Couples and Aging


and Aging


Brynes, PhD, MD

Of course

marriage at age 65 is different from when you were 25. The

reasons are many and varied. One important factor is the time

period when the two people first learned about relationships.

People who were born before 1940 have different expectations

about roles and relationships than people who were born in the


How couples

deal with aging depends on how well the couple works together to

adapt to changing demands.


Nest: Raising children can absorb a tremendous amount of

energy. It also provides structure and a sense of purpose. When

(and if) the marriage survives this intense child rearing period

intact, couples often feel relief mixed with sadness. There are

now opportunities to direct energies toward personal goals that

were previously deferred.   

Retirement: Depending the

couple’s previous roles within the marriage, retirement may

require different types of coping skills. For many couples

retiring today, the wife has been a homemaker and the husband

has worked outside the home. It is common for there to be some

‘turf’ conflicts when the husband is around the house more. A

retired husband may continue to expect his wife to do the

housework while he ‘takes it easy’. The wife may expect the

housework to be reapportioned. While the traditional wife may

not change her routine much, her retired husband must adjust to

a loss of many sources of self-worth and social support from his

job. When the dust settles from this transition, the increased

involvement with each other can bring a couple closer together.


functioning: Sexual interest and performance change with

age. Some couples have an active sexual life into their 70’s and

beyond. For others, changes in sexual functioning can affect the

marriage. If sexual intimacy helps hold the relationship

together; they may feel that a source of closeness is lost. Some

couples can learn to show affection in different ways.

Dependency: As our bodies age, we experience changes in

vision, hearing, reaction time and physical strength. Some

degree of change is nearly universal. Other kinds of changes are

not normal, and constitute disease. With age, many people

acquire a number of relatively stable chronic illnesses that may

affect their ability to function. Sometimes one spouse must take

over responsibilities that the other one used to handle. This

may involve physical tasks (carrying laundry upstairs) or

intellectual tasks. (paying bills).


Illness and Mortality: The appearance of an illness that

might severely limit one’s functioning can cause a marital

crisis. The affected spouse may fear helplessness, loss of

independence, pain and death. The healthy spouse may worry that

he will have to see his mate deteriorate, suffer or die. He may

also fear being pushed beyond the limit of his ability to care

for his spouse. It may be comforting to share feelings about

what is happening and what may come to pass. The  alternative is

a barrier of silence.

Ideally, the

years of knowing and learning about one another can help couples

to give each other the emotional support and understanding they

need to cope with these changes. 


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Contact Us:


Fax: 410-343-1272

Postal address: We have two locations in Baltimore County

      Monkton Office16829 York Road/PO Box 544/Monkton,

MD 21111

      Lutherville Office: 2360 West Joppa Road Suite

223/ Lutherville, MD

Email: [email protected]

Please use telephone for appointments or medical questions.

Carol Watkins, M.D.

Glenn Brynes, Ph.D., M.D.

Rita Preller, LCSW-C

Copyright © 2004  Northern County Psychiatric


Last modified:

January 29, 2005