Having looked at the potential problems of middle age, what are the benefits and advantages of this phase in the life cycle? Sexual relations between a married couple can enter a new and fulfilling phase, with the wife perhaps taking a more relaxed and active role. The relationship between husband and wife can benefit and deepen in other ways, too. Be- cause children tend to be increasingly absent from home, or perhaps have moved away altogether, the married couple have more time for each other again. Just as they perhaps did early in their marriage, the couple can share their interests closely – resuming old activities or taking up new ones – enjoying hobbies, travel and social life in a way they may not have been able to do for years.
For the man and woman who have adapted positively to the departure of grown-up children, and who are willing to reinvest the love spent on the children directly in each other, the result can be the best relationship they have ever had. With the ripening of maturity and mutual understanding, many couples say this is the best time of their lives. The last time they were together like this, in their early twenties, they were beset by inexperience, a lack of understanding of each other, and perhaps many practical difficulties, such as financial hardship, as well. In other ways, too, many middle-aged people feel more confidence in themselves than at any time before. They are often at the peak of their career, or have attained technical expertise in their occupation. This is often the time when earlier money worries are finally laid to rest. This sense of achievement, unsullied by the painful strivings of their earlier years, can produce a unique contentment, allowing the middle-aged to enjoy their occupations to the full. Redundancy and retirement are a source of fear and anxiety for some people. However, increasing numbers of people deliberately retire early, at 55 or 60 years of age. At this age there is still plenty of time to try something new, perhaps to fulfil a lifelong dream. The sensible middle-aged couple, who keepy and active in mind and body, are able to find ways of creating new relationships, both with new friends and with their grown-up children. Thus they become friends with their children rather than self-styled victims of some mythical ‘generation gap’.