Marriage Challenges in the Later Stages of Life

Dollar Photo - Close Up Portrait of Worried Senior CoupleEvery stage of marriage has its good points and also its negatives that spouses encounter in their lives together. It’s the push and tug of living in this world. However, in this article, I want to address those who are married, who are trying to deal with that which they face in the later stages of life.

You may not find every point that will be made in this article relevant to the issues you and your spouse are dealing with. However, most likely you will find some things that you can glean through and learn.

It’s important to note that:

“Senior couples face a new set of challenges not experienced during their working years, including progressing health conditions and less of an outlet for outside socialization, due to no longer being in the workforce. Living on less of an income also can present difficulty to married couples as they may have to downsize their lifestyle, according to Marriage Builders.” (Rachel Nelson from article, “Senior Marriage Problems”)

But sometimes when the challenges arise (such as the ones mentioned above), we have a tendency to focus on them and forget the benefits that come along at the same time. This can drag us down and prevent us from making the best use of the time that the Lord has given us on this earth.

So for that reason, I’m going to bring up a few of those challenges that married couples encounter, briefly address them, and hopefully lead you to additional resources that might help you work with them so they don’t dominate and destroy your marriage.

Retirement

David and Claudia Arp are known for helping couples in various stages of marriage, including retirement. In an article they wrote titled “Five Ways Your Marriage Changes When You Retire,” (posted on the Todayschristianwoman.com web site, featured on the heals of another article titled “Are You Ready for Retirement”), they point out “5 changes” which you “may experience as you begin the retirement years.”

First off, I encourage you to read the above linked articles because there is much to gain from them that won’t be mentioned here. I also want to point out a few additional thoughts you might consider.

As the David and Claudia say, “each change offers you the opportunity to reinvent your marriage and make the rest the best.”

And that is my hope for you. As you read this article, please pray, read what is written on each point, and act upon that which the Lord shows you to build your marriage to become the best it can be within the dynamics of your personalities, where you live in this world, as well as your stage of marriage.

Changes

The first point that the Arps bring out, as far as the changes you will encounter, is:

1. “Your major identity changes. No longer is your identity with your job, and it’s easy to just not know who you are. You can feel threatened. It’s a great time to develop some new interests or choose a project to do together.”

This is an important point. Sometimes we can look back and wish for the “good old days” to such an extent that it causes problems. We focus too much on those times when we were able to do things which made us feel more needed, useful, and possibly even important.  This is important as it pertains to the jobs or positions we once held or other “important” work we were able to do. But sometimes we can look back to such an extent that it settles us into discontentment and can hurt our present lives together as husband and wife.

Inspiration

We can all be inspired by the words written by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3 where it says,

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.”

It’s not that we have to or should wipe out our memory of that which is behind us, because in doing so, we also lose the benefits of that which we have learned during those experiences. But within the context of the scriptures mentioned, we aren’t to camp there and drag them into the present to the extent that it taints that which we still can do, and are called by God to do, in this current stage in our lives.

What we are able to do at this time may not seem to us to be as significant, but are we measuring our standards by man or by God’s? Doesn’t God view us more as a human BEING, rather than a human DOING?

More Inspiration

We can also look for inspiration in Philippians 3, where Paul says,

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…

If you are struggling to feel confident in who you are in Christ in this stage of your life, please click onto the Marriage Missions article titled,

LIVING IN CONFIDENCE BECAUSE OF WHO YOU ARE IN CHRIST

Another point the Arps point out concerning those who have retired is:

2. “You have more time together. Actually, you have the potential of spending twenty-four hours a day with this other person. At first it may be awkward transitioning into being a couple again.”

Positive and Negative

Retirement can bring with it both positive and negative effects. While you may have more time to spend together because you may not be going to “work” for so many hours of the day, each week, there are also challenges. What about retirement and how that affects the marriage?

“’If I had the opportunity to talk with couples before they retire, I would definitely tell them that having a plan, not just a financial plan, but a plan for your marriage is very important,’ said Mr. Smith. ‘If you retire and sit at home with no idea what to do or you think that you have to do everything together odds are nobody is going to be happy. We have taken trips with friends, we both have our separate interests and the things we enjoy doing as a couple.'”

