Sunday, January 15, 2006

spouse, relationships with

Over 70 percent of men and 36 percent of older women in the 65 age group are married, and in the youngest segment of this group-- the 65-69 year olds-half the women and about 85 percent of the men are married. Because the normal phases of family life usually involve launching the children when couples are in their forties and fifties, older married people are likely to find themselves together and alone just as they were in youth, when they were courting and first married. This state, along with entry into retirement during this period, provides the leisure and opportunity to renew an intimate relationship. According to marriage and family specialists, this state often brings about a pleasant revival of romance.
Marital happiness later in life, however, is no more automatic than it is at any other time. If, for example, the wife has been a homemaker and living fairly independently during the day while the husband was away at work, the husband's constant presence at home after retirement will affect her independence- she may have less opportunity to get together with her friends, to chat on the phone, to watch favorite TV soap operas, and to carry out housekeeping routines at her own pace.
Studies show that marital adjustments need not create serious problems, however, and that successful, happy marriages in late life tend to have a set of characteristics that reflect a degree of wisdom and conscious planning by the spouses. For one thing, the husband looks on his wife as an indispensable pillar of strength. For another, the couple become partners in many activities, and there is an egalitarianism between them that blurs the usual sex roles-for instance, the husband may take on more cooking and cleaning, participate with his wife in grocery shopping, and the pair may do gardening together. As gerontologist Robert Atchley has noted in his comprehensive book, Social Forces and Aging, "Happy couples tend to remain sexually active in later life," adding that marital satisfaction is a central influence in overall life satisfaction in age just as it is throughout all the years.
Contrary to ballyhoo about a rampant growth in late life divorce, the incidence of divorce among older married couples remains far below what it is at earlier ages. Between age 25 and 34 there are over 35 divorces per 1,000 married persons, and at age 45-49 the rate is still around 15 per 1,000 married couples. By age 60 to 64, however, the rate has dropped to about three per 1,000, and after age 65 it falls to two per 1,OOO--making the occurrence of divorce in the most advanced years from seven to 15 times less likely than at earlier ages. Though the foregoing figures do not include enough information to prove it, it is possible that marital satisfaction actually increases with the years.
Health alone appears to have a greater influence on life satisfaction than marriage. As noted in the article on sexuality, ill health is the most common reason for a decline in sexual activity over the years, and ill health can also make one of the partners in a marriage into the caregiver to the other. In spite of a limited number of studies of the impact of ill health on marriage, it appears that most spouses nurse and help their partners willingly and devotedly even when the problems involved are severe-the care giving partner may be frail while the other is confined to a wheelchair, suffering from organic brain syndrome, and the like. Some spouses struggle on even when in ill health themselves, but illness of both partners is the most frequent precipitating cause of moving of one or both of the partners to a nursing home. In general, however, late-life marriages are tranquil and satisfying, and the partners remain together mutually supporting one another until death does them part.
Atchley, R. C. Social Forces and Aging, 4th ed. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1985.
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1989, 109th ed. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

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