As Marianne and I approach our 57th wedding anniversary, I have one overriding thought...
Growing old together is truly a gift
I’ve been feeling incredibly nostalgic during this past year. Not sure exactly why. Marianne and I have been having some health issues – nothing serious, but at 78, thoughts of your mortality do creep in, especially with a cancer history always in the background.
Our grandchildren are going off to college or starting new jobs, and thoughts about the cycle of life and legacy become more profound.
I tackled a couple of major projects this year that focused my thoughts on nostalgia.
Earlier this year Marianne and I spent a few months going through thousands of family photos accumulated over the years. I had the bright idea that we should digitize the best photos and organize them with captions into a family history album covering the last 100 years of Marianne’s and my families.
I soon found out that we had bitten off a bit more than we could chew. The time spent on the project was ridiculous - looking for photos, identifying family members in the older photos, organizing them into sections and chronological order, scanning them, writing captions for them, printing the pages out in color to proof and then printing the finals, putting them into acetate sleeves and assembling the binders... OMG... 72 pages each... 500 photos ... and it took about 4 months!
It was like an injection of pure nostalgia... watching parents age... re-living grief...watching our children and their children grow up... reviving dim memories that became more vivid and, often, quite emotional. It definitely awakened thoughts about life’s meaning... and its brevity.
The other major project, which has occupied the last several months has been finishing up my book EverAgeless: 6 Steps To An Ageless Life, which I’m publishing this week. It, too, has awakened nostalgic thoughts and memories as Marianne and I have looked back on almost 60 years... from the excitement of young love to the maturing perspective of growing old together.
So I’ve been getting inspired to take a closer look at this profound experience of growing old together.
First of all, for me, growing old together is a profound experience. But that’s far from everyone’s experience. For too many, disease, death, marital problems, divorce, or just never finding that soulmate prevent them from experiencing this extraordinary gift. I feel a sadness for them.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, and doing a lot of research to see what experts in aging have to say about this phenomenon. Here are some random thoughts about what makes growing old together such a gift to me... some suggestions to enrich your experience... and a few “don’ts” you may want to think twice about.
1. A long-term relationship is a true partnership
A loving partnership is a connection between 2 individual persons who choose to be together and work together for the greater good. Each is an independent individual willing to share, eager to generously give and receive, complementary in ways that count, willing to make room for faults and aggravations, each partner unselfishly and passionately committed to the other’s well-being.
2. Communication is the adhesive in a mature relationship
There will always be disagreements, different opinions, different priorities, different moods, different dreams – differences are inevitable. Emotional outbursts don’t go away as we age.
A few days ago, I blurted out something stupid to Marianne while I was in a bad mood about something stupid. We almost never fight. But it’s impossible for any relationship to forever be a sugar rush. And I swear there’s some truth in the old adage that we grow more cranky and curmudgeonly as we get older.
Marianne and I believe strongly in another old adage – never go to bed angry. After a short period of brooding, I apologized (Attention men: the 1st law of marriage is to always apologize when you’re wrong and, when you’re dead sure you’re right, apologize).
Communication is an art. It grows from empathy that you care enough to connect and share every day. It signals a willingness to be accepting and patient in the face of momentary grumpiness.
Communication is truly the glue that bonds together a loving couple. And as we age, it becomes even more essential. Work at it. Every day.
3. Growing old together also requires space
Giving a partner space to be an individual is critical – especially as we grow older and spend a lot of time together. However strong the bond... however “together” we feel... we must never smother what makes our partner unique or what inspires them.
Being respectful of our partner’s individuality... generously giving a partner the space to be his or her best self strengthens bonds in the long run.
4. Continually showing appreciation energizes long-term relationships
Has there ever been a more powerful tool for ensuring marital happiness than a genuine “Thank You?” Consistently showing appreciation, especially for the small things when it may be least expected, never gets old.
And it’s like an Energizer battery. Like a battery, each authentic thank you gets stored ready to power us through a rough patch – a reminder to my partner that a momentary slip can never out-power a history of mutual support and appreciation.
5. Companionship is not the same as love
As we grow older, we easily slide into a rhythm of companionship. We become more friends than lovers. The relationship gets comfortable and static. We can cherish the comfort and deep friendship that growing old together engenders... but a healthy long-term relationship asks more of us.
A healthy mature relationship requires spark, passion, tenderness, adventure, growth, overcoming challenges together. Finding new hobbies, new places to visit, new situations to explore together... discussing new ideas and points of view... being actively engaged in life together or supporting a partner’s explorations... these are the foundation of a forever-aspiring, forever-ageless relationship.
And cuddle like you mean it. Marianne and I never go to bed without 60-90 minutes cuddling close on the sofa watching a favorite tv show or movie. Whatever that day held for us, our cuddle-time is a quiet and tender reminder that we are totally TOGETHER – bonded for life.
6. Re-affirming our love every day is a forever commitment
Marianne and I are 78 and still very much in love. We make a conscious decision every day to re-affirm our love even in the smallest ways. It all counts. It’s cumulative. It’s magical. We go through the first half of our lives kind of self-absorbed, frequently stupid and frenetic... and we take too much for granted.
The second half challenges us to sustain the energy that excited our first half, and apply the wisdom learned to make our second half meaningful and fulfilling. During this second half, and especially in the fourth quarter, we have to work at keeping the fire alive, staying forward-looking and continuously growing as partners in life.