Relationships in later life
Nina Chen, Ph.D., CFLE, Human Development Specialist, Jackson County, University of Missouri Extension
As baby boomers are getting older and living longer, relationships
in later life are becoming important to understand. As people age,
they face challenges such as dealing with health problems and making
adjustments to retirement, all of which effect the relationships
in their lives.
According to research on the subject of marriage in later life
from the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, several studies
indicate the great health benefits of marriage. They find that married
couples have better health. In particular, those married couples
satisfied with their relationship enjoy better mental health and
well-being. Most married couples in later life are happy with their
marriages. Some studies suggest that the older people are the less
likely they are to argue and the more affectionate and tolerant
they are with each other. Husbands who could negotiate marital conflict
in constructive ways seemed to be happier in their marriages and
were more satisfied with life in retirement.
Regarding marital satisfaction and retirement, some studies show
that retirement simply reinforces the quality of marital relationships.
Retirement shows positive effects on marital quality for those who
already have happy marriages, but unhappy marriages were adversely
affected by retirement. Many couples adjust to the retirement transition
well and report an improvement in marital satisfaction due to decreased
work-related stress and enhanced time for companionship and joint
endeavors. In general, married people adjust better to retirement
than unmarried people do, especially when spouses share interests
Poor pre-retirement marital quality is associated with problems
in marriage during retirement. Retired men seem to become more dependent
on their wives which may cause problems and stress in marriage due
to changes in roles, identities and responsibilities. When men retire
before their wives, their marital quality declines. One study found
decreases in marital happiness when husbands had been retired between
four and eight years. On the contrary, couples are much more satisfied
in their relationship when wives are retired and husbands are working.
Conflict also arose when a spouse’s retirement expectations were
Researchers have found that happily married older couples highly value their relationships and experience increasing closeness as the years go by. When retirement time arrives, there are many things to be worked out. Enjoying each other in retirement doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and effort to make adjustments. Each person needs some time for privacy and personal interests, and creating time together as a couple is important as well. Minor irritations need to be resolved. Having open communication, flexibility and humor can help minimize conflict. Retirement can be a time for great personal development, and for developing enjoyable, rewarding relationships as well.
Lambert, N. M. Marriage in later life: A review of the research. National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, Brigham Young University.
Last Updated 08/30/2011