Many of us are lucky enough to be in a loving marriage or partnership that has endured over the years—through all the ups and downs. Yet, aging can present its own set of challenges in a marriage and it is very important that couples have the tools to face those challenges in a healthy way.
It is likely that along with the normal challenges that come with aging, there will be more health issues that include physical and mental changes. But, that doesn’t mean that couples can’t successfully work through those changes and challenges. Let’s talk about four keys to aging gracefully together:
- Take care of yourselves. The best thing you can do for you and your spouse (and your family for that matter) is do your best to take care of yourselves. Eat well, exercise regularly, get regular check ups and be social. If you practice healthy habits, you are better equipped to handle any challenges that come your way and you lessen any hardship that your loved ones may experience when you do need their help.
- Take care of yourself. Wait, we just said that. We’re saying it again, because it’s important and also because it means many different things. While we just talked about basic self-care, it’s also really important to remember that when you do need to provide care to your spouse, part of doing that involves making sure that you take extra good care of yourself. It’s easy to become absorbed in caring for a loved one and neglect your own needs. That is the worst thing you can do for both of you, because eventually, something has to give. You may not only find yourself becoming resentful of your spouse, but you may also end up sick and needing care yourself, because you didn’t give yourself what you needed all along.
- Develop a strong support network. As we age, it gets easier to isolate ourselves. It’s also easy to become very reliant on our spouses and not look beyond them for help. But, a good community of neighbors, friends and people in similar circumstances will make all the difference, not only in your mental health, but also when you do need assistance. Make a point of staying active in your senior center, church, neighborhood association or other groups where there are people with shared interests. Also, make a list of whom you can call on when you need help: family, friends, neighbors, doctors and other caregiving organizations. Don’t wait until you need help to look for it. AND, don’t be afraid to ask for help. That’s part of taking care of yourself.
- Talk about it. As spouses, hopefully you’ve developed a way to talk to each other about the big, meaningful things in life. Aging can be scary, upsetting and also really beautiful. Make sure you both acknowledge and plan for the potential realities but also really celebrate the good things that come with aging. Talk about it with each other and talk to your family and support network about it. Write down and share what is important to you and how you would want to be cared for if you became ill or too compromised to take care of yourself. Again, don’t wait until you need care. Do it now. Of course, it is never too late to communicate your needs.
Aging can be another beautiful chapter of marriage. Take the time and make the effort to help each other through it. That often means that you may feel newly vulnerable with each other and you may need to reach beyond each other for help, but that doesn’t mean that your relationship will be compromised—in fact, it probably means that your marriage will be enriched in ways you never would have imagined.