"Love is the only engine of survival"
Leonard Cohen, "The future" 1992 Sony Music)


The classic, anthropological definition describes matrimony as:

  • two people of the opposite sex,
  • who are not blood relatives (incest is forbidden),
  • who live together,
  • who have sexual relations between the two of them and not outside of the couple,
  • who split the material management of their lives.

This definition is a bit cold and does not take love into consideration. Why me? Why you? Why now? Why do two people get together, live together, plan their lives together and decide to have children?

For love, naturally. And what is love? A big question which I cannot begin to answer. Psychological manuals describe love as a sentiment that grows between two people, who feel they have interests, values, and ideas in common and who establish an intimate relationship based on comprehension, trust and respect.

Again, according to the manuals, this relationship should be characterized by mutuality, meaning staying with a person not to satisfy one's own selfish needs, but to grow together in an environment in which each person favors the psychological maturity and potential life expressions of the other.

Among the many authors who worked on this topic was E. H. Erikson, who wrote: "only he who gets close to another, either consciously or unconsciously, with an active and giving manner, instead of requesting and depending, will be able to help the other become what they potentially could be ".

Or P. Schellenbaum, who described three levels in the development of sentimental relationships:

  1. an initial phase of fusion between the two, in which the confines of you and I are happily lost;
  2. a phase of projecting during which one imagines that the other is made in a certain way, that often does not correspond to reality, and we "project" subconscious parts of ourselves, of our expectations, of our oldest feelings onto the other person;
  3. a third phase in which "the person I love becomes a guiding-image, that reflects my possible life choices heretofore unknown to me, the dynamics of my development "and vice versa.

But, in reality, things don't always go so well. It happens that we get together with a person we don't really know all that well, who in that moment seems similar to us, and maybe s/he is in that period, but then the years pass, and people evolve and change, each in his own way when facing the different challenges life poses.

There are archetypes, some steps, appointments in life that mark change in our existence, or rather they help our real self emerge, our real personality, our real character.

The end of our studies, the beginning of our sexual life, entering the work force, leaving our parents' house, our wedding, the birth of our children, the death of our parents or other dear ones, are some of those important steps in our lives that make us grow.

In a couple, naturally, both grow individually, which won't cause a problem if:

  • the initial choice of the person is right, because a number of ideals which we retain important in life are shared;
  • there has always been real communication within the couple;
  • there has always been respect for the freedom and differences of the other.

If the connection in the couple is weak it is because:

  • two people got together because the man was sexually attracted to the woman, and to the woman the man seemed solid, sort of like a father;
  • if the man saw the woman as similar to a mother and dreamt of being taken care of by her, while for the woman this role was all right until real children came along;
  • if the marriage unconsciously repeats a parents' marriage;
  • if they met when, as students they were protesting, and then find themselves in the real working world as two different types of thirty-year-olds, one integrated into society, and the other still protesting;
  • if one of the two receives a sum of money, for example an inheritance, and this shows the other person's greed, when before that person declared to be indifferent to money;
  • if marriage has been chosen for fear of being left alone;
  • if marriage has been chosen "to settle down";
  • if the family of origin influenced the choice;
  • if the wedding was done in a hurry, between two people who hardly knew each other, only because they had recently broken up from a long relationship (a rebound);
  • if two people get married in order to leave a suffocating parental household legally.

And more:

  • if we do not respect the other and do not let him/her be different from us;
  • if the two don't give each other freedom, not the freedom to betray, but to follow interests and friends that are not common to the couple
  • especially if there is no real communication between the couple, which means accepting the other's criticisms, avoiding squabbling, trying to build and not destroy.

If these hypotheses occur then it is very difficult that the years do not leave painful signs in the couple's life together and provoke a crisis that could become serious.

Therefore there is the risk of reaching the age of fifty, with grown and often independent children, and finding each other alone in a couple, each of the two frozen in a role they do not like, and very different from what they once were, but almost unknown to each other, without having accepted the aging of their bodies, sometimes enemies of each other (like in "The War of the Roses") and unable to face the new life choices ahead of them.

And nowadays, fifty is a hard age to go through.

What was once called middle age was maybe faced, by men and women, in a more serene state, because there were models to which they could adapt, now it is an age that is denied and is part of the silence that then envelopes more and more heavily the years to come - those of old age.

We are immersed in a society, pushed by increasingly faster technological progress, which cannot however resolve the problems of humanity, seeing the wars and social contradictions that we can see everyday.

In this general picture, modernity, the image, physical beauty and naturally, youth, seen as the only protagonists in an upcoming future, are upheld.

