The Changing Landscape of Senior Relationships

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Our primary love partnerships are the most significant in our lives. Marriage or committed partnership has proven to extend our health and longevity, for a variety of reasons: 

  • Ohio State University research psychologist Christopher Fagundes, PhD, notes that married couples are less likely to engage in risky behavior or substance abuse – and that just moving in together lowers these behaviors even more. 
  • Couples not only have each other to talk to day-to-day, they tend to socialize with a wider range of people more frequently, lowering depression and anxiety. 
  • Spouses are a good influence on our health behaviors. A caring spouse reminds us not to eat that extra piece of pie or have that next drink. Couples are also more likely to hold each other to account when following doctor’s recommendations and medicine routines. 

Long-term, live-in relationships enjoy similar benefits, though marriage has a slight edge, according to researchers. And that’s good news, since many seniors have experienced divorce, many more than once, and are often gun-shy about taking the marriage plunge again. In fact, the divorce rate among those aged 50+ (so-called “gray divorce”) has doubled in the past 20 years. 

The overall divorce rate has been decreasing since the 1980s, when the likelihood of a first marriage ending in divorce hovered around 50% and was even more likely for subsequent marriages. Contributing to the lower divorce rate, however, is that fact that the marriage rate has also been decreasing, even among seniors. In 2016, there were 4 million 50+ adults cohabiting in the US – up from 2.3 million in 2007And most of these adults have been partners for more than a decade. There are a number of reasons why seniors are opting out of marriage and choosing to live with their partner instead: 

  • Baby boomers invented “living together” in the 70’s and don’t feel the moral constraint of their parents’ generation. 
  • Older adults are not facing the prospect of an unintended pregnancy and are not together for the purpose of legitimizing and raising children. 
  • Cohabiting allows you to share expenses, which can be very helpful for seniors on a fixed income. The overall cohabitation rate for low income individuals is higher than that of wealthier people. 
  • Marrying can create a huge financial burden, increasing tax rates, lowering social security and military benefits. 
  • Marrying can also create financial issues with estates and cause conflict between parents and adult children. On the other hand, most adult children are happy that their parents have someone in the home to be with and look out for them. 

Whether a relationship is a long-term first marriage or a more recent pairing, as partners age, health concerns will come up, and caregiving may become an issue. And caregiving duties tend to pile on like the proverbial frog in the pot… one small adjustment turns into two, three, four, and you may all of a sudden realize you are overwhelmed. (Click here to read about what home care services are available.) Assisting Hands serving Columbus, OH is here to help – get in touch and we can quickly assess your situation and needs.