Aging Husband-Wife Relations: Strains & Buffering Factors in Marriage by Jennefer Walden

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Published on March 4, 2014

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Aging Husband-Wife Relations: Strains & Buffering Factors in Marriage Gerontology Master Course by Jennefer Walden. Jennefer is a Gerontologist married to Michael Walden, residing in Fayetteville, NC.

Aging Husband-Wife Relations: Strains and Buffering Factors

Marriage • Romantic relationships of a sentimental nature are typically considered a central component of a joyful and contented life in western society. (Rey, J-M. 2010). • Despite diversity in aging relationships, marriage is still the main focus of research on intimate ties. • Marriage can be satisfying and rewarding or stifling and lonely. Those who enjoy happy marriages have better mental health and well-being (Connidis, 2010).

Personal Interview • Observing marital satisfaction over a life course helps researchers better understand the marriage relationship and considers the influence of life transitions such as child rearing (Connidis, 2010). • Shirley and Tom met at the end of April 1979, were engaged on July 24th and married on December 30th of that same year.

Conflict & Depression • Conflict in marital relationships has serious implications for the partners' psychological well-being (Whisman et al., 2006). • Tom and Shirley married young (22 & 18) and had five children right away. • Tom and his mother continually criticized Shirley. • Shirley became depressed and her health weakened.

Shared Values • Maintaining a loving relationship over time is a rational decision. Lasting relationships are possible only if the effort to maintain a loving relationship is tolerable and the effort is continuously observed to stay on target (Rey, J-M., 2010). • Despite the criticism, the couple’s shared religious values acted as a buffer that kept the marriage intact during the newlywed years. • These shared values made the effort tolerable for Shirley.

• Gender Roles and Perceptions Perceptions of fairness, rather than fairness itself can be an important buffer towards a successful marriage (Connidis, 2010). • Researchers have found that couples who tend to express agreement with traditional gender roles are more likely to avoid conflict because the wives are more likely to defer to their husbands. Older cohorts are more likely to agree with traditional roles.(Hatch, L. H. & Bulcroft K., 2004). • Although Shirley did not enjoy housework, she believed strongly in religious based role division so she perceived that the division of labor was fair. She cared for the household and the children all on her own.

Couple Happiness Levels Are Linked • Studies show that spousal happiness trajectories wax and wane together over time and that spouses not only report similar happiness but also that happiness waxes and wanes in connection to their partner’s (Hoppmann, C. A., Gerstorf, D., Willis, S. L., & Schaie, K., 2011). • Shirley stated, “I think our happiness levels were fairly equal during this period of time. Being a stay-at-home mom was lonely and tiring and Tom very much enjoyed his job. Nevertheless, he was caught in the craziness of having five children at night when he came home from work.”

Loneliness • Loneliness is the perception that the quality or quantity of existing relationships is not adequate. (Gierveld, J.D., Groenou, M.V., Hoogendoorn, A.W. & Smit, J.H., 2009). • Even though Shirley was surrounded by children whom she adored, her loneliness may have resulted in part from dissatisfaction with her marital relationship at that time. • Couples without children report greater happiness and satisfaction with their marriages. This may be partly because childless spouses spend more leisure time together than couples with children at home (Connidis, 2010).

Caring For Children and Parents • There are both rewards and costs to caring for children and parents at the same time (Connidis, 2010). • Shirley started caring for her elderly mother with Alzheimer disease while she had older children living at home. “She was in our home for nearly three years before she passed away. Although we were prepared for this to upset our family dynamics, it actually became an era of sweetness and joy for us. My husband eagerly participated in her care, and I truly appreciated his willingness to do so.” • This behavior by her husband probably served as a buffer in their marriage, especially during a time that may have created added strain.

Adult Children • Researchers have reported that marital disagreements increase when children are present. Regardless of age, children tend to require continual negotiation in regards to child-rearing and rules, which can lead to an increase in arguments (Hatch, L. H. & Bulcroft K., 2004). • Older couples, whose children have moved out, may have lower levels of discord because they have fewer issues to disagree about. They also may have more time to spend together doing things they enjoy (Hatch, L. H. & Bulcroft K., 2004). • Shirley and Tom's relationship was at an all time high before their young adult children decided to move back home. Shirley felt that their children should contribute to the household and follow rules. Unfortunately not all of the children felt that this should be a requirement.

