Midlife Marriage Ethiopia

The influence of Midlife on Marriage in Ethiopia: A case study


Janetius, S.T., Alemayehu Tibebe & Mini TC, (2015). Abyssinia in the New Millennium (Revised Edition), Amazon CS Publishers, ISBN: 9781522757719 chapter: 6

The urge to grow is one of the insatiable quests of human beings. This process will stop only at the point of death. The personality of a person has different dimensions that will be uncovered at different stages of growth by different means. At one stage in life, a reflecting person will know and feel that half of the life is completed and pause for a while. He will look back and forth to wonder, question, evaluate the dimensions of the growth, and look for the roads less traveled. Based on the reawakening of the psychosocial and sexual growth, a person will try to redefine the goals and objectives in the light of achievement. This process of adult development that occurs roughly between the ages 35 and 55 is called midlife transition.

             Mid life occurs in the adult development period in which the neglected aspects of self “come knocking at the door”. Generally people are married at this phase of life cycle and the impacts of midlife are strongly felt within marriage where in each partner is aware of their own disappointments towards their spouse. In period of adult development, the repressed qualities are more unrelentingly look for expression. The ego that has been developed and defined and the shadow and anima/animus (ideal male/female self-concept) as Carl Jung points out, will awaken and desperately look for their identification with ideal self. Married people tend to show a different self than what they showed in the early period of their marriage. For men, the anima comes alive and active to taunt him looking for an ideal woman who in some ways resembles the unconscious notion of the feminine that he has with himself. Similarly, in women, the animus becomes active and hunts for a man who resembles her interior notion of masculinity and conceptual ideal husband (Roberts, 1998).

             According to Levinson (1978), 80 percent of married people in their midlife underwent a time of personal crises or re-evaluation. Levinson also points out that the 20 percent of married people who never encountered the struggle in that period were in a state of denial and would pass through this transition sooner or latter. Levinson believes that there is a shift toward the interior side of one self at mid life. The studies by Conway (1997) also show that about 75 percent of men and women will experience a moderate to severe midlife crisis to the extreme of affecting marriages. Citing a survey in America that shows a 50 percent increase in divorce rates among those 40 to 60, he advises the couples to swim up- stream in order to hold together their marriage. Many psychologists see men going thorough a midlife passage may be vulnerable to exaggerating their incompatibilities with their partners, or dwelling on dissatisfactions with their mate’s choices, expressions, or behaviors, and perhaps even feeling a renewed longing for a more authentic “Soul mate”. With out adequate emotional support and psychological understanding for these transitional feelings, many men will choose to have affairs, or else to separate or divorce; which is often followed by a period of unfulfilling sexual promiscuity.

              Marital adjustment is a life long process, although in the early days of marriage, one has to give serious considerations to the adjustment issues. As Laswell (1982) points out, understanding the individual trait of the spouse is on going process in marriage, because even if two people know each other before or at the time of marriage, there is a possibility that people change during the life cycle. Marital adjustment therefore calls for maturity that accepts and understands growth and development in the spouse (Laswell,1982). If this growth is not experienced and realized fully, death in marital relationship is inevitable.

            This research focused on married people in their midlife and how this adult developmental task influences the marriage among married Ethiopian men and women of Gondar town. How do they face the issues and problems related to their midlife development and cope with diverse developmental issues. Specifically, it sought to answer the following questions:

•         Do midlife married people experience problems in their marriage?

•         What are the effects of midlife in the life of married men and women?

•         How do married people manage their midlife crisis?

•         How do men and women differ in their midlife transition?

           Although the concept of midlife and its implications on married life is a widely studied topic in the West, there is hardly any study done in Ethiopia. Therefore, this pioneer study will open up knowledge in this field of adult development and help the people to identify and understand its implication in marriage. Since the study is focused on Ethiopian married midlife people, this research could be used to compare and contrast married people in other parts of the world. This study also provides critical aid to family or marriage counselors in their work with Ethiopian mid-life clients.

Methodology: The target population of the study from which the units of data collection and analysis is drawn comprises those midlife married people of Gondar town. Gondar a city established in 1636 by king Fasciledes have 21 kebeles with the total population of 112,885 women and 116,092 men, with the growth rate of 4.11%. The researcher used matched purposive-sampling to collect data from equal number of men and women, from 21 kebeles. To get the sample size the following procedure was used: four people (2 men and 2 women) between age 35 -55, from each kebele of Gondar town were selected using this method.

