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This Is Why Some Relationships Become Less Fulfilling As You Get Older

August 2, 2019
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Things change. Certainly relationships do, especially with age. Your relationship to your friends from high school have likely shifted massively as your lifestyles, interest, and responsibilities shifted in adulthood. Your relationship to your parents probably shifted massively after you went to college, got your own place, and later perhaps got married. Your relationship to your partner, too, shifts with age: Your days of partying together in your 20s perhaps gave way to weekends spent in bed with books and a few cups of tea in your 30s. Some relationships change for the best, whereas others slowly become less rewarding and meaningful as the years go by. What determines whether a relationship becomes stronger or more fraught with time? In her compassionate new book Aging Joyfully, clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., explains how to recognize exactly what's changing in our relationships by unpacking what makes a relationship in the first place.
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Shifts in key relationships are often inherently difficult, yet a lack of understanding and awareness can make natural and necessary changes all the more challenging. This era of your life may certainly bring an interesting twist to many of the relationships in your life that were once fairly static. Maturing women face a host of new relationship dynamics as parents decline, partners age, and adult children spread their wings. By taking an honest, open look at the key relationships in your life, you will become more familiar with the dynamics of each relationship.

Although every relationship has its own unique dynamics, certain foundational factors tend to permeate all relationships. Some dynamics are more pronounced in certain relationship categories, such as those encountered with aging parents and adult children. You will feel more confident as you better understand and appreciate the nuances of these dynamics. With increased self-awareness and usable tips, you will feel more adept at gracefully and powerfully managing even the most difficult relationship issues.

This era of your life may have you laughing or shaking your head over the impact of your relationships and the patterns within them. You might notice that certain negative patterns from your own childhood persist in your relationships today. You might have purposefully shaken off old, unhealthy dynamics and created healthy ones that work for you. You may have always had rather healthy relationships and are looking only to refine and enliven those relationships. Wherever you are on this spectrum, know that you have the power to understand and create the dynamics that will make these next decades all the more beautiful.

The 6 building blocks of every relationship in your life.

In my work as a psychologist, I have discovered that the key factors permeating human relationships include need, ability, desire, availability, willingness, and commitment. These foundational blocks are the basis for nearly every relationship in life.

A few examples will help you better understand these key factors. Using the parent-child relationship as an illustration, it can be fairly easy to see the "need" factor. The parent often feels the need to have a child, and the dependent child certainly needs the parent. The "ability" factor is clearly significant, for certain abilities are required of a healthy parent. As to the "desire" factor, it is important that parents have a deep desire to create and raise a child. When desire is present, the heart (the emotional connection) is involved. "Availability" is a vital factor, for emotional, mental, and physical availability are all key to a healthy relationship. The healthiest parent-child relationships are formed when the parents are available to the child in all three realms—emotionally, mentally, and physically. "Willingness" is another key factor, for the other factors are meaningless if an individual is not willing to act on the need, ability, desire, and availability factors. In the parent-child relationship, a parent can certainly have the need, ability, desire, and availability to have and raise a child, but if the parent does not have the willingness to follow through, the child will assuredly suffer.

Of course, the "commitment" factor is the absolute crowning jewel of these factors. Without commitment, no relationship—even those where all of the other factors are present—will be optimized. In the parent-child relationship, it is clearly the parents who must be committed to the process. As with other relationships, strong parent-child connections tend to result when the six factors of need, ability, desire, availability, and willingness are pressed into concerted action.

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When a relationship shifts, ask yourself: Which block is missing?

Once you understand the importance of these factors across your various relationships, you will be able to more clearly examine why some of your relationships are more fulfilling and satisfying than others. You will better understand why some of your relationships go awry. Simply look at the six key factors—need, ability, desire, availability, willingness, and commitment—to see what is missing or out of balance.

By utilizing this lens as you look at the relationships in your life, you will feel enlightened and empowered. In certain relationships, you will be able to make easy, positive adjustments, yet some may be more difficult to shift. When you're equipped with wise awareness, patience, and a healthy dose of laughter, you'll be able to manage your relationships with greater understanding, acceptance, and grace.

Excerpted from Aging Joyfully by Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D. (Familius, 2019), with permission.

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Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D.
Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist

Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist based in Sonoma County, California. With a holistic, body-mind-spirit approach, Manly specializes in the treatment of anxiety, depression, trauma, and relationship issues. She has a doctorate in clinical psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute and a master's in counseling from Sonoma State University. Manly is also the author of several books, including Joy From Fear, Aging Joyfully, and her latest book Date Smart: Transform Your Relationships & Love Fearlessly.

Blending traditional psychotherapy with alternative mindfulness practices, Manly knows the importance of creating healthy balance, awareness, and positivity in life. Recognizing the need for greater somatic awareness in society, Dr. Manly has integrated components of mindfulness, meditation, and yoga into her private psychotherapy practice and public course offerings. Her psychotherapeutic model offers a highly personalized approach that focuses on discovering and understanding each individual’s unique needs and life-path goals.