As a psych undergraduate student I was asked to interview an elderly person for a developmental psychology paper. The point of the assignment was to discuss each part of an elderly person’s life (e.g. cognitive, physical and social domains) at each stage of the lifespan in a retroperspective and reflective way.
The lady I picked to interview was my 70 year old Grandma. She had fabulous style and took great pride in the way she looked until the day she passed away. People liked her and found her to be relatable. These are attributes she definitely passed down to her children and grandchildren. She understood and demonstrated an understanding of love that most do not today. Not the quick and easy kind, but the kind of love that you commit to and see it through until your last day on earth even when it’s hard. The committal type of love. She faithfully loved her husband even when he became her ex-husband. She was a devoted mother and faithfully reared ten children even on days when it was pure chaos and she was completely exhausted.
During the interview we talked through each chronological age and stage of life. Eventually we got to the part where she was asked to reflect on her marriage, children and overall satisfaction with personal relationships over her lifespan. She recalled marrying at a younger age in love and adoring her husband. The wedding took place in the Catholic Church and she agreed to submit to his Church’s teachings on how to live life. They started out as newlyweds and honeymooned in the guestroom of her mother-in-law’s place. Not an ideal way to start out, but they continued on in love. Grandma commented that he was a mama’s boy and needed to learn how to cling to his wife instead of his mom. Soon after the honeymoon, she and Grandpa had draw some boundary lines with his mom so they could start living life together as husband and wife, and he could learn to truly be an independent man. Later in life, they made sure his mother was well taken care in old age and made a point of visiting her as often as they could.
This Grandma and her young husband didn’t have much especially starting out, but made the most of what they did have. They led a great life demonstrating contentment and trying to see things in a positive light. Grandma carried ten children in her womb and then lovingly rearing them into adulthood. She considered her kids her pride and joy, and her life’s greatest accomplishment. She also enjoyed seeing her husband in the father role and the attention he paid to his children. Hunting with the boys and Western movies and talks with his girls.
He worked hard to provide the family with special live Christmas trees each year, carried on his German tradition of the Christmas village and train, and delighted in seeing their children open gifts on Christmas morning.
When their kids were older he would make pieces of wood furniture for his kids and engraved a special message into it. Or he would design and help install a beautiful landscape just for them. It was the meaningful and thoughtful gifts he would make out of love for his kids that he will always be remembered for. He also gave his family the best gift of all, his time. Family picnics brought everyone together. He had a gentle spirit and was a natural at nurturing his children. Patient, kind and loving- those were the attributes she had adored about him.
At times things were hard for the family because of the seasonal nature of his job. He was a skilled bricklayer and woodworker/craftsman, and that meant not always having consistent work especially in the harsh winter months. Together they taught their children how to grow fruit trees and vegetables in the garden, and how to properly can it for the winter months. Each of the kids had responsibilities around the home, that’s how they started out learning about having a strong work ethic. That seemed like a value that was important to them as a couple to instill into their children.
As the kids were getting older, some of them of getting married and the others still in middle or high school, things started to get really stressful for this couple! For Grandma it was also a time when menopause began, and she experienced some pretty wicked mood swings. A little self-awareness would have been helpful here. The financial stressors on Grandpa were picking up at that time too. They as a couple were caught in middle adulthood. Bodies were changing, beginning to ache or maybe not work as well. They were also trying to get the last of their kids and teenagers to turn into and act like adults, which is not always easy work! It was a time of a lot of fighting between Grandma and Grandpa. No one told them that marital satisfaction tends to be shaped like a horseshoe (U). Things start out great, dip down a bit, but eventually they go back up. Things tend to feel easier once all your kids are independent. Yes, hold on to each other!
Unfortunately forty years in, the romantic love began to fizzle, and he decided it was time for a new lady and not coming home all the time. He had taken up a mistress when life’s stressors mounted and the new women helped ease some of the troubles he was feeling. The new women eased some of his troubles, but also introduced a new slew of problems for he and his wife and his kids. He and his mistress together wrecked the marriage he was in at the time, and destroyed the home life for his children temporarily. Maybe thinking through how his choices would impact not only himself, but also his wife and his family would have been the better decision.
The oldest kids in the family were happy to be getting married, moving out and in with their own spouses. Being able to avoid the home that was shattering and the constant battleground. The younger ones also felt the stress of a marriage ending, but were kind of stuck. It was hard on all of their children, being stuck in the middle of their quarreling parents. Quite a heavy load to put on younger hearts and minds.
