Older Adults and Remarriages

Given decades of increases in divorce, cohabitation, and remarriage, the marital histories of older adults are becoming increasingly complex (Brown & Kawamura, 2010). In 2013, 67 % of Americans ages 55-64 who had been married before had remarried, and among those 65 and older, 50 % had remarried (http://www.pewso- cialtrends.org/2014/11/14/chapter-2-the-demographics-of-remarriage/). One third of US older adults (65+) were remarried in 2013, while 29 % of the 55-64 year olds were remarried (Livingston, 2014). Similar trends are occurring in the UK and elsewhere (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jun/15/why-over-65s-have-fallen- for-marriage). Still other older adults are in LAT relationships (de Jong Gierveld & Merz, 2013). Older repartnered couples include both long-term, established relationships that began when the couple was younger and unions formed later in life as adults live longer, healthier lives.

Remarriages Begun in Later-Life

Little is known about the dynamics of later life remarriage or cohabiting. A few older studies of widows and widowers reported that later life courtships were brief (often less than a year) and were shorter for men than for women (McKain, 1972; Vinick, 1978) . In these early studies, even though the period of time between bereavement and remarriage was relatively short, the remarried individuals typically had known each other for several years and a few were even distantly related to each other. Motivations to remarry included companionship, sexual intimacy, financial resources, to relieve loneliness, and to have someone to help with household chores (Bennett, Armott, & Soulsby, 2013; McKain, 1972; Moss & Moss, 1980; Talbott, 1998; Vinick, 1978; Watson, Bell, & Stelle, 2010). Davidson (2002) found that the chances of repartnering after age 65 depended on three factors: (1) availability of partners (sex ratio); (2) feasibility (determined by variables such as age, health, and financial assets), and (3) desirability (motivation to repartner, which is governed by desire but also by societal and familial expectations).

Later life remarriages generally are satisfying (Bograd & Spilka, 1996), although Chipperfield and Havens (2001) found increased life satisfaction only for men that remarried in later life. In general, later life remarriages appear to bestow benefits to older men and women—compared to widowed individuals who did not remarry, remarried individuals reported lower stress, higher self-esteem, greater life satisfaction, better feelings about friendships, and more resolution of grief related to bereavement of former spouses (Burks, Lund, Gregg, & Bluhm, 1988; Gentry & Schulman, 1988; Moorman, Booth, & Fingerman, 2006). Older people who have partnered are less lonely than single older adults but are lonelier than those in first marriages (Peters & Liefbroer, 1997) . Later life remarriages are also related to health, satisfaction, and happiness for men (Bulcroft, Bulcroft, Hatch, & Borgatta, 1989; Tower, Kasi, & Darefsky, 2002). Although some of this may be due to selection factors, in that physically and mentally healthier persons are more likely to remarry than those in poor health (Bulcroft & Bulcroft, 1991), results from longitudinal studies mirror those from cross-sectional studies. Despite these benefits, most widows are not interested in remarrying because of negative attitudes toward men, low expectations for finding marital satisfaction, unhappy experiences in prior unions (Talbott, 1998), and a desire for independence (Davidson, 2002). Talbot saw a dilemma for older widows who liked men and wanted companionship from them, but did not necessarily want to remarry; norms and expectations about dating designed for younger people do not work well for older women and men.

Not all remarriages, however, are satisfying. Adapting to remarriage in old age is more difficult than is true for younger persons—in some cases the inability to adapt results in extreme dissatisfaction and even spousal abuse. Lowenstein and Ron (1999) studied a group of 12 older remarried Israelis who were identified by welfare and health professionals as victims of abuse by family members and found that causes for conflict, unhappiness, and abuse were due to unrealistic expectations, difficulties dealing with the emotions associated with moving into someone else’s home or having someone else move into theirs, a sense of being financially exploited, issues of power and control, and issues of jealously related to a sense of competition with the deceased spouse. Older adults who remarried for pragmatic reasons such as a desire for the positive financial and social aspects of being married rather than the selection of an appropriate partner, fared poorly. These older persons seemed to have ignored personal-psychological reasons for remarriage such as emotional and social closeness. Lowenstein and Ron (1999) suggested that older people considering remarriage should talk about issues related to their living arrangement and finances, their expectations for the remarriage, how decisions will be made, and how they will handle problems with each other’s children and grandchildren.

Remarriage in later life may be an attempt to resolve some of the problems facing widows and widowers, but the new unions also bring concerns regarding new family relationships (Gentry & Schulman, 1988). Women are more affected by later life remarriages than men are, but the family satisfaction of both men and women is related to their communication and conflict resolution strategies (Bograd & Spilka, 1996; Pasley & Ihinger-Tallman, 1990). Bograd and Spilka compared people who had remarried at mid-life (ages 30-45) and late-life (ages 60-75), and although they found that marital satisfaction was greatest in late-life remarriages, primarily due to the high level of male satisfaction in that group, there was a positive association between marital satisfaction and self-disclosure in both groups. However, rather than the amount of self-disclosure, it was the intentionality, positiveness, depth, and honesty of disclosure that was communicated that correlated with marital satisfaction. Pasley and Ihinger-Tallman also found communication, in the form of conflict resolution strategies, to be important among the relatively recently remarried men and women aged 55 and older that they surveyed. The use of neutral conflict resolution strategies such as silence, ignoring or dropping an issue, and few disruptive interchanges (high consensus on issues) were more likely to result in greater family satisfaction.

As with younger remarriages, later life remarriages develop under the close observation of children and other interested third parties (e.g., friends) who may not be reluctant to share their opinions about the new union. In many cases, adult children do not welcome their parents’ remarriage (de Jong Gierveld & Peeters, 2003; Sherman & Boss, 2007), and children often treat their elderly parent’s romantic partner as an unwelcome interloper. Some adult children may be unwilling to accept a replacement of their dead parent, and others may be concerned about their inheritance should their widowed parent become romantically involved (Brown, Lee, & Bulanda, 2006). According to some older adults, however, their adult children eventually support them when they see how happy they are as a result of the remarriage (McKain, 1972; Vinick, 1978). This may be true, but clinicians point out that adult children are often concerned about inheritance, and in addition to concerns about inheritance, they also may be upset at parents who they believe are not honoring the memories of the deceased parent (Visher & Visher, 1996). Researchers have not yet examined these claims, but clinicians argue that later life remarriages trigger many of the same reactions among adult children as is true of minor-aged children (i.e., loyalty issues, jealousy). Given the expected increases in healthy single older adults, this seems like a critical area to investigate.

 
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