dr-jane-rosen-grandon-small.jpLong beyond child-bearing and child-rearing, parents continue to grow and change individually and as couples. Theories of family development suggest that family crises occur whenever family members join or depart from the family unit. Early on, many years are spent adjusting to the changing stages of children; later on, we must adjust to the changing stages of growing older.

Consider the following relationship issues and how couples must adapt:

    • Affection and Communication: Needs that never go away. We never outgrow our need for affection. While some people need more and others less, physical contact remains an important way to validate each other. Likewise, our need for communication is essential to help us feel important and to help us keep abreast of the world. When others speak with us, our greatest task is to listen well. Others sense when our attention is elsewhere; they also sense when we are judgmental, critical, annoyed or impatient. Even when we are sure we know what another is about to say, it is important to honor them simply by listening. Especially when someone seems to be repeating themselves, we must consider the possibility that they feel they have not been heard.
    • Sexuality and Compromise. Among the greatest myths in our society is the myth that we grow to old to engage in sexual relations past our prime. On the contrary, regular sexual encounters serve to strengthen relationships and personal vitality. Some say that sex was designed to be lifelong, as evidenced by the fact that you can do it lying down. The secret to an ongoing sex life lies in a couple’s capacity to change and adapt as they grow older. Sex changes over the years along with every other aspect of our lives. Yet, the ability of spouses to enter into the closest of unions is not only possible, but highly desirable. As with other things in life, however, the ability to compromise and change together is an essential element of that closeness.
    • Role changes and management of conflict. With changes in household occupancy and work schedules, comes the need to re-evaluate roles within a marriage. When kids are no longer around to help with certain tasks, someone will need to do them. When there’s an extra pair of hands around the house, it is only fair that the wealth of chores be spread around a little more evenly. When retirement or disability become real, couples must be willing to change what they do in order to adequately address the current needs for living. Without this ability to adapt, family changes are met with resentment, hostility and discontent. In contrast, we must be prepared to change our previous ways of doing things and willing to do so in the spirit of good sportsmanship.

Understand the keys to lifelong happiness and personal satisfaction have never been as important as they are today. Couples are living longer and retirement often occurs at younger ages than even before. Thus, when we speak of life-planning, we are no longer just referring to the years of our careers and as families who are busy with child-rearing. In her best-seller, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Rebecca Wells describes life as an experience which is short but wide. I agree. And since it keeps changing, we all still have much to learn.