“The Rough Patch”: Marital Issues in Mid-Life

Couples turn away from each other for any number of apparent reasons, but underneath it all, it’s usually because they feel misunderstood, unheard, or unable to agree. Daphne de Marneffe, The Rough Patch

The Rough Patch: Marriage and the Art of Living Together is a recent release written by clinical psychologist Daphne de Marneffe. According to the book blurb, main topics included are “money, alcohol and drugs, the stresses of parenthood, sex, extramarital affairs, lovesickness, health, aging, children leaving home, and dealing with elderly parents.”

Meg Jay, PhD: “Through its title alone, The Rough Patch puts into words what most of us experience every day: that long-term relationships are uneven, bumpy and difficult…There isn’t a couple in America who would not benefit from a copy–or two copies–of this book.”

Ada Calhoun, The Cut, calls The Rough Patch aninsightful, provocative new book about marriage and midlife.”

And praise for The Rough Patch also comes from noted author Andrew Solomon“In this beautifully reasoned, highly personal, and very generous book of advice and analysis, Daphne de Marneffe proposes that the rough patch that occurs in most midlife relationships should be cherished.” 

One of De Marneffe’s conclusions is that longer-term couples need a “we story,” which is “a collaboration between partners about values and goals. But if couples are going to collaborate, they have to figure out how to have a productive conversation. A conversation — as opposed to parallel monologues — involves two people who are making an effort to understand each other. In the grip of strong emotion, productive conversation can be surprisingly hard” (New York Times).

Moreover, the author believes that the “work” of challenged couples involves recognizing that their commitment for the long haul involves some trade-offs. You can’t have everything in a marriage, just as you can’t have everything in life. The work is also about staying vulnerable with each other.

“What feels perhaps most radical,” per Calhoun, “is de Marneffe’s reclamation of the work involved in marriage as creative and worthy. With the stigma gone from sex, cohabiting, and child-rearing outside marriage, plenty of people wonder why they should even bother making a lifetime commitment. De Marneffe has an answer: ‘Marriage,’ she writes in The Rough Patch, ‘is the crucible for becoming a more mature, compassionate person’.”

Marriage helps you grow, in other words. Belinda Luscombe, Time:

If the only advantage of growing older is greater self-knowledge, then it follows that growing older with another offers a still richer source of feedback and material. (Presented, one hopes, with compassion.) And yet, even self-knowledge is not the point of spending life as a twosome. Marriage’s chief promise is another-knowledge, a decades-long exploration, as de Marneffe says, of ‘a distinct being whose contour and interior you have yet to truly know.’

Therapist Ian Kerner lists (CNN) the main things de Marneffe prescribes for couples, rough patch or not—among them are good communication and listening skills, self-knowledge, and willingness early on to talk about such sensitive issues as money.

He concludes, “‘The Rough Patch’ can be beneficial for both single people and couples. One great way to introduce the topic into your relationship: follow de Marneffe’s suggestion and read the first chapter together with your partner.”

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