Discovering Later-Life Love *

Newfound Love

By Greg and Priscilla Hunt

Imagine a thirty-something minister standing at the altar with a seventy-something couple, supplying them with wisdom before they say “I do.” The picture has a certain comic, Norman-Rockwell quality to it. The young officiant speaks, and as he speaks, his two seasoned elders look at him and listen with patient self-restraint, perhaps even amusement.

That’s the preposterous position I found myself in with Jon and Martha. Drawn into their remarkable story of love, it fell to me to bless them on their wedding day and, as I always did, to offer advice to the couple before leading them in their vows.

My wife, Priscilla, and I had a longstanding relationship with Martha through our church. Then she called one day to tell us that she had reconnected with her high school flame. She and Jon had first fallen in love as schoolmates in Depression-era Missouri, but their parents had come between them, thinking them wrong for each other. Then came the Second World War…and other loves. Both married others and had families of their own. They lost touch with each other as life moved on.

Years later, after each had lost a spouse and on the occasion of a fiftieth high school reunion, they rediscovered each other and reignited their love. Within days, Jon was making plans to move across country to Martha. They decided to fulfill their adolescent dreams and get married.

Priscilla and I were genuinely delighted in this fairytale story of rekindled love. In our role as pre-marriage support people, we didn’t want to do anything to squelch their joy. Nonetheless, we knew that their “in-love” feelings, as with all newlyweds, would eventually give way to ongoing life. They would have to learn each other’s ways and adjust to each other’s idiosyncrasies. They would have to intertwine two separate lifetimes of life, work, family, friends, and faith. We talked about all of this during pre-marriage appointments, and we assured them that we would continue to support them after their wedding, come what may. They humored us when we told them marrying might not be totally smooth, unable to imagine that anything could strain the love they felt.

Jon and Martha did fine for a month or two after the wedding, but then the complications became real and deep-running. Anger and conflict became relentless features of their marriage. Jon, the regimented military man, found it difficult to adjust to Martha’s artistic sensibilities. Martha, accustomed to her autonomy, chafed at Jon’s controlling ways. He wanted to travel. She enjoyed a more sedentary existence. Their differences threatened to smother the serendipity of their re-found love.

Genuinely concerned for the future of their relationship, they came to us for confidential conversation, and we met off and on the rest of their lives. Determined to make their marriage last, they re-learned and un-learned the lessons of two lifetimes. Their married life together had a ragged quality they hadn’t anticipated; but, they persevered, and it did end well, Martha at Jon’s and Jon at each other’s side to the very end of Jon’s life.

Although older couples are often skeptical, later-in-life marriages must deal with the same realities any marriage faces. They also have unique characteristics that deserve special attention. Below is a short checklist of things for life-seasoned couples to consider and discuss before saying their wedding vows:

1.   Consider things every couple deals with as they build a life together:

  • Relationship goals
  • Similarities and differences of personality and temperament
  • Communication skillfulness
  • Conflict resolution skillfulness
  • Handling of finances
  • Expectations related to family and friends
  • Expectations related to work and leisure
  • The place of sexuality in your relationship
  • Your wants for your spiritual and religious life as a couple

2.   Learn one another’s habits and consider your level of compatibility. Though personal habits are subject to change as long as we live, they tend to become increasingly ingrained over time. It is wise to ensure that you can accept and live with each other the way you are now.

3.   Talk honestly about current and potential future health issues. These will have an impact on everything from sexuality to use of leisure time.

4.   Consider the family systems you will be weaving together. What part will they play in your lives? What are your roles as parents, stepparents, and grandparents? What relationship boundaries do you need to establish together? What pre-marriage discussion topics are important to address with your families?

5.   Be honest and realistic about your current finances and estate matters. Where will you live? How will you handle the assets and debts you bring to the marriage? What legal steps are wise to take to clarify these matters? How can you discuss these matters with your families?

6.   If you have been married previously, talk sensitively about your previous marriages. What did you value most in them? What were your greatest challenges? What are the most important things you learned from being in these relationships? How have your previous relationships influenced your hopes and fears for your new relationship? Don’t neglect to consider the role of grief: Have you and your partner gone through the grieving process and reached true acceptance related to your previous partners, or does a former partner cast an unhealthy shadow over your current relationship?

7.   Dream some dreams together. Talk imaginatively AND realistically about what you would like to experience together with the rest of your lives. In keeping with the idea that living things are growing things, make plans that will stretch you and enhance your zest for life.

Discovering later-life love can be a wonderful thing; but wonderful doesn’t happen by accident. You can build an enduring marriage if you take the time for mutual discovery, honest talk, and ongoing growth in the areas of relationship that matter most to you.

Jon and Martha waited until after their marriage to launch this process and wished they had done it beforehand. We promised we would tell their story to encourage other couples to get the sequence right. It’s the best way for a fairytale romance to end well.

* As featured in All-in-One Marriage Prep: 75 Experts Share Tips and Wisdom to Help You Get Ready Now, www.allinonemarriageprep.com

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