlife we go, “You know, I only have so many years left. Do I really wanna work on this relationship?” Women will think about divorce for years before they actually make that choice. Men, once they decide, it’s pretty quick. Women will go years holding on, four to seven years, holding on, thinking about getting divorced and not doing it.
Billy: Wow. Four to seven years?
Billy: That’s holding on to a lot of emotional baggage right there and uncertainty about your marriage.
Deanna: It really is.
Billy: Are they holding on to it looking towards the kids being out of the house as a finish line?
Deanna: I think a lot of couples stick it out because they have children or finances are not in a position where they could go off and make it on their own. But, I mean, men and women don’t necessarily just say, “Well, my relationship stinks, I’m gonna leave the family and start all over.” A lot of that continuity to the relationship is tied up with those children. It happens. We’re so focused on the children, that is what ties us together, not the depth of our relationship. And then when those kids are gone and you go, “Wow, what do we have left?” And I think it’s easier to say, “I just want something new. This is exciting. Let me go.” You also have to consider there’s been a lot of changes generationally. Divorce is more common now. It’s not so taboo. People are, if a relationship is unhealthy or not good and it’s just more trouble than it’s worth, people will get a divorce. And you have to also consider that, in midlife, a lot of those marriages are second and third marriages, which typically don’t last as long as the first one.
Billy: That was something that shocked me was that second marriages and third marriages, the chance for divorce, the percentages for divorce go way up, like it’s in the 60s for second and third marriages, maybe even the 70s for third marriages. That’s so wild to me. Why do people continue to get married then? It blows my mind, I always think of — I know a lot of people who they get married young and they live that life and then around 45, 50 years old, then they live their next life. I thought when we talked to Tiffany Byrd and Dr. Yolanda Holloway, Tiffany said you’re putting a lot of faith when you choose to marry someone when you’re a younger that you’re marrying someone you don’t know, because 20 years down the line, you don’t know who that person is going to be. And when she said that, my whole head exploded because I never even thought of it in that regard.
Deanna: Absolutely. Oh, I mean, my greatest fear is my kids get married too early before they even know what they want or know where they’re going in life. Because I didn’t marry until I was 27 and it was none too soon for me. But I think too, if you look at a span of a marriage, you will not be who you guys were 5 years, 10 years, 15, 20 years down the road, because we are evolving and changing. And I think a good marriage requires maturity along the way and growth and also catching up with each other along the way as you change, as your beliefs change, as your needs change, because all of this changes. Your perspective will change over the years. And I think that when you know that you’re investing everything into this relationship, this is what I have to say to couples who just want to throw it away on their first marriage, this is what I have to say: it’s easy to get rid of a relationship and start a new one because new ones are fun, aren’t they? New ones are just so much fun. They don’t require much work. But the problems you have in your marriage, and you’re part of them, you’re going to be taking into the next marriage. And if you haven’t learned how to have this relationship here and work on these areas that are also your fault, you’re just going to take it into the next marriage because you’re taking yourself. You can think you’re getting rid of the problem but, a lot of times, I’ve seen couples that marry the same type person three times down the road.
Brian: Oh, ouch.
Deanna: Yeah, it’s like —
Brian: Yeah, like didn’t she learn anything the first once or twice?
Deanna: I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it.
Brian: Oh, that’s a bummer. I feel terrible for those people, that’s why I’m saying that. I’m like, oh, goodness, I just feel horribly for people trapped in awful marriages.
Deanna: That’s why it’s so important to have a self-discovery along the way and continue to work on yourself as a person throughout your life so that you’re working on your issues, because each couple, I will tell them you got to work on your issues as well as the relationship. You’re a part of this, you have issues, we have to have self-discovery and goals for our own self-improvement to make sure that we are not repeating unhealthy patterns throughout our lives.
Billy: That self-discovery piece is something that, when we talked to Christine Chang, I don’t know if this episode is going to come up before hers or it comes out after hers, we’re having the conversation with you before we’re talking to her, but when we talked to Christine Chang, a big component of what she talks about is clarity. Be clear what you want and then be clear in your own communication with your partner as to what it is that you want and what you need. One thing that I thought was really interesting, I think it’s in your most recent episode here, you talked about how the stereotype of the midlife crisis for men is that they ditch their wife for the 20-something and then they get the Porsche, this, that, and the other, but you were talking about, and this kind of goes back to this postmenopausal zest, that it’s actually women who feel the midlife crisis crunch more than men do.
