Home Couples & Family Psychology Developmental LOVE LINGERS HERE: INTIMATE ENDURING RELATIONSHIPS XVIII. PLATE FIVE: SEPTEMBER SONG (GROWING OLD AND FACING MAJOR LIFE CHALLENGES AS A COUPLE)

LOVE LINGERS HERE: INTIMATE ENDURING RELATIONSHIPS XVIII. PLATE FIVE: SEPTEMBER SONG (GROWING OLD AND FACING MAJOR LIFE CHALLENGES AS A COUPLE)

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Preparing for Death: Parent, Partner or Oneself

In many marriage ceremonies in Western Societies, the phrase “for better or for worse; in sickness and in health” appears. This is probably a good thing, for committed, long-term relationships often exist only among couples who are willing and able to weather enormous adversity together —- financial hardships, career reversals, major illnesses and, in particular, death. There tend to be two or three types of death that partners in an enduring relationship must face during their many years together. First, they must face the death of their own parents. Second, they must face the death of their partner. Third, they must face their own death (either before or after the death of their partner). Each of these experiences places all other developmental stages and plates in a new perspective and encourages deep reflection on and maturation of life purposes and values.

Erik Erikson suggests that the primary developmental task of the last stages of our personal lives is to come to terms finally, with our own parents and the long-unresolved conflicts that we have had with them. Ultimately, according to Erikson, we can only come to terms with our own life and our own impending death, when we have come to terms with our parents, _When we have forgiven them for their inadequacies, then by extension, we have forgiven ourselves for our own inadequacies. From a more spiritual perspective, Moore (1994, pp. 76-77) similarly observes that:

Our task as adults . . . might be to search for whatever it takes to forgive our parents for being imperfect. In some families those imperfections might be slight, in others severe, but in any case, we each have to deal with evil and suffering in our own lives, without the benefit of a scapegoat. In fact, our lives would be all the richer if we could let go of the excuse of parental failure; we could make interesting adult lives out of the challenge of a world in which evil and suffering play a role. . . . Another benefit of releasing our parents and other family members from responsibility for our fate is the possibility of establishing a satisfying relationship with them —no small achievement for the soul. . . .Forgiveness clears the way for some kind of connection—tenuous and slight in some situations, profoundly satisfying in others.

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