Later In Life Relationships


When you get a do-over in love, are you destined to repeat the same relationship patterns, good and bad, that you’ve built over the years? Or are you older and wiser after a major heartbreak?  Here’s a real-life tale of three couples.

Arnie and Joan: Deeply intertwined until a death

Arnie and Joan were married for 27 years before she died from breast cancer.  The business they built together was prosperous and about to go on the market.  They were anticipating the birth of their first grandchild. They had been planning their retirement, considering downsizing from their large house.  They planned trips together.  Joan was going to take tennis lessons.  Arnie was going to suck it up and start playing golf again despite his embarrassingly high score.  They were totally accustomed to their lives being deeply intertwined.   Imagine two circles so overlapped that there is little remaining space left in either circle.

Bill and Peggy: Unhappy marriage, then a split

Bill and Peggy were married for 23 years before Bill left her for another woman.  True, they hadn’t been happy for years.  Bill traveled constantly for his work.  Peggy ran the household and raised the kids.  But the kids were gone now and the house didn’t require much managing.  Despite their rocky marriage, they didn’t seek professional help, choosing the path of avoidance to the end.  Peggy wasn’t shocked when Bill left, but, she admitted later, she was very late in coming the realization that her life was totally defined by her roles and responsibilities.  She didn’t have any separate “Peggy” identity of her own.  Imagine two circles barely overlapped, their shared space minimal at best.

Arnie and Peggy: Second chance at love

Arnie and Peggy met at a dinner party, seated next to each other by their hostess who never let on she was fixing them up.  Neither was looking to get married again. They began dating occasionally while still seeing others. After a year, they became exclusive.  Traditional guy that he was, Arnie proposed marriage while they were on a European trip.  Peggy said no.  It wasn’t that she didn’t care for him.  It was that she didn’t see marriage as essential to a long term, happy commitment at their stage of life.  Both liked being in a couple, so Arnie was willing to give up his need to publicly formalize the arrangement, and Peggy gave up some of the vehement independence that had characterized the years since her divorce.  After they moved in together, they discovered that rather than being scandalized, their children were supportive.

Two years later Peggy proposed to Arnie, and they were married.

Peggy and Arnie had the conversations that Peggy and Bill had never had.  Arnie and Peggy found a way to be together AND have separate identities and lives in a way that Arnie and Joan would never have considered.    Imagine two circles overlapped so that the part where they come together is about equal to the two parts where they do not.

Part of the spoken couple agreement between Peggy and Arnie was that they would, at all times, assume that there were always three living, breathing beings living in their house: Peggy, Arnie, and their relationship.  While these overlapped, none would be allowed to subsume either of the others.  All three would need regular nurturing and attention.

The arrangement seems to be serving them very well.

Later in life relationships don’t have to be repeat versions of earlier ones.  And probably shouldn’t be.

Here’s my question to you: If you are in a later in life relationship, how does it differ from an earlier one?

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