The researcher upon getting any available and willing respondents, explained the objective of the study to them to facilitate and ease data collection process and then, the self administered questionnaire is administered in face to face situation and the administered questionnaire from the respondents is collected back. The questionnaire consists of 24 items and it takes roughly 30 minutes to complete.

Results & Discussion: As one can comprehend from the table below, the large majority of respondents (44.04 %), are found between the ages 46 -50. Regarding the educational background of the subjects, majority of respondents (33.33%) have completed elementary school, 30.15% of respondents have completed high school and 20.23% are above 12 th grade.

            When we analyze the religious background, majority of sampled respondents (55.95%) are Orthodox Christians, next is Muslims who make up 23.8% and 9.52% are Protestants, the remaining 8.33% and 2.38% are Catholics and Adventists respectively.

            The economical status of the respondents are as follows: the large majority of respondents (45.23%) monthly income is found between 251 – 500 Eth. Birr, and 22.61% of the respondents have less than 250 Eth. Birr monthly and 17.85% of the respondents monthly income between 501, 1000 Eth. Birr. Only 14.28% of the respondent’s monthly income is found to be greater than 1000 Eth. Birr.

The respondents age at marriage differ gender wise. Men who married below age 25 are 30.95% where as females are 42.85%. Males who are above 25 years of age at marriage are 69.04% and females who are above 25 age are 57.14%. Coming to respondents’ number of years of marriage, majority of the respondents (58.32%) have been married for 6 - 10 years. 29.75% of the respondents have been in marriage for 0 -5 years and 11.90% of the respondents were married for more than 10 years.

REASONS FOR MARRIAGE: The reasons for marriage and the nature and purpose of marriage, 38.09% attributed marriage to the need for social bond/relationship. Here, we see a significant difference between male and female. (Table 2). 34.52% of the respondents attributed marriage to the need for fostering children and other 27.38% of the respondents attributed marriage to have a sexual partner.

            Parental influences on the selection of partner were largely found among the subjects. 78.57% of the respondents reported that there are parental influences on selection of their mate. Only few subjects (21.42%) had free choice of partner with out parental influence.

            Regarding the characteristics that attracted them for marriage, there is a gender difference. Males gave more importance tot physical attributes like beauty and glamour where as females gave importance to economic security or academic qualifications.

 IDEAL Vs REAL PARTNER CHARACTERISTICS:  There is great difference between male and female in their concept of ideal partner. 34.52% male respondents see physically attractiveness as the ideal partner characteristic where as 11.90% female see physical attractiveness as ideal partner. 42.85% of males and 45.23% females are not able to the ideal partner in their married partners. Majority of the respondents (60.71) told that as there is love in their marriage.

PROBLEMS RELATED TO IDEAL Vs REAL PARTNER: When the couples are not able to see the characteristics of ideal partner in their marriage, the following problems are seen (Table 4). Lack of love in marriage, feeling of guilty in choosing the partner, looking for ideal partner outside the marriage, becoming impulsive is some of the problems faced.

            Coming to how respondents manage the differences between & real partner problem, relatively a large number of respondents (64.28 %) were able to manage the differences through discerning individual qualities.

            A large majority (39.28%) began to notice these problems after 9/10 years, 27.38% began to notice after 5/6 years, 21.42% began to notice the difference after 10 years of their marriage. Communication in marriage, commitment, closeness and relationships are seen as determinant factor for marital success & failure by the respondents. The subjects think that it is possible to solve ideal vs. real partner problem by themselves or through counseling.

COPING WITH IDEAL VERSUS REAL PARTNER PROBLEM: Majority of the married people (59.50 %) does not see the characteristics of the ideal partners in their wife /husband. However, 17.85%, of the respondents see in their partners.

      64.28%, of the respondents claimed that they experience dissatisfaction and envy as they see qualities of their ideal persons out side marriage and 22.61 %, responded as they are attracted to people outside marriage where they see ideal characteristics. Over 70% of the married men and women are positive that they can learn the repressed qualities of their partner and amend their marriage and midlife issues.

