Marriages of 40 or 50 years, and increasingly, even longer, are becoming more and more common.
Like couples at any stage of their relationship, the long-married can find themselves experiencing problems in their relationship, although couples who have been in very long marriages or partnerships do not generally appear in psychotherapy offices with the request for help to ‘work on our relationship’.
The reluctance to seek mental health services will likely change when in the future long-married people reach their older years with a history of having used couples therapy at various points in their married lives.
Those who seek help
Today’s elderly couples are generally from the ‘do-it- ourselves’ era that believed people shouldn’t air private matters and presumed that mental health professionals are really mental illness professionals. Older couples who seek counseling generally do so after at the suggestion of someone else.
When long-married couples move from middle to old age, the transition is often accompanied by a knowing feeling that time elapsed has now exceeded time remaining. The awareness can be both frightening and comforting. Individuals often marry a person whose personality traits, style and behaviours are initially admired and found to be charming. Then they proceed to spend their married life trying to change that very style.
Embarking on the journey through the unchartered waters of old age implies reflection, with the self as a mirror. The spouse is also a mirror, and this may precipitate a crisis. One may look at the other and see the wrinkles, frown lines, or pain and disappointment. An illusion of another chance or what another can offer can come to mind or if in the case of major surgery or illness — the anticipation of what lies ahead and the possibility of years of caregiving instead of time to care for the self.
There comes a time for redefining roles. Significant events can be catalysts for interpersonal role changes — retirement and responsibility of parent care can be examples. Besides the emotional reactions to such changes there can also occur significant changes in how the couple gets along day by day, especially after retirement or once all the children leave the home.
As couples move into their older years they might tacitly realise they have met all their lifelong goals for the marriage. Sometimes they may experience a kind of emptiness for what was not achieved or done and they should be encouraged to express their feelings and develop new goals together to take them into this new stage.
Redefining intimacies often a stumbling block as couples move into their older years. As couples agree to seek therapy, especially as they move into old age, it can be an adult education classroom for guiding the process and providing an avenue for learning better communication, change in intimacy and enhancing the changes in the ageing process.
Older couples have developed coping strategies to shift the focus from limitations to strengths, including who they have become, mutual interdependence and mutual regard with a shared history which in itself can be self-affirming and powerful.
Those in long marriages frequently find themselves attempting to meet the challenges and find new equilibrium in their relationships in response to each new situation that comes with ageing and this can be fun and exciting.
Summer Fun at CJSA
Much planning goes into our annual Goudini Breakaway each year and this year was no different. But nature takes its own course and our newest addition to the family, a gorgeous grandson, arrived three weeks early. So, to ensure that the break continued smoothly, PC Hajiera stepped in and joined SW Melanie and Driver Emmanuel to enjoy three days and nights at Goudini Hot Water Springs. Everything went so smoothly, the wonderful outing to Ceres to visit the Jewish Museum where Jos and Gwen Khan graciously hosted the group. Everyone enjoyed the braai evening prepared by Worcester Lions and new friendships were cemented during the course of the stay. Thanks to everyone for making it a memorable time, and most importantly to my colleagues for holding the reins without missing a beat.
Milnerton recently hosted their first fundraiser for the year. A full house of excited members and guests and incredible food provided by our own Sonia Norrie who single handedly made a 5-star High Tea and did the decor with the help of her family. Mike Connolly tickled the ivories playing the music everyone enjoyed and there was singing and dancing to make the afternoon truly special. Watch this space for the next special event.