Grandmother was angered by the Catholic church for allowing their marriage to be annulled. She grew up a Southern Baptist from Kentucky and to her, marriage and her vows meant something. “You can’t just say a marriage never existed after ten kids and that many years together,” she would remark. She recalls converting to “Catholicism” in order to marry into her husband’s family, and later getting “burned” by his Church. I sensed some animosity toward the Catholic church and maybe even a little regret in giving up some of her baptist roots for this man she had married. The Catholic church’s emphasis on the virgin mother, and the special place she held in the church were important she would say. The motherly figure being exalted and adored was the only thing she ever really liked about that church, and midnight mass at Christmas. At the time her Southern Baptist upbringing taught her to be submissive to her husband and to kind of keep her opinions to herself. I’d like to think that Grandpa helped change that in her a bit, he liked an opinionated woman. She would teach him some things she had learned about coming from the Baptist church.
Later in life her ex-husband would say it didn’t matter which Church you were involved in as long as Jesus’s teachings and the Gospel message were being taught. Some of her church values appeared to have rubbed off on him. I like to view it as a beautiful blend of the two Christian faiths. These two seemed to talk about spiritual matters and it impacted the way they tried to live. Biblical principles were the foundation starting out in their marriage, children were a blessing, and family life was central to a happy and full life.
But then she would bring up how ending their marriage was the easiest option for her now ex-husband. It sounded like she would have wanted to stay in their marriage if she had any choice in the matter. He was the quitter, threw in the towel and abandoned his wife and family when things got tough. The younger mistress was perceived as more fun, loving and had more energy for his sexual appetite.
You could tell by listening that she hadn’t gotten past the failed marriage. Her fault in the marriage she said was that she was a little “high maintenance” and wanted her husband to lavish her in expensive gifts. To him that was probably very unrealistic given the fact that together they decided on having a big family, and that meant money went toward feeding them, supplying them with clothing, food, school materials, and paying a mortgage. Maybe if they had sat down together as husband and wife to create a life vision and financial plan to begin with, reviewed finances, made decisions together, and set aside discretionary spending so she could buy a new purse once a year at Christmas or that expensive sweater that could have helped them out.
Maybe if he would have seeked wise counsel, one of his brothers would have told him to stop complaining, and to see things from his wife’s perspective, she is probably feeling some stress too. If one of his brothers would have guided him and talked to him about how marriages hit rough patches at times, and that’s okay because you work through some things. Or that marriage was supposed to be this long term and forever commitment of making each other better people, but you’ve got to stick it out in order to have it work. But that didn’t happen.
So after the annulment this Grandma went back to work full time because she needed to support herself. She was one of the hardest working salespersons, and the # 1 sales person of Vitamix machines for a number of years in a row. Healthy competition was a trait she instilled in her family. You don’t need to backstab, talk bad about, or tear down your competitors, just excel at what you do she would say. She took great pride in her sales accolades and it was probably great for her self-esteem after the annulment. This older, newly singled woman had great relationships with her co-workers, her life was full again and she had work to focus on instead of the dissolved marriage.
Reflecting together Grandma stated that she would always love her now ex-husband of over forty years. It was a love that would never fade. She had other men that were definitely interested in a romantic relationship later in life and tried to pursue her, but she wouldn’t even entertain the idea. Grandma would say she married once and those forty years were enough for her to last a lifetime. The vows she took meant something to her even if they didn’t to him. Her ex-husband played a big part in giving her, her life’s most precious gifts (their ten children), they were a husband and wife for over 40 years, and for that she would always be grateful.
Then after the emotions of going through the annulment wore off, she seemed to demonstrate how to be respectful of the position he still held in the family as her children’s father. That was a pretty wise move on her part. It took some time getting there, but she knew her kids still needed their dad and they needed the two of them to be amicable. They saw their children equally, but separately. The big family still got together, but at different times with each parent. He seemed to show respect toward her too later on and the position she held as their mother.
She felt that the stress of raising ten kids and the financial stressors that went along with it, is what eventually tore their marriage apart. I sensed some sadness in her voice as she commented on this. And then with a chuckle she said, “and he never was a very good lover.” Another good coping skill she passed on to her kids. Being able to laugh at things and cope.
