With the leading edge of baby boomers old enough to be grandparents, and even the youngest boomers old enough to be empty nesters, there is no shortage of advice about “the next stage” of a couple’s relationship. In this excerpt from Gloria and Anndee Hochman’s new book The Age for Change: An E-Book for People 50+, they impart some guidance about what they call “My New-Old Valentine.”
What’s Love Got to Do With It?
The summer before Liz’s younger child Jesse packed his bags for college, she spent an afternoon paddling around the lagoon behind her Aunt Nona’s house on Long Beach Island, in New Jersey. “So, Jesse’s leaving home in the fall,” her aunt said as the two lounged in inner tubes.
“So, it’s just going to be you and Steve.”
“Um—yes,” Liz answered.
“Do you like him?” Liz nodded.
“Good,” said her aunt. “Because this is when you’re going to find out.”
For baby boomer couples like Liz and Steve, both 59, who wed in their Madison, Wisconsin apartment 34 years ago, midlife presents a tricky juncture in the marital road. The kids are grown, careers may be solid, the house may be paid off. And the promise of “I do” may turn into the question: “But do I…still?”
The early decades of marriage “are extremely stressful and busy,” says Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research scientist at the University of Michigan who specializes in the study of marriage and divorce. “Then one wakes up in midlife and says, ‘Okay, things have settled down.’ They take the relationship off the back burner and wonder, ‘Is this someone I want to be with for the next X number of years?’”
Some couples find that a midlife period of reckoning ultimately strengthens their bond. For others, it can be a moment of truth that severs a long-troubled relationship. Midlife men and women may find themselves single for the first time in decades, due to separation, divorce, or the death of a spouse. Some acknowledge that they are gay or lesbian after years of suppressing their desire and trying to live a “straight” life.
And a significant number of adults has never married. Others may find love for the first, second, or third time in midlife and opt to marry again or simply live together. And as they climb into their late 50s and their 60s, more and more baby boomers find themselves caring for—or being tended by—a spouse, living out their long-ago vow to remain loyal “in sickness and in health.”
For the baby boom generation, marriage and intimate relationships are “coming of age” in a more flexible, option-filled world, with greater acceptance of divorce, homosexuality, and cohabitation, more economic independence for women, and reduced stigma about being single. Wherever the marital journey leads, says Steve Brody, a California psychotherapist and along with his wife Cathy, co-author of Renew Your Marriage at Midlife, the questions are the same: “What do I need? What can I settle for? What now?”
Midlife Marriage: The Long and Short of It
“I realized I wanted this next stage of life to look different. A lot of people remodel their houses when their kids leave, but I needed to walk outside and feel like it was a different life,” Liz said.
Steve fantasized about buying a farm in an outlying county; they considered a move to Cape Cod. Finally they settled on a condo in a gentrified section of downtown San Francisco. “I think the move marked a positive change in our relationship,” said Steve. “It energized things. There’s been a resurgence in the last few years of our connection to each other.”
Marriage counselors say rekindling that connection is key to a thriving midlife marriage. “It’s the C-word: communication,” says psychotherapist Brody. “You have to listen to your partner’s dreams, trying to really hear and respect that. It can raise a lot of anxiety: ‘You want to do what?’ Or, ‘You can’t do that…’”
Terri Orbuch notes that small changes in routine—taking a salsa dance class together, joining a book or hiking club, playing hooky from work to catch a matinee—can refresh midlife marriage. “Happy couples in my long-term studies have also taken time to give consistent, daily affirmations to each other and have asked meaningful questions of one another over time. They haven’t just maintained the household.”
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Coming of Age.
Category: Boomer Lifestyle