By Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW
The verdict is in. John Edwards will serve no jail time in the wake of a "not guilty" finding on one charge and a mistrial on five other charges of campaign finance malfeasance.
However, the former presidential candidate is irrefutably guilty of other moral crimes, serving as a brutal reminder to millions of boomer women that once they are no longer young and pristine, our perfection-obsessed culture renders them invisible. Indeed a 2011 study of 1246 women found that a staggering 92 percent of participants in their fifties admit to not liking their appearance in the mirror.
Who can forget the heartrending testimony at the trial by former John Edwards’ advisor Christina Reynolds about Elizabeth’s 2007 public confrontation with her husband over his infidelity with Rielle Hunter, ripping open her blouse to reveal the evidence of a double mastectomy while sobbing, “You don’t see me anymore.”
That John walked away from his hysterical wife and boarded a plane to his next campaign stop is commentary solely on the soullessness of one man. What pertains more universally is the purported biological base to a male’s marital malaise as has been noted by Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa: “A man’s midlife crisis is precipitated by his wife’s imminent menopause…and thus his renewed need to attract younger, reproductive women.” The extreme efforts of John Edwards to hide the child he’d conceived with his mistress lay at the heart of his legal debacle.
The cancer at the heart of the Edwards’ marriage morphed into a private tragedy and public disgrace.
Of course not all boomer women come to doubt their outer beauty and inner worth, as not all boomer men turn to other women for a self-confidence boost. But many longtime couples turn up on my therapist’s couch largely due to a struggle to redefine themselves as individuals and partners at this stage of life.
Many begin to question the choices they’ve made: Why did I get married so young? Why did we remain childless? I was gonna rule the world. How did I become a stay-at-home mom of four teenagers? Why did I give up on my dream of starting a business? Why did I let myself get so out of shape? Why didn’t I spend a year in the Peace Corps? Underlying these musings: How have I let the best years of my life slip by?
No wonder unhealthy patterns in the marriage that have been swept under the rug to keep the peace, at least while the kids were young, often surface at this time with a vengeance.
It is a seductive trap to blame a spouse for unhappiness at who you’ve become, and thus feel justified at passive-aggressive or just plain aggressive behavior: “It’s his/her fault for making me this miserable, so why should I bother being kind or respectful?” A seductive trap, but one that is uber-destructive to all but divorce lawyers.
I urge my patients to “own” the decisions that have shaped their lives. When goals and dreams haven’t materialized, self-reflection and the commitment to change what is no longer working, rather than condemnation of your other half, is the route to a transformative second half.
No, this is not an easy task but ultimately it takes less energy and effort than holding onto the trifecta of dysfunctional behavior, rage and fear.
Midlife couples that make the commitment to challenge themselves and one another to address (not wallow in!) long-ignored hurts, change old behaviors and forge new individual and mutual goals can create a marriage so much richer than they’d ever envisioned way back when.
Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW is a NYC-based therapist, speaker and author of 3 books, including "The Complete Marriage Counselo": Relationship-Saving Advice from America’s Top 50-Plus Couples Therapists(Adams, 2010). Her website is www.marriedfaq.com.