Transforming Ordinary into Extraordinary Marriages
Spring 2004

Living Happily Ever After

The kids are gone but their stuff is still in the basement. You don’t go to your high school reunions because you can’t remember anyone’s name. When you think about your parents or grandparents at your current age you are shocked at how much older they seemed than you feel.

The middle years of adulthood start roughly around 35 when you have entered your first career, found a mate or decided not to marry, and completed your family size or decided to remain childless. You may have heard that people are living longer (average life span in 2000 was 70 compared to 40 in 1900). Most of the difference in the two centuries can be accounted for by a decrease in childhood mortality. More children are now living to adulthood and as they pass each decade birthday, they are more likely to live beyond 70.

According to James Fries, author of The Rectangular Curve, medical advances have also extended the period of healthy middle age so that many adults can live a good quality of life until 85 with a range from 80 to over 100. Thus the period called middle age is now the longest of life – possibly lasting a full fifty years. A life-long marriage lasts for long time.

While the U.S. divorce rate is going down for marriages in general, it has gone up 16% for marriages of 30 years plus. Even long marrieds need to be proactive about their relationship or the natural drift of inertia can set in. Here are the five most common questions we hear in our seminars on midlife couples.

So We Will Live Long – But Will We Live Well?

Longevity researchers such as Dr. Ken Pelletier at Stanford University Medical School estimate that while you can’t control your genes or the random events of your life, maintaining great health as you age is approximately 50% under your control if you attend to these factors:


Do yourself and your spouse a favor by taking good care of your-self and encouraging your spouse in good health habits. Following the above suggestions will save unnecessary health care costs and keep you healthy, attractive, and full of energy.

How Will We Spend Our Time?

Career specialist, Richard Bolles, predicted 20 years ago that people would no longer fit into three distinct boxes of life -education in youth, work in the middle years, and leisure in the later years. Today’s adults are taking breaks from their schooling to raise families, taking sabbaticals from their careers to go back to school or hike the Appalachia Trail. and retiring from one job to start another. The trend is clear: retiring to sit in a rocking chair on the front porch waiting to die is a boring prospect for today’s middle ager.

Dr. Pelletier found that those who see their lives as having a sense of meaning and purpose have a greater change of living well in extended middle age Today’s happy middle aged couples have the challenge of coordinating lives of meaning as individuals and as couple.

If you want to avoid the feeling that “we married for better or for worse but not for lunch,” you will need some planning and the ability to explore creative life style options such as:

How Much Will Our Lifestyle Cost?

Answer: about 80% of your work years’ lifestyle. Say goodbye to work-free retirement. That concept was short lived according to the US Department of Labor. While the number of those over 65 seeking employment decreased from 45% in 1950 to 10% in 1970 it was back up 70% in 2000. Today’s couples are piecing together a complex financial pie of a 401K, IRA, pension, Social Security, part-time employment, and perhaps some inheritance from the generation of parents who enjoyed work free retirement.

Successful financial management takes two elements, good couple communication and help from trained, trusted advisors. Before you meet with those helpful professionals, clarify the answers to some questions they will ask?

How Do We Stay Close?

Don’t take communication for granted just because you have been married a long time. You might be able to finish each others’ sentences – but only if you keep repeating the same sentences. Take time to talk about dreams and how to play together.

Similarly, those stale love making routines that rely on the quick responses of youth will no longer work. If you wanted to have a love making session last an hour could you think up enough to fill the time? Remember you are in this together. Get over the embarrassment about your aging body and educate yourself about the possibilities of keeping a great sexual relationship great. You are fortunate that medical solutions to age related dysfunctions have coincided with your middle years.

How Do We Balance Our Needs With Our Family Responsibilities? Today the fastest growing family constellation is the four-generation family with two sandwich generations, a late middle years couple and their adult children sharing the care for great-grandparents and the raising of the great-grand kids.

Abigail Trafford writes in her book on extended middle age, My Time, that if “the family is the safe harbor, then who is the harbor master?”

The second generation in a 4-gen family often provides the stability, the wisdom and sometimes the financial support for the other generations in the family. Aging does not guarantee wisdom. It is the work that you do on yourself to gain perspective and integrate your experiences that will make you a wise elder in your family and community. While there is no one way to combine your own goals with availability to the younger generation(s), working as a couple on your unique formula is part of the satisfaction of this exciting stage of development. One of our favorite poems says, “Come along with me, the best is yet to be.”


Ken Pelletier. Longevity Abigail Trafford. My Time.

Copyright 2004 Drs. Susan & Philip Robison. Feel free to copy and reproduce as long as you print with contact information.

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