The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that over 300,000 marriages take place each year in England and Wales. With divorce rates at just 8.9 per 1000 married couples, more of these partnerships are staying together. That is not to say that marriage has gotten any easier, however. Successfully sharing your life with a long term partner requires flexibility. Inevitably, life brings change. The ability to adapt and take on new roles within the relationship can make all the difference in being able to successfully maintain it, forever.
For many, marriage is the first time to experience shared finances. Especially as the average age of people marrying is on the rise, these working adults have already learned the basics of personal financial responsibility. Car payments, bank accounts, rent, savings and debt are nothing new. However, having joint bank accounts, entering into debt together, and managing a household budget can be the first stressor in a marriage.
Although there are many ways to manage your finances as a couple, it is not unusual for one person in the partnership to take on the task of budgeting, managing the accounts, and paying the bills. Open communication about money, as in all things, is necessary for the health of the relationship. Without it, one person may start feeling uncomfortable with the arrangement, especially if there is an imbalance in the income being brought into the household.
It is not as easy as it may seem to think in terms of “our” money rather than “yours” and “mine.” Consider having both joint and personal accounts to avoid this source of conflict. Joint accounts can be used to cover household expenses like housing, utilities, and groceries while personal accounts cover things like clothes, nights out with friends, and trips to the salon or barber.
When a couple decides to start a family it marks a massive transition for the relationship. The new and ever changing responsibilities of caring for a child are immense and hugely time consuming. As each person takes on the role of parent, their role in the relationship also changes.
Married couples with children find it difficult to devote time to nurturing their relationship. The Economic and Social Research Council conducted a mixed method psychosocial study on enduring love. They found that parents engage in less relationship maintenance than their childless counterparts. The time spent doing parenting related tasks and activities leaves little time for other things. When children are very young, a parent’s focus and energy is overwhelmingly spent on the child. Parents are left feeling tired and drained with nothing left to give to their spouse.
Couples will have a greater chance of long term success if they commit to spending regular time with one another as a couple, not as parents. A set date night with the help of a family member or childminder can do wonders for keeping a couple connected. Little things can be done on a daily basis to show care and thought for your partner. Making their tea in the morning or sending a sweet text in the middle of a work day is a small gesture that can have a big long term impact.
Illness and Caretaking
As time moves on one or both of the people in a marriage may find themselves in the role of caretaker. This can come about in different ways. A parent of the couple or one of the people in the couple themselves becomes chronically ill and requires everyday care. Whether caring for a sick parent or spouse, this change is an emotional and taxing phase for all involved.
Caregiving takes a big emotional toll on a person. The caretaker has to come to terms with the fact that someone they love dearly is sick. Fear, uncertainty, and sadness can become all consuming. Boredom, frustration, and hopelessness are not at all uncommon. Seeking out help and support is crucial during this time. Having someone to talk openly and honestly with, whether a friend, family member, or professional, is critical to emotional well being.
Practically speaking, a caretaker should not attempt to go it alone. Outside help, even if for only a few hours a week, can give the caretaker a regular necessary reprieve. For those in need, social assistance is available from the NHS by requesting a needs assessment. For short periods of time, for running errands or attending personal appointments, the ill loved one can be left alone. Providing the loved one with communication tools that can help the carer and cared for feel more secure in leaving for these short excursions.
Empty Nest or Retirement
When couples move from being full time workers, parents, or both to being empty nesters or retirees, life as a couple, once again, transforms. Schedules are suddenly more open. Spaces are available that were once filled with children and work obligations. This can be disorienting for a couple. They may feel like they have nothing to talk about or focus on. It requires an adjustment and attention to reconnect or keep the relationship strong in this new dynamic.
Identifying areas of interest that are shared but have never been explored is a great place to start. This gives a freshness and spark to the relationship and can be very fulfilling and exciting. This new found time is a gift and choosing to spend some of it in a passionate pursuit with your spouse is invaluable to the health of the relationship.
Giving your spouse freedom to pursue personal interests or to simply spend time alone is an equally positive way to nurture your relationship during this stage. It is healthy and natural for both parties to a relationship to have interests that are solely their own. Supporting one another in individual pursuits and allowing each other to spend time away can actually bring them closer.
If we are lucky, life is long. Choosing to spend it in a relationship can be the most rewarding experience of one’s life. It is not without its set of challenges but each partner can adapt and support each other through all of life’s changing roles.