Examining the Later Life Marriage
It is common for communication students to take an interpersonal and/or family communication class. These classes may be popular because they provide students with an opportunity to apply interpersonal and family communication research to their everyday lives. As a professor in the field of family communication, I try to incorporate some of my own research into my course lectures and readings. One area of my research that I incorporate into my Family Communication class is on later life marriage (married over 50 years) and dating relationships among older couples.
Types of Long-Term Marriages
My early research identified the different ways in which later life couples (married for over 50 years) construct their marriage. We found three different types of long-term marriages. The first type is the Connected Couple. These couples tend to have high marital satisfaction, spend a great deal of time together, and even seem to know what their spouse is thinking. It is common for these couples to finish each other sentences when talking about an experience or past story.
The second type of couple is the Functional Separates. These couples are also happily married but they tend to live separate, parallel lives. They are very independent of one another; it is common for them to engage in separate activities, but they come together when needed.
The third type of long-term couple is the Dysfunctional Separates. These couples are unhappy in their marriage but are highly committed to keeping the marriage together. These couples spend a great deal of time separate, may even have separate bedrooms, contradict and criticize each other often, and tend to engage in separate storytelling.
Maintaining a Long-Term Happy Marriage
We asked the Connected Couples how they stayed happy and married for so long. These couples had three characteristics they believed helped keep their marriage together. First, they had a joint vision of what their life and marriage should be. They made joint decisions that were consistent with this vision. And, when necessary, they jointly adjusted or reframed their vision. Second, couples reported that they put their spouse before everything else in their lives, even their children and/or religion. Finally, these couples reported that they talked to their spouse with politeness and respect. One thing was clear, the married couples did have conflict but they engaged in present-day conflict considerably different from how they managed conflict earlier in their marriage. They reported that they “do not sweat the small stuff” and typically have fewer and less intense conflicts than earlier in their marriage.
The long-term unhappy couples reported that they stayed married due to financial or religious reasons. While the unhappy couples were highly committed to their marriage, they were also very unhappy.
Why is Later life Marriage Research Important?
Fewer and fewer marriages are making it to the 50-year anniversary. With the increase in divorce, we are becoming a society of serial monogamous adults. And it is common for individuals to be married more than once. So, we can learn a great deal from couples who have maintained their marriage for over 50 years. They are literally becoming an extinct group.
Part two of this series takes a closer look at later life dating couples.
By: Dr. Fran Dickson
Professor, EKU Department of Communication
Interested in earning a bachelor’s degree in communication studies?
Earn your online bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited university that has been an online education leader for more than 15 years. Complete the form to learn more about how you can earn your bachelor’s in communication studies and pick up an in-demand certificate in workplace communication or dispute resolution along the way, giving yourself a competitive edge in the job market. Contact us today to get started.