Copyright 2014 by Robert Gallagher
If you relate to the term “later years”, you could be anywhere from your mid -50s to mid-90s.
A friend of mine told me that a man who has been a part of her extended family forever married a woman in his 60s who was 20 years younger than him.
Everyone in their circle rolled their eyes, sure she would grow tired of him as he aged. Turned out she died of cancer 15 years later. Who knows?
A year ago, now 92, he married a woman 75. They are totally enraptured and in love. Who knows?
I was seeing a couple who have been married 47 years. They have been not talking about things that bothered them for the sake of not rocking the boat. Their sense of disconnection was palpable. After practicing some communication exercises they experienced the feelings akin to when they first got together.
It is definitely a test of commitment to a vibrant life not to sink into complacency. Takes courage to break out of old patterns for the sake of experiencing love fully.
What are the typical obstacles to relationships in later years?
Thinking -- This is me. I am what I am.
Although in our later years we become set in our ways – have firm communication styles, values, goals, interests, like and dislikes, habits and expectations, we can change.
Baggage from the ups and downs of long term relationships
Or heavy baggage for new relationships in later life due to failed past relationships. No matter what your age, it’s always best to unpack your emotional, attitudinal, and expectation baggage prior to seeking a new relationship.
Beliefs that are jaded
Cynicism and pessimism are relationship killers. They get in the way of loving innocently and being in awe of trusting new love or the possibility of new love in an ongoing relationship.
Not expressing what you want and need
No matter how mature we become, we are not always in touch with what we really want, or at least clear enough to ask for it. This creates a lot of confusion for you and for your new partner.
Not enough space in your togetherness
In later life it is still necessary to deal with the universal internal conflict about giving -- belonging to a unit and retreating and separating in order to maintain our individuality. Throughout the life cycle this is called the approach-avoidance dilemma.
So what approach can two people in their later years adopt and agree to, that will help assure success in their relationship?
1. Good relationships start and progress with openness, honesty, and good communication. If you want a deep love, then that is what you have to go after. Have the patience to find it or create it. If you want an easy going, compatible relationship which is not intimate but fairly conflict-free, that is not part of this discussion. That’s maybe a great friendship, but not an intimate partnership.
2. In an ongoing mature relationship you must work on unconditional acceptance of differences. It is also necessary to stand up for any differences that have caused one pain over the years.
3. For those desiring a new relationship it takes time to “screen” out compatibility differences such as religious and political beliefs, education, personal habits, life goals, core values, and basic expectations.
4. In a new relationship the most common cause of failure is believing you can change the other person’s faults because “true love” will show them the way. You cannot change another person.
5. Tolerance and patience are necessary to open up some breathing room in all relationships. Differences are inevitable. A foundation of good communication -- a skill that can be learned -- and a commitment to keep talking until you understand one another, will save the day.
6. Expectations become ingrained the older we get. The irony is that by having no expectations, we often get much more than we expected.