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Bumagin, V.E. Hirn, K.F. (1982). Observations on Changing Relationships for Older Married Women. Am. J. Psychoanal., 42(2):133-142.

(1982). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 42(2):133-142

Observations on Changing Relationships for Older Married Women

Victoria E. Bumagin, M.D. and Kathryn F. Hirn, M.S.W.

The older married woman examined from a developmental rather than an involutional view experiences many changes which result in shifts in the balance of her marital relationship. These may occur as children leave the parental home; as retirement and/or declining health affect one or both marital partners; as changing relationships with adult children and aging parents may impinge on the marriage; or when the woman who has relinquished her active maternal role assumes a late-life career or engages in community activities. Such role changes provide new bases for self-esteem as well as conflicting responsibilities, and create both risks of regression and opportunities for growth. Although stressful, role discontinuities require the development of new coping techniques-social, economic and psychodynamic. Thus, even a marriage which was satisfactory in earlier years may have to be recreated if it is to survive the later ones, and widowhood, so common in old age, brings with its grief and mourning the development of a new self-image. It may therefore be concluded that such earlier adaptations may make women more successful in coping with the changes yet to be confronted in old age.

As we enter the 1980s, the research literature on aging has become plentiful, in contrast to a decade ago. Likewise, there is considerable literature regarding the impact of the social and demographic changes of the twentieth century on marriage. What has not been examined is their effect, if any, on the older marriages. The intent here is to look at marriage in the fifth, sixth, seventh and later decades of life, using existing research findings as well as clinical observations.

Undoubtedly, there have been many changes affecting marriage, both as an institution and as a life style. The Pill, the entrance of more and more women into the labor force, two-income families, a soaring divorce rate, and cohabitation as an alternative to marriage have all had their impact on family life.

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