What did you mean when you said the midlife spouse holds the left behind spouse to a much higher standard than the midlife spouse is living?
I was actually very surprised to see your question, and it prompts the question of, “What does a ‘higher standard’ mean to you?”
Hint: It’s not about living materialistically.
Midlife spouses tend to live out a moral and ethical “double standard” defined as “One set of rules for me (midlife spouse), and another set of rules for you (the left behind spouse). I can do everything, while you can do nothing.” It seems to be OK for the midlife spouse to rebel, destroy their marriages, their families, and their lives, but if the left behind spouse follows suit, and does those same things, the midlife spouse will judge them very harshly.
It’s part of that, “Look what you did-that was wrong! BUT–don’t you dare look at me! You have no right to judge me for what I’ve done, because I’m justified, and everything is YOUR fault!” Midlife spouses can point “moral” and “ethical” fingers at others, but don’t like it when they get that same finger pointed at them. In their view, they’re above the rules that regulate behavior.
Just like left behind spouses, midlife spouses are subject to having certain expectations, and both people tend to expect a lot out of each other in the way of behavior. Both people are also subjected to the failing of expectations, which brings on frustration and anger.
The “higher standard” is defined as living morally, ethically, keeping the family together, and not doing anything to dishonor one’s Self. The midlife spouse lives in such a way that DIShonors their Self, but expects the left behind spouse to live in a way that honors their Self. In other words, there is a certain expectation of perfection that clearly involves no allowance for mistakes.
If the left behind spouse gets out of line, the midlife spouse erupts in anger, and a confrontation often ensues. Why? Because in the midlife spouse’s mind, the left behind spouse has no business doing the same things they are doing.
One example is in the area of spending money. The midlife spouse decides they are entitled to all of the money, but if the left behind spouse starts spending money, regardless of what it is for, the midlife spouse becomes angry, and begins trying to control the spending of funds. Somewhere within themselves, they do know this excessive spending on their own part isn’t a good thing, but in their entitlement, and lack of self control, they do it anyway.
I have seen left behind spouses who matched the midlife spouse dollar for dollar in wasteful spending, and what did that prove? Nothing, because the couple went bankrupt that much faster.
However, the midlife spouse put every bit of the blame on the left behind spouse for wasting the money, and distanced themselves completely away from this “wasteful” person. In their eyes, the left behind spouse was supposed to “save” them from themselves, but the left behind spouse failed to do it, so it created a trust issue for the midlife spouse.
Yes, I know–the left behind spouse has trust issues, too. You could say that both people were riding in the same boat. The midlife spouse distanced themselves away from the left behind spouse, because they said they couldn’t “trust” them to guard the money, and stop spending it. This is also a case of projection, because the midlife spouse started all of this, but they’re not going to see what they’ve done until much later.
As another example, I have seen midlife spouses who committed adultery against their marriage. However, when the left behind spouse followed suit, and this has happened before–while they were forgiving of the midlife spouse’s sin, the midlife spouses were very unforgiving. This is where that same “double standard” came into play. Midlife spouses wanted to be forgiven for what they did, but IF the left behind spouse did the same or worse, it wasn’t acceptable.
Men and women are often different in their moral expectations concerning adultery. Women tend to be more likely to forgive infidelity, than men are. It’s all about pride, the refusal to accept “damaged goods,” and getting on a moral “high horse” that dictates that no immorality that leads into adultery should ever happen.
Now, don’t take me wrong–adultery is wrong, according to God’s Word, and people should work to maintain fidelity to their marriages. Unfortunately, there are those who think the best solution to a problem in the marriage is “solved” by stepping outside of the marriage, committing emotional or physical adultery then blame the left behind spouse for their failures to “keep” the adulterer happy. That’s wrong, but society as a whole buys into this wrong thinking. People need to grow up and understand that the “fault” doesn’t lay within the one who was cheated on, the “fault” lays within the one who is cheating. Yet, the midlife spouse who gets themselves into an affair will blame the left behind spouse for a weakness the left behind spouse didn’t have any control over.
We don’t “make” or “drive” people into doing committing sin–that decision is theirs alone. However, to hold their left behind spouse to a “higher standard” simply goes back to what I was addressing in the first part of your answer–the midlife spouse gives themselves emotional permission to morally rebel against what’s right, while withholding emotional permission for their left behind spouse to do the same. Bottom line, it’s a controlling behavior on the part of the midlife spouse, because they seek to have everything their way, while dispensing judgment upon the left behind spouse every time they make a mistake–whether it’s truly sinful or not.
For what it’s worth, this isn’t about any positive changes the left behind spouse may begin to make while trying to hold the family together in a right way. The left behind spouse has to account for themselves, for their own mistakes, and even their own sin, IF it comes down to that.
The fact is, the left behind spouse doesn’t need to think of ways to “get” the midlife spouse back for what they’ve done, because that’s vindictive behavior, and a lowering of Self down to the level of the sinner/midlife spouse.
It’s better to keep walking your journey, honor yourself, honor the vows YOU took when you married, and live out that higher standard for yourself. In the end, you have to live with anything you’ve done–right or wrong–while the midlife spouse has to do the same. They can say whatever they want, whenever they want, but all of the justification, blaming, shaming, and accusations won’t hold water if the left behind spouse has not sinned against God, Self, and Family.
That statement is surprising considering they don’t think very highly of the left behind spouse to begin with.
That’s what you might think, but nothing is ever as it seems to be–especially during a major midlife crisis. The left behind spouse really doesn’t understand they are being observed by the midlife spouse whether they are aware of this, or not. The farther the left behind spouse rises above the situation, takes the high road, and lives out that higher standard of moral and ethical behavior, the worse the midlife spouse’s behavior becomes.
The outward behavior of the midlife spouse speaks to not thinking very highly of the left behind spouse, but their inner “knowing” dictates that the midlife spouse is not worthy of someone as good as the left behind spouse. They may do everything possible to try and chase the left behind spouse away from them, but that’s because they feel they really don’t deserve good things, or even the love of a good spouse. The midlife spouse knows the truth, but distances themselves from that truth. They know what they’re doing when they’re doing it, they know it’s wrong, but are driven to do it anyway. It’s a constant inner war, where they keep losing the battle between knowing what’s right, and doing what’s wrong. It’s like they “set aside” the cost that is going to be extracted from them for their sin–it’s all about them, and in their desperation to make themselves feel better, they make the situation worse.
It is like children and teenagers who continually test the limits to see how far they can go, before loving boundaries are set upon their behavior. Contrary to what people might think, bad behavior is a cry for help, for limits, for boundaries, for love. It’s always a test to see how much love the left behind spouse still holds for the midlife spouse. The setting of boundaries shows love that is tough, but not so tough the midlife spouse is rendered unable to return. There is always a tightrope to walk when dealing with midlife spouse–because one needs to take care of Self first, before worrying about any real or perceived losses that might occur. You cannot control anyone, but yourself, your actions, and your reactions, so you learn to detach from their heartache, distance from their drama, and let them fall on their face. The only help you can give them is to pray for them, and let God have them to work with.
Remember that hurting people really do tend to hurt people. When someone doesn’t feel good about themselves, they’re not going to do or say anything good toward someone else. The old saying, “You hurt the ones you love the most,” is a most apt analogy in this situation. Remember that the midlife spouse’s problems are not about you. You didn’t break them, therefore, it’s not your responsibility to fix them. Do your best to look beyond the bad behavior to see that hurting person, as you learn to separate the behavior from that person. Bad behavior, in any context, is only a symptom of extremely painful emotional issues within that hurting person.
I hope this helps. ((HUGS))