You have been here to hold my hand,
To help me when I fall or falter.
You have been here to understand,
No matter how I age or alter.
You have been here through all these years,
A part of all I’ve done or known.
And you have shared my joys and fears,
So with you here, I’m not alone.
This book is about the unique phenomenon of long-term marriages in our society’s older generation, and about the husbands and wives in those marriages who are living longer, and coping and caring for each other longer. It is estimated that almost half of this entire generation consists of husbands and wives in marriages of approximately half a century. This amounts to about 15 million people who are age sixty-five and over, and who are not only living longer than ever before but also living together longer than ever before.
Since these long-term marriages did not occur in the past, except in unusual or isolated cases, there has been comparatively little serious study or attention to them. A number of questions have been left unexplored or unanswered:
These are the questions this book addresses. The book is organized into three parts, each dealing with a different aspect of long-term marriage.
Part One, Changing Times, discusses important factors directly contributing to and resulting from these lasting marriages. The factors include the impact of human longevity on how long marriages can be and what they can be like; the effects of changes in sickness and health as people live longer and age later; and the resulting need to eventually give or receive care.
Part Two, The Stories, presents the experiences of different groups of husbands and wives as they deal with their own and each other’s aging-related health changes. There are wives taking care of husbands, husbands taking care of wives, husbands and wives taking care of each other, and “not yet” caretakers. The stories are all true and involve people who are all real, though minor details have been altered or omitted. Many of these stories are sad because they concern pain, loss, illness, disability; but they are also reassuring and even inspiring because they illustrate examples of strength, courage, hope, and love.
Part Three, Choices and Challenges, explains the ways husbands and wives adapt their lives—physically, socially, financially, emotionally—to cope with the new needs in their long-term marriages. Sometimes they change where or how they live, and what they can or cannot do. Sometimes they change the customary roles in their marriages, and in their relationships with each other. And sometimes, in spite of sorrow or strain—or perhaps because of it—the changing brings husbands and wives closer to each other than they have ever been before.
Three patterns emerge from these real human experiences. One pattern is that living longer and being married longer bring health changes that would not have occurred, and certainly would not have been shared, if the couple’s lives and marriages had been briefer. The second pattern is that over time, these aging-related health changes inevitably and increasingly require care. And the third pattern is that this care is provided, as much as needed and as long as needed, by the husbands and wives for themselves and for each other. Therefore, the conclusion, which is the theme and subtitle of this book—From Caring to Caretaking—is that long-term marriage, in one way or another, inevitably and inescapably changes the marital relationship from caring about each other to taking care of each other.
The material in this book is derived from three major sources. One is professional literature about the aging process written by gerontologists, psychologists, and sociologists. Second are observations of and interviews with the twenty-four long-married couples whose stories are told here. And third is my own personal experience of more than a half century of marriage.
This book is dedicated to my husband, Edward Hawthorne. We have now been together as a married couple much more than twice as long as we had been apart as separate individuals. So, by this time, we no longer know which of us is the “better half”; but we do know that neither one of us, without the other, would be whole.
Copyright by Lillian S. Hawthorne. All rights reserved