As we age and alter our perspectives, most of our relationships—healthy and loving or unhealthy—change along with us.
Much of this is developmental—we grow up, we mature, and there are predictable, well-documented stages of how most of us operate in relationships—particularly within the most fundamental one of all.
That’s the relationship each of us has with our self, says Erik Olander, a licensed clinical professional counselor in Portland who specializes in trauma and addiction issues.
As Olander, 46, describes, most of us start out pretty self-absorbed, especially through our teen years and early 20s. Most people start shifting their focus outwardly when it comes time to choose careers or when they fall in love, when suddenly another person—and their family and friends—start influencing decisions.
There’s typically heavy focus on career and family in people’s 30s and 40s, and then often a big shift to self-reflection as middle age nears.
“In the 40s and 50s and beyond, a lot of people are more self-reflective and start thinking about the mark they’ve made on the world, and who they are as a person,” Olander says. “And they often want to do something that means more than trying to make six figures—something of substance. It’s a time when people often get deeper into spirituality or take up yoga or guided meditation or get more involved in their church or volunteering or politics.”
It’s also time when many find themselves full of regret or despair and choose to let go of relationships, commonly marriages. This is the time when many relationships could benefit greatly from counseling, he notes.
“Precipitating events, like a tragedy that spurs a person to take a deeper look at what’s important—and what isn’t” also can significantly impact relationships, Olander explains.
That was the case for him.
He had worked in both the pharmaceutical industry and as a developer and general contractor, enjoying those careers but not with a passion. About five years ago, he felt compelled to “drop everything” to follow his heart.
“When my Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I really started to think about what I actually wanted to be doing, and that’s when I started grad school to be able to do this.”
In the articles that follow, we offer a look at how relationships with children, parents, friends and work can shift as we grow older and deal with life’s often-unexpected challenges.
Patricia McCarthy worked for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram for 23 years, was publisher of The Cape (Elizabeth) Courier for five years, and has been a freelance writer and editor for 35 years. She has three daughters, lives in Cape Elizabeth, and also has a photography business (patriciamccarthy.com).