I can only guess that maybe he was taker and never a giver. Maybe he was a little selfish instead of sacrificial in his love. Maybe he was interested in his own needs being met first instead of second. Or it just could have been he didn’t know what to do to keep the emotional and physical love life alive for her, and he never initiated that conversation. Maybe she was expecting too much from him to keep their love life alive. Her love language was definitely receiving gifts and perhaps he never caught onto this. He needed words of affirmation and physical affection and perhaps she was only willing to give those after her own needs were met, which didn’t really happen. And then there was the nagging! A tactic she used to try to motivate him to work, but it broke him down instead. The nagging was habitual, instead of being a tool used occasionally, and reserved only for when something urgently needs to get done.
And maybe if they had someone point out that men can suffer from depression. He wasn’t being lazy, but probably experienced a couple bouts of clinical depression due to not being able to provide as well as he had hoped for his ten kids. Or if there was education on how hormonal changes could impact his wife after birthing children and/or during menopause. Or if she had education on midlife for him and his fears around losing his sexual ability. A man might wonder if it’s wife or him causing him to experience an only mostly stiffy when previously he could get a full hard-on. He still loves her but can’t get a full erection. That’s when it’s okay for him and/or her to looks at those photos of his wife from her twenties/thirties and forties that he intentionally saved all these years. Or if someone had educated them on that sexual intimacy might look different to both him and her at 25 years old compared to 65. And if they could have laughed together about aging bodies and been okay with those changes.
Maybe if the societal norm was different for women at that time, and wives were encouraged to go back to work to help out with finances that could have benefited this marriage. I was left feeling a bit saddened seeing the possibilities of what could have happened if someone had only intervened to help this couple out.
Grandmother never did elaborate as to what exactly made him a bad lover, but she just encouraged this young interviewer to speak up and take control of her life. Her encouragement to young ladies was to have some form of financial independence, and get the love and life they wanted. Her only two real regrets after 70 years of life: being married to one man for over forty years, but never having an emotionally/sexually satisfying relationship with him, and the second and biggest to her was having a failed marriage that was supposed to last a lifetime. It mattered to her personally but also for the sake of her family.
Ten Life Lessons from a 70 year old Grandma:
- Plan ahead and know how many children you can have without the cost of rearing them well becoming a financial and relational burden on your marriage. A crumbling marriage (foundation) is no good for the rest of the house structure.
- Despite what any church teaches family planning, birth control and/or vasectomies are beneficial. Family planning and financial planning go together and matter to your marriage in a big way!
- The Catholic Church should get rid of the annulment process. You can’t say a marriage of over forty years never happened. Technically it made all of their kids bastards. A whole family tribe turned off to the church by one annulment. Many descendants coming from one line not really going to church anymore. If started out in a church setting together as husband and wife, get back to it. We recommend Passion City Church online because it works for our family currently.
- Divorce should be a last resort, but if you decide to go there take a lot of time and seek out wise counsel. Wise counsel should always point you back to your marriage vows, taking a time out if it’s needed, and reconciling matters first. Make sure your wise counsel has a male/female perspective and they are invested in you as a married couple and family. No ulterior motives like that friend who is still single or a new divorcee looking for someone to rebound date with. Or that friend of your wife’s whose Dad’s friend is a divorce attorney. Your wise counsel should love you two as a couple, and want to see you succeed as a couple and as family because they love you.
- Think of your kids too. How is your decision going to impact them? Is this temporary and just life stressors? Do you want quick and easy or committal love? If you’re going to separate and divorce, be nice. Your kids are watching. They need to see you being respectful to each other.
- Ladies, once your kids are in school go back to work even if it’s part-time. Prince charming doesn’t always stick it out to the end. Some form of financial independence is a good thing. #Slay! And even if your Prince continues to be fabulous you can still help work toward some of that discretionary spending increase.
- Show your kids how two adults that love each other can argue/disagree in a respectful way, and then find solutions together. You can love someone and not like that at times, but the love [action verb] is what keeps you two together.
- Wives, know husbands can experience depression too. Get an understanding of symptoms and how to it presents differently in men. Also, let him know because you love him, you want to see him better. Work with a therapist and/or psychiatrist to set goals and encourage each other on the pathway to wellness.
- Get a basic understanding of female anatomy and how hormonal changes may impact your wife. Her hormones can look like bad weather, it is likely to come at fairly predictable times throughout the year. Pay attention and look for warning signs. Know when to seek shelter 🙂
- Ladies, speak up in the bedroom if you’re not satisfied. He won’t know unless you tell him what you need or vice versa. Buy a clit vibrator. It’s a guaranteed orgasm each and every time! It’s fabulous for when you are a tired mom with kids in the home. A real time and marriage saver 🙂