To learn more, please click onto the following First Things First web site link to read:

RETIREMENT AND MARRIAGE

More Challenges

Here’s another challenge that many married couples encounter in the later stages of life, according to David and Claudia Arp:

3. “Your buffers are gone. Often one’s job and children buffer conflict and in-depth conversations with your spouse.”

Now that the children and/or your job is gone, you now are able to face each other more than you used to be able to do. However, that can be scary if you haven’t prepared for this time in your marriage.

Please don’t think that just because you’re older, you can’t learn how to better communicate with each other. That’s a lie that comes straight from the depths of Hell. Another lie is that because you don’t have as many years left to live, you shouldn’t have to work as hard on making your relationship work because “life is short,” so you want to leave your spouse and make the most of the time you may have.

Finish Well

Yes, it’s true that “life is short,” but why does that make it any less important to “finish well” in our lives so we can hear the words spoken to the faithful servant, “Well done, good and faithful servant?” What makes us think that God will give us a “pass” to living out all our days as faithful to His principles, and keeping our vows, just because we’re older and things are getting difficult?

As those who are coming behind us watch our walk, shouldn’t we live our lives as faithfully as God would have us, up to the last day we take a breath?

It says to us in Titus 2:1-8:

You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and endurance.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women tolove their husbadns and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set the an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may not be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

A Lesson

That is a lesson for all of us. We had best not forget the fact that we are not islands unto ourselves. What we do or don’t do, as it pertains to God’s standards, affects many more than we realize.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will now grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

All of this leads to the next point that David and Claudia Arp make concerning marriage in the later years of life:

4. “Communication patterns that worked before don’t work now. Sound bites on voice mail and quick hellos and good-byes are replaced with having enough time to start an argument and actually finish it.”

Dr Willard Harley, in his article, Married Life After Retirement gives this summation and challenge that is important to consider.

He writes:

“The years that a husband and wife have spent creating independent lifestyles comes back to haunt them on that day, because they are faced with the fact that they have little in common. Throughout their married lives, they failed to create common interests —they did nothing to create compatibility. Rather than building a relationship based on mutual respect and sensitivity, they had ignored each other’s feelings, missing out on a lifetime of marital happiness.

“Now, on the day of retirement, they have a choice to make. Do they develop yet more sophisticated ways of avoiding each other, or do they learn to become compatible?”

How about you? Which choice do you think the Lord would have you do? Hopefully you will come to the conclusion to make it your mission to learn how to better communicate with each other.

We have a lot of articles in the Communication and Conflict topic section, the Communication Tools topic, as well as others, if you take the initiative to look and learn, which we hope you will. It’s never too late to start doing what is right.

The last point the Arps make is:

5. “Roles change. Before retirement one may have assumed the major role in caring for the household, cooking meals, and so on. In retirement, it’s time to reinvent your roles.”

Again, this drives home the point as to how important it is to prepare for your retirement years. It sure can help with the adjustments. In a fact sheet put together by the Ohio State University Exchange, they bring up the point:

“Research shows that deciding who does what household tasks in retirement can be very important to a couple’s happiness. Overall, retired husbands do not do an equal share of the housework no matter if their wife is still working or if she’s retired. For many women, especially those who have worked outside the home, retirement means household chores can now be shared with a retired husband. When husbands fail to do their share of the housework, wives often feel resentment and disappointment.

“Other retired women resent their retired husbands invading their ‘territory.’ These women report feeling “smothered” when their husbands are at home all the time. The ‘underfoot syndrome’ occurs when a husband interferes in his wife’s household routine. All of these situations can lead to marital conflict in retirement.”

In this same fact sheet titled, Marriage After Retirement, a suggestion is made concerning this issue.

He wrote:

“Designate household tasks. Deciding on who does what household chores in retirement is more important than many couples realize. Research shows a common source of conflict for retired couples surrounds the division of labor in the home. Couples who have previously practiced a traditional division of household chores (wife doing cleaning, cooking; husband doing household maintenance and yard duties) may either choose to continue this pattern or may decide that a more equitable approach is more appropriate for retirement.

