Marriage and Family — 05 December 2004
The challenges and rewards of a later-life remarriage

The need to love and be loved is ageless. Many people of all ages yearn for a committed companionship, for the daily connection with a loving partner, and for escaping loneliness.Due to the high rate of divorce in the U.S. and longer expected lifespan, many people face being alone later in life.

According to the 2000 U, S. Census Bureau, 7 percent of the population (13,665,000 people) were widowed and 10 percent of the population (19,881,000 people) were divorced.

Nonetheless, the desire to couple again is strong for many. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that 250,000 people over 50 marry every year.

The question is often asked if marriages in later life are similar or different than earlier marriages. The answer is yes, they are similar and they are also different.

The similarities lie in the experienced emotions during the three stages of marriage. In the first phase, The Infatuation Stage, later life partners report the same feelings, as do early lovers. They fall in love, feel euphoric and truly blessed for having found a soul mate for life.

In the second stage of marriage, The Power Struggle, disappointments arise about unmet expectations, criticism and arguments ensue, and the joy of the union diminishes.

The third phase of the marriage is the Reconnected Love. Both mates accept each other’s fallibilities and deal with it with acceptance, kindness and caring. They adjust their early unrealistic expectations and dedicate themselves to meeting each other’s needs to the best of their abilities. Couples who get to this third phase feel happily married.

Though these emotional stages of marriage occur for both young and later marriages, the latter often face additional stresses that may negatively impact their love.

Marrying later in life requires the blending of two multigenerational families often including adult children, and sometimes grandchildren. They must weave a new network of relationships among the various individuals involved. As Jane Hughes Barton, author of “Remarriage after 50” pointed out when younger people with children remarry, it is important how the new partner feels about the children. When people marry later in life it is important how the children feel about the new mate. Her perception pinpoints one of the crucial challenges to the smooth merging of both families into one.

Later life marriages also have to contend with the history of relationship style they each bring. When young people marry they establish together their own unique marital style. The second time around, the new partners bring their ingrained habits, preferences and routines that may add stress to the readjustment period.

Practical issues of where to live, in whose home, which furniture to keep, how to spend vacations and holidays, whose friends they prefer, and how to manage their time together, also create an opportunity for struggle between the spouses.

As in younger marriages, money is a common source of conflict between the mates. In later years, money allocation becomes even more daunting. Here again, financial commitment to the children of the first family often create ambivalence about the co-commitment to the new partner’s survival and well being. Lack of parity in financial status often creates additional tensions.

The new marriage is structured very differently than the first one. While the first marriage was propelled by a drive to build a future for the new family, later years marriages are focused on ways to preserve what already exists. Younger marriages are future oriented, later years marriages are present oriented. Comparing the later years marriage to the first one is inappropriate and unhelpful.

With the complications of the later years marriage, one may wonder if the stress is worth the benefits. Obviously people who choose this path think so. The sense of being chosen, wanted, selected and dedicated to with love, is so profound, that the price of all the complex decision-making and adjustments feels warranted. The companionship of a caring individual is intensely rewarding. It feels safe, secure and easier to be coupled. It is wonderful to share the joyous times and it is reassuring to know that in case of need your partner will be there.

What successful later-years partners do to create a happy marriage is:

•They honor each other’s commitment to their children and grandchildren and appreciate their partner’s love for family as a cherished trait rather than a discount to themselves.
•They become a positive addition to the family rather than a threat.
•They take their children’s input with reverence and consideration, while building their happiness in their own ways.

•They gain their place in the family by demonstrating the ways in which they enrich the partner’s life.
•They deal with decisions of housing, money, sex, furniture, pets, friends, hobbies and lifestyle by respecting their mate’s wishes and pleasing them.
•They declare and practice being a new cooperative unit by lovingly making their decisions together.

•They invest in their relationship with zeal and excitement, not to be compared to their former one.
•They use their earned wisdom, perspective and serenity to turn the difficulties into gains.

Those who desire to remarry later in life, (the probability of men marrying is twice that of women), may find it to be a very rewarding time of fun, companionship, love, and enrichment of their lives. The later-life marriage has been found to be an asset in improving the couples’ level of health and well being, about which everyone can rejoice.

December 5, 2004

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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