Lifestyle

GROWING OLD TOGETHER…OR NOT

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But being together 24/7 could also result in daily acrimonious exchanges, with the couple getting on each other’s nerves. (Photo: Josh Felise/Unsplash)

‘To love and to hold, till death do us part’. 

Those were the days when marriage was a sacred institution. Marriages then were meant to last a lifetime.

Even when death took away one partner, the other would remain faithful till the end. Couples stayed together because they took their marriage vows seriously, especially if they married in a place of worship and exchanged vows before God. My mother remained a widow for 64 years after my father passed away at a very young age.

In this digital age, with freer social interaction between the sexes, and with online dating sites easily available, remaining faithful to one person for the rest of one’s life seems to be strictly for the firm believer in fairy tales of the genre ‘… and they lived happily ever after’.

Silver or grey divorces are on the rise. Asian societies have generally become more open to divorces.

Divorcees and single mothers are no longer stigmatised by family and friends. Children have become more accepting of their parents’ divorce.

The retirement years for empty nesters can make or break a marriage. When the children have flown the nest, one would think that is the best time for married couples to enjoy each other’s company. Having the whole house to themselves means having the peace and privacy to rekindle the romance that was relegated to the back-burner when the children were growing up.

But being together 24/7 could also result in daily acrimonious exchanges, with the couple getting on each other’s nerves. This was one of the possible explanations for the spike in non-Muslim divorce cases during the Covid pandemic when people were told to remain at home and not go out unless necessary.

According to National Statistics Department’s latest figures, non-Muslim divorces increased by 30.4% from 9,419 to 12,284 during Covid from 2020 to 2021.

Losing that loving feeling

For many senior couples, that old loving feeling is long gone, only to be replaced by a deep sense of loneliness, of unfulfilment and even regret at the realisation that perhaps their spouse is not that someone they want to spend the rest of their life with.

The situation is made worse when one partner has sexual needs that cannot or will not be met by the other partner.

Divorces are usually messy, ugly and expensive. The only winners are the lawyers. There is no point in saving a marriage that may have started off in heaven, but that has since quickly descended into marital hell.

Sure, there are couples who are blessed to have found their “soulmate” to share their lives with. But for many middle-aged couples, they are more likely to find themselves stuck in an unhappy marriage, wondering what happened to that sweetheart they loved and married so many years ago.

This is especially true for women in their 50s and 60s who feel trapped in their marriage. Emboldened by the rising number of silver-haired divorces they read about, they no longer think twice about initiating divorce proceedings. They no longer feel pressured to keep up a pretense of a happy marriage. They no longer fear facing the future alone.

Now better educated and able to support themselves financially, many divorcees are enjoying the single life again, or entering into new relationships. And with the children all grown and independent, there is even less reason for them to remain in the role of the long-suffering wife, especially if their husband has been unfaithful or abusive to them.

To be fair, there are husbands who want to leave their wives too. Some women are no angels, and do cheat on their husbands. Others are gold-diggers or title-seekers. Still others are so insecure, they become overly jealous and possessive of their husband, while many are born naggers, constantly harping on their husbands’ perceived faults. Such women can make marriage a living hell for their husband.

If it’s the man who initiates the divorce, it’s usually because of another woman who has re-kindled the spark of passion in him. Few men would want to divorce their wives who have brought up the children and provided them with all the comforts of home.

Even if these men have lost physical and emotional interest in their wives over the years, they would still want to remain married.

Couples who split amicably can choose to live separately without going through a divorce. They can still remain friends and enjoy family reunion dinners and outings. There should be no regret or bitterness on both sides. Forgive, forget and move on.

Women are no longer fixated on finding a husband before they get “too old”. Men are just as happy to remain eligible bachelors. We know friends who are happy to remain single if they have not found a kindred spirit to spend the rest of their lives with.

Datuk Dr Khairuddin Yusof and Datin Khairiah are an example of a happily married couple who’ve journeyed through live together. (Photo: DR KHAIRUDDIN YUSOF)

On the bright side, there are couples who have enjoyed marital bliss from their wedding day till the present day. These are truly marriages made in heaven, that no one and nothing can break asunder. These are rock-solid marriages, not marriages on the rocks. These happily married couples would be the first to tell you that it takes a lot of “give-and-take” and sacrifices to make a marriage work.

It is a milestone, an enviable achievement, when couples celebrate their golden wedding anniversary together. It’s a rarity too.

Given the changing times and the liberal social norms of today, the odds are heavily stacked against young couples to stay happily married for the rest of their lives.

When we look at young married couples, including our own adult children, we can only pray in our hearts that they will “love and honour each other for as long as they shall live”. Given the longer life span today, that could mean the next 40-50 years of their lives.

All newly-weds want their marriage to work. They want to grow old together.

Here are some tips for a long-lasting marriage. Remember it takes a lot of work for both parties.

1. Appreciate your spouse and show it with little acts of love.

2. Communicate. Share your feelings, your views, and your worries.

3. Continue to have sex and intimacy. Have weekly dates.

4. Never criticise or humiliate your spouse in front of others.

5. Have realistic expectations of each other.

6. Embrace your differences.

7. Have your own pursuits as well as shared ones.

8. Learn from each other, and respect each other.

9. Support each other in maintaining an active healthy lifestyle.

10. There will come a time when one spouse will pass on before the other. So cherish every moment spent together. 

The print copy was published on 2 Aug, and the online edition on 5 Aug. Some images have been added for this version. The Star article can be accessed at 

https://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/family/2023/08/05/growing-old-together-or-not/

Lily Fu is a gerontologist who advocates for seniors. She is founder of SeniorsAloud, an online platform for seniors to get connected and enjoy social activities for ageing well.

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