Will you still love me when I’m 64?
Diane and I were sitting in the living room Friday night, talking about some friends of ours, also in their 60’s, who were struggling with marital problems. Diane laughed and said “Well I guess you’re stuck with me.” I laughed too, “After 41 years, I think your right.” We both consider ourselves lucky to have found each other so many decades ago and to have such a strong bond. But she noted that there are couples that do break up after many years of marriage.
Interestingly, in the 2010 census, one in four divorces occurred in the 50+ age group. In the 1990 census, the ratio was one in ten. Since 1980, the divorce rate has been decreasing. But it is increasing in the mid-life group.
An article in Psychology Today (“Fulfillment at any age”, by Susan Krauss Whitborne, PhD, 11/9/2013) made several points about marriage in mid-life. The author suggests that 1) people are living longer and want more out of life, 2) the longer you stay married, the less likely it is that you will get divorced, 3) many close relationships get stronger over time.
Diane and I lived together for 7 years before we had kids. We loved having children and growing up with them. When they did mature and moved out, after an initial adjustment period, we realized that our life together was pretty similar to the way it was before we had children! But in many couples, the marital bond may weaken during child rearing years. It’s difficult to find time to connect and adults may become more detached from each other. When the kids leave, partners may look at each other from across the living room and wonder if they still want to be married. It can be a frightening moment for some couples.
To some degree, as we age, the economic motive for staying married may lessen. (Although it is still a strong motivation for many couples to stay together.) And, in mid-life, staying together for the sake of young children is no longer a factor. Adults may look down the road and recognize that the clock is ticking. If they have had many years of marital dissatisfaction, they may decide to take the big plunge. They want more out of life.
At the same time, the marital bond can grow and deepen over time. Living through the ups and downs of life can bring adults closer together. Diane and I have lived through 4 decades of geographic moves, periodic challenges with our children, difficult job changes, the death of our parents, economic downturns and illness. Climbing those mountains and crossing those deserts can make your relationship stronger.
So what can help keep the relationship fires burning over the years?
Keep these points in mind:
Some things are hopeless, but not serious. So he doesn’t always clean up after himself, she’s never on time, he snores, she gets grumpy when she’s tired, or he doesn’t hang up his coat. Don’t sweat the small things. Forget about them.
Some things are serious, but not hopeless. Don’t sweep the big things under the rug. Lack of intimacy, affection and appreciation, poor communication, and tension need to be addressed. They can be improved. Don’t give up.
Spend time together. During the child rearing years, which can be very gratifying, don’t neglect your relationship. Arrange “date nights”; make time for intimacy and affection, and express appreciation for the small things. Don’t take your partner for granted!
Laugh whenever you can. Take the seriousness out of life. A good belly laugh goes a long way. Finding the humor in life provides perspective when the going gets tough.
What do you think keeps your relationship going?