Developmental psychology focuses on the different stages of maturation in a person’s lifespan. A current and upcoming focus of study in this field is the characteristics of the stage of middle adulthood. This has been observed as a relatively young area of study since up to the 1900s the average life expectancy of a person was shorter than it is today, not passing the forty up to sixty age marks (www. mc. maricopa. edu). Life expectancies at present are longer, with individuals reaching the sixty to eighty marks. This has caused greater interest in the experience of adults in their midlife.
The change and instability in personality and lifestyle are of tremendous importance to developmental psychology as the average population in most countries is now composed of a greater number of middle adults. In this paper the different factors that cause the changes in lifestyle at so late a stage will be explained. The different crises and dilemmas faced by individuals during middle adulthood will serve to show that this stage of development is just as essential a focus of research as early childhood and adolescence.
Of particular interest will be the experience of individuals in their middle adulthood with regard to their marital relationships. The psychology behind the marital decisions that couples make at midlife will be discussed; specifically, the tendency for couples to separate and divorce at this stage. At the end of this paper a clearer picture of the change that individuals undergo during middle age will have been made. The Experience of Middle Adulthood
Many psychologists have made classifications of a person’s lifespan based on the different experiences individuals undergo at different stages of their life. Middle adulthood is generally pegged to begin at forty and lasts up to sixty years of age. There is a concurrence among experts that individuals at this age discover that most of their life has passed them by (Feldman, 2000, pp. 243-244). This realization brings a conscious awareness of the person’s own mortality. The awareness causes anxieties regarding the accomplishments that they have been able to achieve up to this point in their life.
This causes them to reflect on their as yet unmet goals. If a great number of these goals have yet been attained, then there is cause for the middle adults to feel gutted. A sense of unease results and may lead to depression and development of low levels of self esteem. Erikson, one of the more prominent developmental psychologists, discusses the effect these feelings have on the middle adult’s future decisions. Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development presents a struggle on generativity vs.
stagnation during middle adulthood (Santrock, 2002, pp. 319-320). Erikson defines generativity as a desire to leave future generations with a legacy of the self. The middle adult who resolves his conflict with frustrated goals in favor of generativity decides that the best he can do with the time that he has left to live is to leave behind a distinctive mark on the world. Lee (2004) discusses how a middle adult enhances interaction with others, especially the younger generations, in order to impress upon society his importance.
This greater level of interaction helps the middle adult think that he or she is imparting stock knowledge to those following behind him. Stagnation, on the other hand, considers a retreat into one’s self resulting in disregard for others (Santrock, 2002, pp. 319-320). The middle adult who views his or her accomplishments with disappointment will resort to deeper introspection and self-analysis. This retreat into one’s self is the essence of stagnation. Contrary to what most people think, stagnation is not synonymous with inactivity.
Papalia (2006) discusses how stagnation may lead to a development of creative abilities. This development may allow the middle adult to produce artistic materials. In this regard the middle adult taking the route of stagnation is also contributing to the enhancement of society as a whole. The difference between the two is the intent of the middle adult and the interaction with others. Middle adults who resolve their issues in favor of generativity act in order to impact succeeding generations and to leave an imprint of their persons or knowledge.
While those who resolve their dilemma in favor of stagnation are motivated to act for self-benefit, regardless if incidental benefits for others might result. Another key difference is that while the stagnant middle adult retreats from others in order to focus on the self, the generative middle adult increases interaction with others in order to share a part of him. Thus, middle adulthood may prompt individuals to either make drastic changes in the structure of their lives or to fall into a pattern of silent satisfaction with the current track of their life (www. cliffnotes. com).
The former course of action derives from a feeling that making changes will help them to achieve goals which, as yet, have been left unfulfilled. This conflict may be seen quite distinctly in the family relationships of the middle adult; particularly so, the relationship of the middle adult with his husband or wife. The married adult will realize that he or she is scrutinizing not only him or herself but also the spouse residing with him or her.