Marital Issues and Seniors


I was recently asked to address the issue of elderly parents who are having marital difficulties. Often couples who are in mid-life are distressed by the struggles they witness between their parents. It may be that the problems have been there all along, or perhaps they have developed in the later years. Either way, it is painful to see parents unhappy, fighting with each other, or living in cold silence.

Sometimes a couple can have their spats, but are actually content with each other. Other times, being together has become increasingly difficult, to the point that it may be affecting the health of one or the other. No one wants to see an elderly couple go through divorce and face living alone after so many years of marriage.

It need not come to this, unless one is being abused, or would find it less painful to live alone than to go on struggling every day. It is not really healthy for the adult children to try to arbitrate either. Parents may perceive them as taking sides, and there may be hurt feelings all around.

Counselling is often the best solution. Seniors may resist this idea either because they feel awkward about the process or embarrassed to have a stranger know what goes on between them. They may also feel that it is too late for them to be helped. In reality, there can be a great sense of relief to find that many couples regardless of age share the same problems. Anxiety can be relieved when each person feels validated by the therapist, who allows neither to overpower the other. Stress is reduced when suggestions are made for dealing with differences, and strategies provided for avoiding difficulties.

Many older people do not talk about their feelings, and end up having all kinds of pain locked up inside. In a safe atmosphere they may be guided into healthier patterns, and assisted to see the strengths in their relationship.

One of the rewards of a long marriage is to have comfort, companionship and support in the later years. It is never too late for a couple to try to recapture or develop those qualities. They just may need a little help.

Copyright © Gwen Randall-Young, All Rights Reserved. Contact us if you would like permission to reprint.

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