Decision Making • Equality in decision making is related to higher marital satisfaction among older wives but not older husbands (Kulik, 2002). • Shirley felt that because she had been the primary caregiver of the children she should decide how to handle their adult children, but Tom felt she should simply “leave them alone and let them do their own thing”. • Shirley found it very difficult to do what he suggested. “I worry about them and sometimes it builds up until I have to say something. The result is that they get really mad at me for interfering in their life. Then, my husband gets really mad at me for causing problems. Then, I get even more frustrated and hurt.”

Sexual Intimacy • Although sexual intimacy is considered important to both sexes, it is a more important dimension of life quality for men than for women. Although the importance declines with age for both sexes (Connidis, 2010). • At age 52, Shirley reports dissatisfaction with the frequency and quality of sexual intimacy in her marriage, but this did not seem to affect her overall view of her marriage as she overwhelmingly rated it as satisfactory on The Marital Satisfaction Questionnaire for Older Persons (Haynes, et.al, 1992).

Long-Term Marriage • Today’s long-term marriages tend to be resilient and have high levels of marital satisfaction, perhaps because marriages without these qualities end in divorce, and perhaps, due to some personality softening (Connidis, 2010). • Mutual support of one another’s independence and personal goals and interests may also serve as a buffering factor in a marriage (Connidis, 2010). • The couple’s relationship has come a long way. Tom no longer criticizes his wife. Shirley has learned to have greater confidence in herself. • Shirley is currently a graduate student working on her PhD n in History. This activity suggests that Tom has been supportive and Shirley has become more independent.

Love • The top-ranked and most important factor in a marriage is love (Connidis, 2010). • Shirley and Tom remain committed to working on their marriage and figuring out how to make it better. “One of the best things we have always had going for us is that we truly like being with each other.” Shirley said that they love just being together and talking about various subjects. They “enjoy the closeness of a long standing relationship”.

References Calasanti, T., & Kiecolt, K. (2007). Diversity among late-life couples. Generations, 31(3), 10-17. Retrieved from http://ehis.ebscohost.com Connidis, I. A. (2010). Family ties & aging. Los Angeles: Pine Forge Press. Gierveld, J.D., Groenou, M.V., Hoogendoorn, A.W. & Smit, J.H. (2009). Quality of marriages in later life and emotional and social loneliness. Journal of Gerontology, 64B(4), 497-506. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbn043 Hatch, L. H. & Bulcroft K. (2004). Does long-term marriage bring less frequent disagreements? Five explanatory frameworks. Journal of Family Issues, 25, 465-495. doi:10.1177/0192513X03257766 Haynes, S. N., Floyd, F. J., Lemsky, C., Rogers, E., Winemiller, D., Heilman, N., & Cardone, L. (1992). The Marital Satisfaction Questionnaire for Older Persons. Psychological Assessment, 4(4), 473-482. doi:10.1037/1040-3590.4.4.473 Hoppmann, C. A., Gerstorf, D., Willis, S. L., & Schaie, K. (2011). Spousal interrelations in happiness in the Seattle Longitudinal Study: Considerable similarities in levels and change over time. Developmental Psychology, 47(1), 1-8. doi:10.1037/a0020788 Kulik, L. (2002). Marital equality and the quality of long-term marriage in later life. Ageing & Society 22(4): 459-81. doi: 10.1017/S0144686X02008772 Rey, J-M. (2010). A mathematical model of sentimental dynamics accounting for marital dissolution. PLoS ONE, 5(3), e9881. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009881 Whisman, M. A., Uebelacker, L. A., Tolejko, N., Chatav, Y., & McKelvie, M. (2006). Marital discord and well-being in older adults: Is the association confounded by personality?. Psychology And Aging, 21(3), 626-631. doi:10.1037/0882-7974.21.3.626

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