To Marry or Not?
Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40
When Jennifer started living with her first husband in the 1970s (before they got married), she lied to her grandmother and said she had a female roommate, because Grammy certainly would not have approved of “living in sin.” Nowadays, grandma and grandpa are just as likely as young folks to be cohabiting without being married. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of cohabiting couples age 50 or older more than doubled between 2000 and 2010.
There are many practical and emotional considerations involved in the decision to marry or not. On the practical side, scores of seniors choose to stay single because of financial concerns. For example, a person who is receiving Social Security or a pension based on a former spouse’s employment may be worse off after remarriage. Parents whose kids are still in college may be concerned because financial aid will be based on household income, including that of the new spouse. There are certain tax benefits to being single. In addition, people with children from a former relationship may be concerned about financial conflicts between their kids and their new spouse.
On the emotional side, marriage may have lost its luster after a bad experience in the past. Some older couples just don’t see the point – they are not going to have children together, after all, and getting married just doesn’t matter in the same way it did when they were younger. The hassle and expense of a wedding may not appeal, and many older couples really don’t care what others think about their unwed state. Marriage itself may be distasteful to those who see it as an extension of patriarchy or an oppressive relationship. And then, of course, there is still a huge contingent of people in same-sex relationships who don’t have the choice because they live in states that have not yet embraced marriage equality.
On the other hand, many seniors do marry or remarry, and find it to be a meaningful acknowledgement of their partnership. They like being able to say, “my husband,” or “my wife.” They prefer to have formal bonds set through marriage, rather than having to draft individualized legal documents with an attorney just to protect their financial wishes or other arrangements. Regardless of age, some of us still like the idea of proclaiming commitment through marriage.
The bottom line is that each person should carefully consider the financial and emotional consequences of marrying vs. living together, have a frank conversation with his or her partner, and consult an attorney or financial advisor if needed. And don’t lie to your grandchildren if you decide to “live in sin”!
Northwest authors Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck, PhD, a psychologist, and her husband Charles Peck are write a weekly column on midlife relationships. They are working on a new book, "Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40."
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