Advertising, newspapers, television, internet, bombard us daily with dynamic, sexually explicit, images, which indicate a lifestyle that is almost always "young" and "carefree".

Walking around town one cannot avoid seeing posters that show naked young women, or sexy men, which advertising uses and abuses. The image that is used is always the image of youth: photographs of the elderly are almost always destined to be used for rest homes, electric stair climbers, medicine, hearing aids and dentures.

But the years go by anyway, whether we like it or not, and in this social picture, reaching the age of fifty is no longer a sign of reaching maturity, but risks being a topic which, if possible must not be spoken of, or at most can be joked upon.

The crisis that strikes many couples as they reach the age of fifty therefore not only depends on the various personal factors in the choice of a life partner, which we have just listed, but is intrinsically connected to cultural conceptions of the man and woman.

Facing the crisis that can come out around the age of fifty, is the strong need for affection, which can help us confront the coming years.

In women, what's more, this passage is underlined physically as well, by menopause, with all the implications that the loss of fertility and the end of menstruations can bring.

If a woman has imposed her security only on her beauty, on her esthetic appearance, just as the mirror and men's eyes reflect it back to her, then the inevitable physical deterioration can become a formidable obstacle and can impede the acceptance of herself and of her changing body.

And what's more, if a woman has completely invested her life in taking care of her husband, forgetting herself and erasing, for her husband, her own personality, then the relationship crisis becomes a deep personal crisis, while the woman thinks that the other, the man, is not suffering the changes and effects of time.

Men also go through a profound crisis around middle-age, maybe they don't talk about it with their wives, don't face the problem seriously, becoming moody and stiff with those who love them, they seek refuge in the camaraderie of friends, or, rather than face the problem, in an adventure with a younger woman.

And more, there are men who are incapable of changing; men who, in front of a crisis, for weakness, avoid self-analysis and realization, but try to continue applying the old models of "boss husband" and of the "boss and owner".

And for as long as they find women willing to support this behavior they continue.

There are therefore situations in which, even with a serious crisis in the marriage, the husband, expects the house to be taken care of, that the wife prepare his meals and wash and iron his clothes.

Not to mention those that expect sexual relations as part of the "conjugal duties".

And there are wives who will still continue to play their part even in these situations.

In the film, "Bread and Tulips", an insensible and domineering husband, who betrays his wife for years, is left by her. In the days that follow, in one of his meetings with his lover, he asks her is she can wash and iron his shirts for him, since he no longer has anyone at home who will do it, and his lover says no, simply because she is the lover and these chores are the wife's job.

All of this contrasts with the "modernity" of the times we are living in, and brings us back to the past. The words "matrimony" (from the Latin "mater munius" meaning "the reign of the mother") and "patrimony" ( "pater munius" the "reign of the father") are words that are over two thousand years old, but describe roles played even now.

For some women, feminism has never existed, and certain men do not debate their male supremacy as the "stronger sex". In my opinion, none of this has anything to do with DNA, nothing is genetic or hereditary, it is all cultural and psychological, and as such can be changed.

The economic element should not be undervalued either, this makes this type of women weak, since they never had their own personal income and the consequent independence that it brings.

Ignoring this crisis only makes it worse. It is like being afraid of your own shadow and never trying to shine a light on it: the shadow becomes darker and more threatening.

But there are remedies, if you are not afraid to analyze yourself. Recognizing that the crisis exists and being willing to face it together is exactly what can make the crisis useful and precious at the same time.

At a practical level dedicating private time to the couple itself is important, maybe taking a quick trip together alone, without the children - and during the trip, not being afraid to talk.

In this, women, compared to men, are much more courageous and less tied to the past, less stiff and repetitive, more willing to change, they realize the need to adapt to the age they are and living it to its utmost with their partner.

The morality of those who see concentrating on their own personality and trying to understand what they truly want in life as a sign of egoism must get past that point and consider the fact that paying attention to oneself is a possible way of facing life and the passing of time.

Faced with a 50-year crisis in the couple, you must therefore work on two fronts at the same time:

  • analysis and reflection of your life at the age of fifty;
  • creating, together with your partner, a new way of living this new age.

Time is certainly needed, and this changes from couple to couple; there will be couples that overcome the crisis without any need for help, while for others a psychotherapist for couples could help forge a new way of being together and communicating.

There will be couples who will break up, and others who will continue living together, either living with each other or detesting each other, but never leaving each other free to choose.

"Life is now" says a song by Baglioni, and this goes for those who are fifty as well; time passes and there is no time to lose in useless intestinal wars, because no one will give us back the days wasted in squabbling and in fights.

And the engine that pushes people to take this road together is love ...