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updated: 12/14/2012 2:38 PM

Life, marriage require us to change, adapt

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They'd had a comfortable life together over their 50-plus years of marriage.

Not that they hadn't had their ups and downs. Life had thrown a few curve balls their way; there were the usual challenges of jobs, kids, homeownership and so on.

And their personalities didn't always mesh all that well, not to mention they were both pretty strong-willed, independent types.

All in all, though, they had really done well together. Until lately, that is.

For some reason they were starting to get on each others' nerves. They were more impatient, more irritable and more caustic with each other than they'd ever been before. And they couldn't figure out why -- nothing dramatic had happened in their lives, they hadn't suddenly become different people. Yet something had certainly changed.

As they talked about the growing tension in their relationship, they began to realize that part of it, maybe most of it, actually all of it, had to do with the amount of time they were spending together. They just had too much of it.

When they'd both retired 10 years ago they had avoided the expected post-employment letdown by filling their lives with classes, volunteer activities, friends, family and travel. Some of this they did together, but they also went their own separate ways whenever it suited them. It worked out great.

Then, as they both aged, as friends moved away or passed away, as family scattered, as classes, volunteering and travel became more than they could sometimes handle, they found themselves increasingly at home together. It was a big house, though, and they both had hobbies and loved to read, so it still shouldn't have made such a difference.

The turning point, they realized, was when she fell and broke a hip, and when he began to deal with increasing short-term memory loss. What with her need for help getting around, and his need for help remembering where they were getting around to, they found themselves together almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

No wonder they were a bit tired of each other. What couple wouldn't be?

Once they got past the hurt feelings, the confusion and the fear that something was awfully wrong with their previously awfully right marriage, they were able to laugh a bit at themselves. And their laughter became the foundation for sorting through how they could adapt to this next stage in their life together.

She found a friend who could come by and help her out around the house. He started making lists and actually reading them. They joined separate seniors groups at separate senior centers. They carved out their own "private" spaces at home and gave themselves permission to close the door and pretend they were alone.

Sometimes they even made lunch "dates" with each other and had carryout food delivered. They were willing to try whatever restored their sense of independence and added interest to their lives and marriage.

Life continually challenges us with the need to adapt and change. This is true not only for individuals, but for marriages as well. We need, then, to understand what makes our marriages work, and how we can maintain, adapt or change our relationships to keep them working throughout our lives together.

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