“Couples need to discuss and mutually agree on how they will manage household responsibilities. They can’t assume old patterns will continue or that new changes will take place.”

Hopefully, you have a spouse who is willing to do this.

But who does what, as it concerns household tasks isn’t the only area where role reversal and changes take place. Sometimes health issues cause this to happen as well.

In a Lifeway.com article, Dr Polly Cooper Brown was posed the following question.

Question:

“Dear Dr. Brown: Because of health problems, my husband is no longer able to drive. Most of the time he accepts that he is dependent on me to transport him. But there are times when he becomes very angry with me. He acts as if it is my fault that he is so confined. How can I deal with his anger?”

To find out Dr Brown’s answer, please click onto the link below to read:

COPING WITH ELDER SPOUSE’S OUTBURSTS OF ANGER

Another hurdle to overcome is the one of dealing with sexuality as you age. In a Todayschristianwoman.com article written by Shay and Robert Roop, they discuss things about sex that married couples “need to know now and later.”

In the “50’s+” category they point out various things. One is the “Fact of life: our bodies aren’t 20 anymore. Everything moves a little slower, including our libidos.”

Here are some other facts they make:

• “Bodily and sexual response changes are more noticeable.

• “Women and men both have a reduction in the hormone of desire, testosterone.

– “Women may need vaginal estrogen to moisturize the vagina and testosterone gel to reverse a loss of desire.

• “Men may experience normal changes such as slower erections, and lack of firmness. Some have fewer orgasms, longer recovery time, and no ejaculations with some orgasms.

• “Many medications have sexual side effects that your physician or pharmacist may not mention.

– “Couples who remain sexually active live longer and healthier lives. Some studies even suggest that sexuality promotes brain function in seniors.”

It’s true, there are many that lose their desire as they age, but there are also many who don’t. How do you deal with the challenges that occur when you are aging?

Professional counselor, Rob Jackson, discusses the following question in an article he wrote on this subject.

He wrote:

“Can older adults safely enjoy sexual intimacy and, if so, can they also destroy it?”

For Rob’s answer, please click onto the PureIntimacy.org article to read:

THE EFFECTS OF AGING ON SEXUALITY

And then from Hot, Holy and Humorous:

GETTING OLDER — HAVING SEX

Another problem that some seniors face in their marriages concerns the temptation to gamble. As Karen O’Connor writes about this in a Focus on the Family article:

“Now that their children are grown and the mortgage nearly paid off, thousands of couples, age 60 and over, have some wiggle room in their budgets. They have income from a pension, social security and/or investments. And they have something that was in short supply a few years ago when raising a family —time. Such a combination makes travel and leisure attractive. This is especially true when coupled with a chance to win some extra cash to buy a new car. Perhaps you can take a cruise or help with the cost of braces and private school for the grandkids.”

This may not seem like much of a problem on the surface. However, many seniors are finding it to be a huge problem eventually.

To learn more, please click onto the article below to read:

SENIORS AND GAMBLING

And what about burn out? Are those who are “more mature” in their ages experience this issue? Yes.

“An elderly couple who had been married forever were sitting on their front porch, rocking.

“Reflecting on their years together, the wife turned to her husband. Tenderly she said, ‘I’m proud of you.’ The husband was a bit hard of hearing. He looked at his wife and abruptly replied, ‘Well, I’m tired of you, too!’

“Whether they’ve been married a few years or many, sometimes couples grow weary in their marriage. Some call it ‘falling out of love’ and see it as a legitimate way out. Others simply refer to it as burnout.”

To read more on this subject, please click onto:

I’M TIRED OF YOU

There are so many additional issues that you may be dealing with. How I pray you are able to find help in the way in which you need it.

In closing:

The ending to a “Marriage Prayer” that I came across recently, seems appropriate. It is my prayer for you that whatever the challenge, whatever issues you face, I pray God will give you insight, wisdom, and the strength to do what needs to be done to handle it well.

“In the end of your days, may you be found then, as now, hand in hand, still thanking God for each other. May you be serving God happily, faithfully, together until one of you shall lay the other into the arms of God. May it be so for you and yours.”

Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International wrote this article.

