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Relationships in RetiRement
il death us do part – These words are in the
wedding vow, for making a commitment for life
between a newly wedded couple. It originated
in the Book of Common Prayer back in 1662, to
be used in marriage services in England. Back
then most people didn’t live beyond 40, so the typical
lifespan of a marriage was about 20 years.
How times have changed! Today, with more people
reaching 100, a marriage could last 80 years! In fact,
my husband’s parents, who are both in their early 90s
celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary this year.
My husband’s parents are of the generation where the
husband’s role was seen as that of the good provider
and the wife’s role was seen as the good homemaker
and good mother. If you performed those roles well, you
were expected to be satisfied with those roles. Personal
happiness was less important. Very few women from that
generation had a career and divorce was uncommon.
My husband and I married in the late 1960s. We baby
boomers were at the turning point of major changes in
married life. Because more women were now working, we
had different expectations, such as expecting the husband
to share the house duties.
By the end of the 1970s, women’s liberation was
fighting for the rights of women. Paid maternity leave
came in and divorce became a solution if a marriage was
no longer working. It’s interesting to note that the divorce
rate in the 50-60 age group has doubled in the past 20
years. A recent American study calls it “The Grey Divorce
Revolution”. Because we are living longer, the norm of
marriage as a lifelong institution is weakening.
As people move into the 50-60 age group, it is a chance
to reflect on the prospect of spending another 20-30
years with the same person. The marriage may be okay,
but not particularly satisfying.
Retirement can have a big impact on relationships. For
many years you may have been used to the routine of
one or both partners at work during the week and mainly
seeing each other in the evenings and on weekends. Many
couples don’t realise how daunting it can be to suddenly
be together 24/7. Being in each other ’s space more often
can give you the opportunity to either rekindle your
relationship or widen the “cracks”.
Some of the issues that can arise from spending too
much time together are sharing tasks around the home,
respecting each other ’s time for privacy and time for your
The findings of the Relationships Indicators Survey
carried out in Australia in 2008 listed communication
difficulties (37%) and stress about money issues (35%) as
the main causes of a relationship breakdown. The survey
found that the reasons why older couples, those over 50,
People only stayed together because of the children
They had grown apart – 32%
Wanted a change – 26%
Midlife crisis – seeing life as too short to stay stuck in
a marriage that was no longer satisfying
All relationships have issues of some kind. Most can
be solved with open communication. A good heart-
to-heart talk can clear the air, as long as you are both
on the same wavelength. Listening is so important as
misunderstandings can lead to tension, arguments,
distance, stress and hurt feelings. If not resolved, they can
eventually lead to divorce.
Communication and relationship difficulties can also
be barriers to a good sexual relationship. It’s hard to be
close when you have negative feelings towards the other
person. An advantage of mature age sex, as reported in
a UK study, suggested that an active sex life can increase
longevity. A further study done in the UK gives the
following seven secrets to a happy relationship:
Full body hugs are proven to stimulate endorphins that
help you bond with the person you are hugging. It is
also important to be able to show physical affection,
without it being sexual. If there has been an issue, it is
good to be able to go up and give your partner a body
hug and make peace.
Keep lines of communication open – it is easy to drift
apart if there are long periods of silence. Regular talks
keep you connected, which is what a relationship
is about. Accepting that we are all different and
respecting each other ’s differences.
Learn to simply enjoy each other’s company, without
always needing to be with other people.
Going on a special date once a month helps bonding.
It doesn’t always mean going out to dinner. It can be
going on a bike ride and taking a picnic hamper.
Romantic gestures can be a win-win for both people.
The pleasure the person receives by doing the gesture
and the pleasure the recipient receives.
Share housework without being asked.
Have separate nights out occasionally to maintain your
own identity, not taking each other for granted and
show that you are happy to come home.
I do think it is worth doing what it takes to put the
spark back into a relationship that has become bland.
Extract from As Time Goes By – Dealing with Life's
Changes by Eva Bennett. For review see page 50
“Because we are living longer,
the norm of marriage as a lifelong
institution is weakening.”
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