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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As in the case of many major transitions in the lives of couples we interviewed, this change occurred not because the two partners came to any mutual agreement regarding the change that was needed, but rather because one of the two partners gained some personal insights. With these insights, Robert made some changes in his own life style that had an impact on the couple and broke through an interpersonal impasse with Fiona. In some cases, a retired person “gets under foot” in a way that causes problems for their partner; in other cases, the retired person’s reassessment of personal priorities and a renewed or first-time interest in family matters is a belated but welcomed change for a long-suffering partner.

Norming: How Should We Plan for Our Future?

The later stages of life are often described as a time for assessing life purposes and reflecting on life values. In many cultures, men and women in their maturity turn away from the world of commerce and government to the worlds of teaching, and the study of philosophy and religion. We found that the older couples we interviewed often viewed their later years together as a time for assessing their own purposes as a couple and for reflecting on the values that they held in common. The norming stage of their relationship, therefore, is often particularly important and core to their vitality as a couple.

As they grow older together, most couples begin to speculate on their future life together, especially their years after retirement. Often in this speculation they must come to terms with the lifestyle that their own parents adopted in their later years. Typically, these early images of the future are filled with ambivalent feeling. On the one hand, they both look forward to “peace and quiet;” on the other hand, this may seem quite dull and only appropriate for “old people–not us!” Mary provides a wonderful portrait of this ambivalence with regard to her own retirement with her partner, Ruth:

[We will be] Lucy and Ethel [as in the TV show I Love Lucy] retiring and playing . . . go on vacations . . . living in a nice home in [suburbia]. We’re always reading, and we’re always ferreting out information. If you’re [Ruth] not working and I’m not working, we’re going to have to be doing something! So that will probably mean taking classes or volunteering. One thing we could do is take a travel class. Teach a travel class. The perfect vacation is what we’ll call it. Maybe that’s when we’ll write our book. Yeah, we’d probably like to write a book. Can’t tell you what we’ll write on, though. It changes year to year.

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