If you have additional tips you can share to help others, please “Join the Discussion” by adding your comments below.

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Comments

7 responses to “Marriage Challenges in the Later Stages of Life

  1. We’ve been married for 53 years. I’m 75, my husband is 80. We are in excellent physical health. We have been going to the gym for 40 years, bike three to four times a week, attend spin classes. We are financially sound, have three wonderful married offsprings, with four great grandchildren. MY HUSBAND is a passive aggressive and a procrastinator. He’s constantly feeling guilty and cannot feel the happiness he deserves. It’s very challenging to try communicate how, when he says he is going to do something and breaks his promise, it is hurtful. I cannot trust his promises.

    I am the opposite of a procrastinator. Yes, I’m impatient and get very frustrated with all the incomplete tasks. Of course it all stems from his early childhood. His mom died when he was three weeks old and he went to live with step mother at age 11, not a good situation. What can we do? Please ADVISE.

    1. Amelia, If you were both much younger, I would say that it would be good to go into counseling over this issue. But given the fact that your husband is 80, I would do what I could to try to give grace when it’s possible. Enjoy the days you have ahead of you… lower your expectations a bit, or even a lot. Don’t be so driven to make him “promise” you this or that. If you do that, you won’t be so disappointed as often. Enjoy his good qualities and allow him to enjoy yours. If you’re so “impatient and get very frustrated” then you probably aren’t a great joy to be around. So there are some “incomplete tasks” that happen… so what? Hire a handyman or so, rather than getting obsessed with running a race to get tasks completed. You said that you’re “financially sound” …so spend the extra money to gain added peace and enjoyment in your time together.

      Enjoy your health, your activities together, your financial security, your offsprings, and grandchildren. Leave them a good legacy of parents and grandparents that did what they could to live a sweet life together, right up to the end. It sounds like you have a lot to be thankful for… don’t obsess about what you don’t get from your husband, but rather what you DO have in your life together.

      As far as “his early childhood” and what he did and didn’t have, please work to put that behind you. He’s 80 years old… it’s time to let the troubles of his youth go, and instead concentrate on enjoying the time you can have together. You aren’t promised tomorrow. And I have a feeling that if tomorrow comes and one of you dies either physically or mentally, those “tasks” are going to seem silly that you stressed over. Relax more and don’t sweat the small stuff… at this point in your life, it’s all small stuff. Kiss, hug, and enjoy more together. I hope you will.

  2. My husband and I have been married 48 years. I think we are both less patient with our differences as we age, and less forgiving. Physical changes also have an effect on our moods. On my end I will be working on accepting our differences and forgiving the unkind words and looks quickly.

    1. It sounds like you and your husband need to have a marriage re-boot. You need to go away for a weekend to either a marriage retreat, which can help you to look and approach your marriage more positively, or you need to have your own marriage weekend and rededicate yourselves to make your marriage into one where you are kinder to each other. You want to savor and enjoy your later years with each other–not go down fighting. It’s important to fight FOR your marriage–not fight against each other. It would be good to prayerfully look at your marriage and consider what type of marriage legacy you are leaving for those you leave behind. Also, at this point what are you showing those who are observing your marriage even though you aren’t aware of it. You are showing them something, one way or another.

      Is the love of Christ being shown by both of you in the way you interact with each other? This should be true behind closed doors, as well. It naturally spills outside of your private world together. Now is the time to prayerfully consider if you are revealing and reflecting the love of Christ within your marriage? If not… there is no better time to start than today. I pray you both will take on this mission.

  3. Have been married 33 years and my husband is semi-retired. I am 77, he is 71; we have been arguing over just looking at each other. We cannot communicate with each other it seems. When I talk he seems to be against me all the time. He also does it with other people. We sleep in separate bedrooms. I’m getting very depressed because it does not end. He’s up one day and down the next. He has knee pain and is on medication for it. I’m very active and go to the gym 4 times a week.

    I’m lucky that I have a very youthful look and do not look my age. He never wants to go out. I have friends; he hides away in the basement and likes being on his own. I feel that he won’t go out of his way to help the situation. I’m no saint because I will argue back with him and it does not get us anywhere and I am tired of this.
    .