Discussion: The study results show clearly the issues of midlife Ethiopian married people as seen in other parts of the world. The married people try to think that the partner they married is not the ideal partner after 6- 10 years of marriage, which shows clearly that this thought comes to their mind in the onset of midlife. As Carl Jung points out, the anima, which is the feminine part of a man’s soul, causes males to have feminine traits. It is the concept of ideal woman in a man. All feminine psychological tendencies in a man’s psyche that are ignored and repressed in the first half of life will come out in the midlife. Man will try to see it in a woman and the urge to see it dominates the adult life of a man.

            Similarly, animus is the masculine part of woman’s soul. It causes the female to have male traits. It makes the women to have a blue print of ideal man. All masculine psychological tendencies in a woman’s psyche that are ignored and repressed in the first half of life will come out in the midlife. Women try to see it in a man. This unconscious task is ‘to force a person to develop and to bring his own being to maturity. Although the married people are not aware of these psychological adult development issues in their marriage, it is happening silently in their marriage.

            Majority of the men and women choose their partner long before the onset of midlife, not giving serious considerations for this ideal partner issues, because the concept of marriage differs among people and in their early adulthood, they don’t think about it. Only in midlife, this becomes a concern.

            The concern for ideal partner also changes between men and women. Majority of the Ethiopian men studied look for beauty and attractiveness in a lady as an ideal partner, where as women look for physical attractiveness, masculinity in men, also both men and women look for other characteristics like honesty and tolerance in their married partner. This clearly shows that midlife married men and women are more mature than young adults in their concept of marriage partners. The initial attraction in marriage, especially for Ethiopian women were economical security, educational qualifications, where as ideal partner is more of honesty and tolerant personality.

            This change of initial attraction and midlife concept of ideal partner among midlife married people is also a process of individuation and personal growth and development. For Carl Jung individuation means becoming your own person. Human personality is filled with contrasts and conflicts. A person has good and bad tendencies, masculine and feminine tendencies; introvert and extrovert likes and dislikes, desire to please others and be independent. In midlife, we don’t like to please others but try to realize our real personality and, become one's own self. We could thus translate it as "self-realization" of Maslow. Although Jung calls individuation an "ineluctable psychological necessity" he also says that it is available only to individuals who are predisposed to attain a higher degree of consciousness and reflective personalities. Just as in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, some people who never think beyond basic or survival needs, Jung too sees that many average people are content with limited horizons of life that never think of or imagine about individuation. For such people, midlife or individuation is not at all an issue.

            From an active life in the first part of married life, people enter into boredom, restlessness, dullness, discontent, meaninglessness, and disillusionment in their marriage.  This dissatisfaction and confusion lead to crossroads and look forward for the road less travelled. As the married people face the crossroad, the previous identity and set goals and morals will be shaken and, try to revise our sense of identity and look for new life goals and direction.

Conclusion: In the light of the findings of this study, the following conclusions have been drawn.

Ø       Mid-life is not a deliberate conscious choice a man makes. Mid-life is not a matter of the will; it is a phenomenon that produces itself.

Ø       Mid-life is a vulnerable period in the life of Married people and it makes the married people to evaluate their partners and the think and rethink about the kind of choice they made

Ø       A new stage of psychological awareness grows among men/women at midlife

Ø       Married men and women at midlife shift to ward the interior side of them selves to review and reappraise one’s life so far, not so much begin to the next stage as to modify negative elements of their marital status

Ø       Majority of the married people experience slight to severe crisis which hardly hit their marriage, which lead men/women to have affairs, or ponder about separation or divorce, followed by a period of unfulfilling sexual promiscuity.

Ø       The ideal partner versus real partner issue is a major taunting problem in the midlife married people’s life: as Carl Jung identifies anima – animus awakening takes place, although the married people are not fully aware of that.

Recommendations: Considering the study, the following recommendations are made:

Ø       Mid life is a developmental task and couples should be given some form of education by means of premarital education or preparation for marriage so that they can feel comfortable enough with their masculine and feminine psychological forces to allow the opposite to take an active part in what they are becoming.

Ø       Since it is crucial for establishing a meaningful relationship in midlife, marriage and family counseling centers are highly recommended

Ø       Further studies could be done with sample couples to see the effects of midlife and marriage more closely






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