The later years includes the blissful “empty-nest” season of a marriage that can feel like a second honeymoon. Many couples welcome their new freedom, while others have a hard time letting go. Sometimes a couple who happily thought they were in the empty-nest stage are faced with a boomerang young adult who again needs their care, presence, home, and perhaps babysitting services. The later years can also bring major health issues and the gradual loss of abilities.
Couples who marry later in life enter the later years of their lives but it’s the early years of their marriage. Men and women who marry after a divorce and declaration of nullity, or death of a spouse, or after waiting for the right person, experience in their later years some of the same adjustments of young marrieds.
Issues of diminishing health, grief over peers dying, and significant blocks of togetherness time are common. Thus, the wife who married her husband “for better or for worse, but not for lunch together!” becomes a poignant cliché.
How do couples re-negotiate their relationship to take into account their new freedom, increased time together, possibly decreased income, and fading health and energy? Some do it with grace because over the years they’ve learned the marital dance of flexibility and tolerance. Some complain a lot – about life, about each other, about the weather.
Some may want to complain but know that’s not very endearing. Yet they struggle with letting go of the old patterns and roles of their life together. For these couples, the desire to let go with grace may be enough motivation to:
- Attend a marriage enrichment program geared especially to older couples
- Explore new hobbies and interests together
- Volunteer with their church, community, or other good causes that would benefit from their experience
- Deepen their spirituality to help them deal with the losses and limitations of later life
- Forgive others’ faults and drop long-held grudges
For Further Reading:
- Blessings of Age: A Pastoral Message on Growing Older Within the Faith Community
- The Lifecycle Stages of Marriage by Barbara Markey, Ph.D.
- Loving For a Lifetime by Richard P. Johnson
- Forever and a Day by Robert and Rita Boeke
- Grow Old Along With Me: Marriage In The Later Years by WIlliam E. Rabior and Susan C. Rabior
- Grieving with Grace by Dolores R. Leckey