We are told that in some parts of the world people are living longer. This may be due to the increased population figures, better health facilities in some areas, better diet in the West or more attention to self care in terms of health issues. This, in turn brings with it more long term couples. Couples can now find themselves in partnership for 70 plus years and not be a subject for discussion or amazement. This is a wonderful thing in some cases but in others can bring problems never faced before except in exceptional circumstances.
I am seeing more and more long term couples in my counselling room bringing diverse problems which, hard to define, are nonetheless presenting difficult situations for which there is little outside help. These are couples who have stuck together for whatever reason, many of which are good for both parties, but carrying with it some feelings of helplessness and estrangement.
Passions, rewarded in previous life stages, by sexual contact, are acted out in quite angry ways. Taking strong and opposing sides on present day situations which they cannot solve or in any way be a part of the solution. What used to be known roles have blurred. Women re entering the work place just when men have peaked and are looking towards retirement. Men who have been in positions of authority, suddenly flawed by a world increasingly run by technology and new generations of people who speak a different language and feel little of the respect shown by previous generations towards age and experience.
This can be isolating for the aging couple and in turn it throws them onto each other’s mercy. Instead of this strengthening them, it seems to cause a split. They become competitive and snubbing about the other’s isolation and they fight from different corners.
Often, I find that one side is passive aggressive, feeling they never press buttons thereby taking the position of the victim. The other, always on the attack, becomes more and more volatile yet ends the round feeling exhausted yet with nowhere to go and no one to explain how alone they feel.
Fear of death begins to take a leading position yet often remains unspoken. The fear is exposed by the accusation and denial, yet remains a ‘don’t go there’ subject. All the fear is released in useless repetitive arguments leaving each side feeling isolated
Never before have so many couples been in this situation yet the rules and regulations around them seem to have no boundaries or grounding common to all. They have to work out their own pathway and either weed the verges of their life together or live in loneliness in each other’s presence.
In many cases, their life is good. They often enjoy travel where the everyday is forgotten, they enjoy their mutual friends and families and seem happy to separate out into interests unshared without envy or mistrust. Their sexual contact alters and becomes something precious to both.
When lack of communication slowly seeps into their lives, feeling special to the other seems to have disappeared replaced by carping or shutting down which becomes the language. Even tactile language has gone.
It helps to go back to the beginnings of the couple and what they found in each other which felt so special. What they fell for at the outset will still be there somewhere buried under life experiences and time. When gently looking at who they were, what expectations they had about the other and the feelings of security and safety in each other’s presence, they can find it again. This brings a kind of mature strength which helps to find the bond and makes them a duo when facing life’s new challenges and inevitabilities.
Their joint history becomes the unique tie between them and is like a comforting place from which to cope with and care for each other. This could become the safe place to go to with kindness and understanding giving them back a unique partnership.