Unit 4 : Relationship changes (due to age)

In the course of a relationship intimacy and distance must be balanced again and again, especially if relations change, for instance, due to a new event in life. One common such life event is retirement. At retirement the existing roles at home and in a partnership must be adapted or organised anew. Other changes in life due to increasing age, such as ill-health or the loss of the partner, children moving out or changes of domicile usually also entail alterations in relationships.

  Introduction

In the course of a relationship intimacy and distance must be balanced again and again, especially if relations change, for instance, due to a new event in life. One common such life event is retirement. At retirement the existing roles at home and in a partnership must be adapted or organised anew. Other changes in life due to increasing age, such as ill-health or the loss of the partner, children moving out or changes of domicile usually also entail alterations in relationships.

Amongst older people, one commonly experienced change is retirement. This can lead to more intense closeness. For instance, couples may have more time and have less distractions of everyday life, which can allow them to carry out new projects together, and there are also new possibilities with regard to sexuality. At the same time, more time together can emphasis underlying problems or conflicts.

This may be one reason that divorce rates after the silver wedding anniversary (25 years of marriage to the same partner) have doubled in the last two decades. Unsurprisingly, separation and divorce are radical changes in relationships, which can have considerable implications, regardless of age. In many cases, there may be separation without formal divorce, as divorce can have legal consequences in relation to pensions, inheritance or property rights and so some couples may choose to live separately without divorcing.

The following table displays the number of divorce cases in Europe as a time series, from 1990-2004. In 1990 1,646,616 marriages were dissolved in Europe.

In the course of a relationship intimacy and distance must be balanced again and again, especially if relations change, for instance, due to a new event in life. One common such life event is retirement. At retirement the existing roles at home and in a partnership must be adapted or organised anew. Other changes in life due to increasing age, such as ill-health or the loss of the partner, children moving out or changes of domicile usually also entail alterations in relationships.

Amongst older people, one commonly experienced change is retirement. This can lead to more intense closeness. For instance, couples may have more time and have less distractions of everyday life, which can allow them to carry out new projects together, and there are also new possibilities with regard to sexuality. At the same time, more time together can emphasis underlying problems or conflicts.

This may be one reason that divorce rates after the silver wedding anniversary (25 years of marriage to the same partner) have doubled in the last two decades. Unsurprisingly, separation and divorce are radical changes in relationships, which can have considerable implications, regardless of age. In many cases, there may be separation without formal divorce, as divorce can have legal consequences in relation to pensions, inheritance or property rights and so some couples may choose to live separately without divorcing.

The following table displays the number of divorce cases in Europe as a time series, from 1990-2004. In 1990 1,646,616 marriages were dissolved in Europe.

  Key messages

  • New life events can bring new challenges and opportunities for older people, both in relation to sexuality and more broadly.
  • Common life events that can be encountered are retirement, children leaving home (empty nest phase) or the death of a partner.
  • Separation and divorce can be particularly challenging life events.

  Learning objectives

At the end of this unit students are expected to:

  1. Be aware of the common life events that can accompany ageing and have an appreciation of the challenges and opportunities these can bring.
  2. Understand how models such as the Selective Optimisation and Compensation (SOC) model can contribute to decision-making around goals and responses to resource reductions.

  Content 

 

The Selective Optimisation and Compensation model.

The Selective Optimisation and Compensation (SOC model) (Baltes et al 1998) posits that effective adaption and goal accomplishment that contribute to well-being are achieved through processes of selection, optimization and compensation. The process of selection concentrates on prioritising the most important goals to pursue, based on personal preferences (elective selection) or as a response to a resource loss (loss-based selection). In general, elective selection is focused on enhancing functioning, while loss-based selection is more focused on maintaining functioning in the wake of a resource loss, which can be income, health, mobility, social support or any resource from a relevant domain.

As older age tends to have fewer expectations attached to it, older people may have more latitude in the goals they wish to pursue. At the same time, older age can introduce resource constraints that limit the extent to which an individual can shape their environment according to their goals. Optimisation refers to employing the means and resources to secure goals, which commonly involves the investment of time and energy. In older age, pursing growth related goals is particularly important, as is has been associated with positive emotions and enhanced well-being (Baltes & Baltes, 1990). Nonetheless, as older age is often associated with resource reductions, it may be important to approach loss-based selection by focusing on developing unused internal or external resources or pursuing alternative goals (Freund & Riediger, 2001; Ouwehand et al., 2007).

 
Questions for discussion
  1. What does the SOC-model state about older people’s quality of life? Think of a diminished ability or competency that an older person might want to compensate for (e.g. biological, social). What might be a successful way for them to attain a related goal?
  2. Imagine your parents were in the process of making a decision about their housing situation. Name at least three domains you would like them to consider when making this decision (for example their health). How can you as their child contribute to this discussion?
  3. Think of your parents or another elderly relative. When would you advise them to reassess their accommodation? What reasons would you forward to help guide their decision? What thoughts and feelings do you think your relative could have about moving house?

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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein