Marriage in the Middle: Embracing Midlife Surprises, Challenges, and Joys, by Dorothy Littell Greco, offers couples personal wisdom and perspective on marriage in middle age. Greco weaves together compelling first-person narratives with the stories of many aging couples from diverse ethnic backgrounds to provide insight, vulnerability, and hope. Although not explicitly focused on egalitarians, this book addresses role expectations and fairness issues that can sabotage equal unions and hinder them from flourishing.
Books preparing couples for success in marriage in general are plentiful, but far fewer help couples face the uncertainties of midlife. While other books on marriage at midlife take a more clinical approach or, conversely, are completely subjective, this book blends the two approaches. Greco examines marriage at middle age from a counselor’s perspective with personal and intimate relational narratives. This interesting blend of approaches makes the book seem more personal, readable, and genuinely helpful.
Based upon years of coaching married couples, as well as her personal struggles, Greco believes that navigating the many challenges at midlife (from ages forty to sixty-five) can be daunting but rewarding. She writes, “Midlife can often leave us feeling like we’re out in the middle of the sea in a tiny boat with a single sail. Though we have little power over the frequency or intensity of the storms that rage around us, we do have tremendous agency in how we respond” (3). Greco’s wisdom and advice shows the reader how to restore that sense of agency that could help marriages flourish through these turbulent waters.
From bedbugs to infidelity, Marriage in the Middle offers balance to women who are feeling a bit lost and alone as their bodies change and as regrets and missed opportunities surface. Midlife can be a time when unmet expectations loom large, and strength and patience seem reduced. Greco encourages women to focus on the following traits: malleability, resilience, and engagement.
The focuses of several chapters are of special note. In chapter 3, “Ch, Ch, Ch, Changes,” the author takes an honest look at the changes taking place in the aging bodies of both women and men. She talks intimately about sex, erectile dysfunction, sleep deprivation, chronic pain, and the hormonal changes that manifest surprising emotions, such as anger. The remaining chapters deal with issues of caregiving, often culturally expected of women, and the difficulties of juggling work, leaving jobs, aging parents, and a host of other issues that can rob a midlife couple of the autumn joys of life together.
Chapter 5, “Deciphering Disappointment,” is one of the most compelling in the book. It gently walks readers through the many mazes of missed opportunities and unrealized expectations at the root of midlife’s resentments, anger, and sadness. Expected changes never realized—over even very small matters—can loom larger in this transitional season. One wife, Isabella, shares, “I know the division of labor is a common area of conflict for many couples, and we’re no different” (65).
Chapters on sexuality and community round out the global look at midlife. Although chapters 8 and 9, “Sex, Part 1” and “Sex, Part 2,” are offered clearly as an important aspect of an aging couples’ life together, the section did not seem well-integrated into the overall message and might have been better placed as an appendix or a book sequel. Although it was written in the same style as the previous chapters, this reader considered the topic so complex that it deserved its own treatment. Adding it in two parts made the book seem that it was attempting to survey too wide a range of topics.
The book concludes with a chapter, “Telos Revised,” challenging couples to write their own script and take control of their story. In attempting to discern their own telos, couples should ask themselves: What are you aiming for, and how does each part of life together contribute to the goal? These questions are meaningful ones for those pioneering egalitarian models of marriage. The sense that we can and do cowrite our destinies together with God is an important reminder to us all that egalitarianism in marriage must be pursued mutually and with intention.
Marriage in the Middle is a collection of life vignettes and personal experiences that will resonate with every married couple. Greco encourages couples to face midlife with imagination and hope and offers transparency, intimacy, and insight for the journey.