Deanna: It’s true. If you look at the research, women go through more changes in midlife than men do. We have those hormonal shifts. We have this new identity because we’re no longer raising children and having to focus in on those things. We begin to be able to focus on ourselves, where a man goes to work every day and he can focus on himself, a wife goes to work, she can focus on herself but they come home and they’re lost so there’s no time for this self-discovery. And I think when we can get to that place of looking at ourselves in this self-discovery and being able to say, “What changes need to happen for me to become a better person in this relationship,” if you don’t know what you need and want, it’s impossible for your spouse to know what you need and want. It’s impossible, but we expect our spouses to meet all our needs. You think my spouse is going to — my spouse makes me feel beautiful, my spouse makes me feel good about myself, you can’t rely on that. Sure, if your spouse is complimentary. Sure, if your spouse makes you feel special, those are all wonderful things, but you are responsible for sharing your needs and also standing up and saying, “You know, I need this from you. Here’s how I need it and I’m not gonna expect you to know what I need anymore,” because most couples do, they expect the partner to know what they need. And it’s impossible.
Billy: So we’re going to get you out on this. We’ve talked about the wide array of topics that you cover on your podcast, again, that’s Revive Your Midlife Marriage, you can check out Deanna’s podcast wherever you get your podcasts. You have all these topics on there. Is there an episode or a conversation that you love the most and that you would say, “Hey, this is a good spot for you to listen”?
Deanna: Well, obviously, I’ll tell you, the first episode I did gave the foundation for the whole podcast so if you’re not sure if this podcast is for you or if you fit into this, if you go to that very first episode, it lays out this idea of the midlife marriage crisis and what causes it so that would be a good starting point. All of them are interesting. I love having great guests and there’s been so many great guests that I’ve enjoyed, but you’re right, I have done a lot of solo podcasts. Probably my favorite one that I did was a two-part series called how your family of origin affects your marriage, because I think a lot of times we misunderstand our spouses because we don’t know their story in depth. We may know what’s happened in our spouse’s family but we don’t always share how it has affected us or why it matters or we don’t even know that how we’re behaving is based on that. So I get so excited when I think about couples being able to understand each other on a deeper level by understanding the stories behind why they feel the way they do, why they behave the way they do, and maybe it’s that I’m into all this profiling series, I like to know why people do what they do, but if we can understand what’s behind in our spouse’s story, I think it raises empathy. I think it raises understanding and compassion. And when we can do that, I think we come to a place of neutrality with our spouse, with getting off this judgmental road and this blame road, that we can have that more compassion and empathy with each other. So those were my favorite probably. I loved them all. I have a blast writing them and I love all my guests but those were the fun ones to do, especially for me. I love the family of origin stories and how knowing them can build a deeper intimacy with your spouse.
Brian: Sounds fascinating.
Billy: And that family origin piece was really a key component in moving your own marriage forward.
Deanna: It was. In fact, we did quite a bit of work on our family of origin stories talking about it because we didn’t share all the nuances of our childhood and things growing up. We kind of brushed over it. Both of us came from very dysfunctional homes. Basically, all families are dysfunctional in some way or another but we came from very dysfunctional homes and we didn’t know how to have a relationship and those relationships affected our relationship together and by being able to talk about it, now I know why when I do certain things, it triggers my husband because now I know that when this happened in his childhood, this is how it made him feel. So when I do this, that’s triggering that for him. Well, what a great way to understand your spouse better. And then I can choose to shift it a little bit so that I’m not triggering him and I’m thinking about his sensitivities or what might come up for him. I might even say, “Hey, I know this may sound like and it may bring up this for you but I want you to know that this is a place of love,” and I don’t want you to feel that I am whatever it is that’s triggering them from their past. So I think it brings a deeper level of intimacy.
Billy: So fascinating, so many fascinating topics. If you enjoyed this conversation that we had with Deanna, I know that you’re going to enjoy her podcast. Once again, check out Revive Your Midlife Marriage. We’ll link it in the show notes. You can go to www.reviveyourmidlifemarriage.com, we’ll link that in the show notes. We will link her Instagram in the show notes. Take a listen if you’re in a position where maybe your marriage needs a jolt. We had the conversation with Mina Johnson Osterlie earlier about the conditions of her trial separation, we’re actually going to bring her back on to give you all an update so you can find out where she’s at with those things and these are conversations that I imagine many of you in midlife, you might be thinking over these things, you might be pondering these things, so it’s wonderful to have people like Deanna on the show. Thank you so much for being on the show, Deanna. We really appreciate it.
Brian: Thank you.
Deanna: Billy and Brian, it was delightful. Thank you so much for having me on.
Billy: Absolutely. So, with that, for Deanna, for Brian, this is Billy, thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. May you feel happy, healthy, and loved. Take care, friends.
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