Bill and I never set out to become specialists on marriage, let alone midlife marriage, but we had the good fortune to be mentored by Jim Conway, the man who popularized the whole midlife concept. Bill recently took the reins of www.mid-life.com. Midlife is the number one time for couples to toss in the towel. Often it is because of men and affairs, however, startling new statistics reveal the number of women having affairs has risen significantly in recent years, as has the divorce rate for those over 40. More women are bailing out on their marriages at midlife. In the AARP survey of those who divorced from ages 40 to 69, 66 percent of women reported that they asked for the divorce.

The ability to hang on to love is a bit easier when we realize all that is going on in a midlife marriage. In my (Pam’s) new book, 10 Secrets of Living Smart, Savvy and Strong, I list off over 100 symptoms of menopause (everything from hot flashes to having to cross our legs when we laugh!). Couple this with dealing with tweens, teens, launching young adults, or for some, a bonus baby (so hot flashes and the terrible twos!), and the financial pressure of paying for kids' proms, cars, colleges, and weddings or caring for aging parents and that is enough to send many marriages to the brink. But to really understand midlife marriage stress, one has to dig in and learn what is going on in a male’s heart and mind at midlife.

Years ago, when my oldest (who is now 29) was 3, I went with my husband to pick up his father for a lunch date. While Bill went into the building to get his father, I stayed in the car with my newborn and my toddler. The parking lot was completely empty, so I decided now would be an appropriate time to nurse my infant. A few moments later, a midlife man in a red convertible sports car drove up next to us and parked. He could have parked anywhere — the parking lot was completely empty — but he chose the spot right next to our car.

My impatient toddler hopped out of his car seat and promptly opened his door, swinging it right into the red sports car! I was mortified — I looked at the red-faced man. He seemed ready to blow his top. I felt in danger for myself and for my sons. I whisked Brock into the car, locked the door, looked at the man, and mouthed an “I’m very sorry -- we have insurance.” I prayed my husband would return so that we could trade insurance numbers, etc. They were tiny dings, but I still felt bad. But I was about to feel worse. The man got out of his car and came over to my window and began to beat on it with his fists, swearing and threatening me and my children then he got in his car and peeled off in a huff.

I was crying and upset when Bill returned to our car. I recounted the story to Bill and his father — and they were outraged that any grown man would act in such a manner, especially toward a nursing mother and toddler. But now that I am in midlife myself, I have gained new compassion for the man in the red sports car. I am sure he was a frustrated midlife man. That car might have been his only joy. He might have sacrificed for others for years, driving used cars and giving up his golf game so his kids could get tennis shoes.

Jim Conway, in his book Men in Midlife Crisis, said he felt at midlife like a vending machine because people always wanted something from him. Recently, I observed what people wanted from my own midlife man:

Give me your car keys.

Give me your counsel.

Give me your money.

Give me your wisdom.

Give me your connections.

Give me your time.

Give me your talent.

Give me your resources.

Give me your prayers.

Give me your muscles.

Give me your expertise.

Give me, give me, give me — and he gave and gave and gave. To hold midlife marriages together, take God’s advice in Colossians 3:12: " ... put on a heart of compassion ..." Maybe in giving back to our midlife man, we can help lessen the pressure so he won’t be the one in the red convertible screaming at helpless women and children. And in turn, your man might buy you a “chillow” (frozen pillow) to ease those hot flashes!

Bill and Pam Farrel are relationship experts, international speakers, and authors of over 35 books, including best-selling Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti. This article has been adapted from 10 Secrets to Living Smart, Savvy and Strong (Harvest House), which can be found along with many other helpful resources at www.Love-Wise.com.

Publication date: June 8, 2012