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Senior couple relationship crisis.

Don’t Stay Up And Fight

One summer day, back when we were in our thirties, my best friend and I were enjoying a gossip session on her backyard terrace. We sipped wine, nibbled on cheese, and she told me about her father’s latest fight with his live-in girlfriend. He was 78, she was 73.

“This might be it,” my friend chuckled. “Last night she locked him out of the house and threw his suits, shirts, underwear, and shaving stuff out of their bedroom window.” We guffawed. Old people acting like — well, the rest of us. How gross is that?

Now I know that senior love affairs are every bit as physically intense and emotionally draining as those of the young.

Older couples’ brawls, just like those of their younger counterparts, are usually triggered by minor annoyances. Something that would ordinarily be written off is magnified (she stayed too long at the office; he threw his dirty socks on the floor). Underneath lie the substantive reasons, the ones that are rarely acknowledged.

AGING AND RAGING

All couples battle, and sometimes someone packs up and heads for the door. Here’s where it gets more complicated for senior couples than it is for younger pairs.  Google “breakup” and you’ll find a ton of advice for 20- and 30-somethings, all of which adds up to “get over him/her and get ready for your next love.”

This is good advice for someone who’s looking to live out another six or seven decades. But time will be less generous to 50-plus couples. What if a serious fight leads to a permanent break? If you’re over 60 you could be alone for the rest of your life. This is especially true if you’re a woman.

According to a Harvard Health Publications special report on sexuality and aging, “a woman’s chances of finding a new mate in her age bracket dwindles yearly,” and because there are only 7 men for every 10 women by the time we reach 65, women are in for a scramble if they want to find a partner. Numbers aren’t the whole story, of course, and men face barriers too, including things like performance anxiety or widower’s  guilt about starting a new relationship.

THE INEVITABILITY OF ANGER

The answer isn’t “Don’t fight.” It’s more like, “Keep fights reasonable and get over them fast.” Reasonable means:

  • no name calling
  • no cheap-shot accusations of sexual ineptitude
  • no invidious comparison to persons dated earlier then discarded for cause
Some time ago, before we learned better, I had an unreasonable fight with PASHA. He stormed out, and for a while I stayed with some “good riddance” feelings. Because our relationship thrives on a silly humor which, if heard by outsiders would brand us as geezers even older than we actually are, his phoned plea for reconciliation ended with a quip. “Match.com won’t take me — they dropped their over-the-hill category,” he said wryly, underscoring our shared understanding that “get over this person and get ready for your next lover” sounds ridiculous at our age.

QUARRELING AS RECREATION

If you’re in a teen-type hormonal tizzy, a measured and careful way of fighting will seem lackluster in the extreme. Those who are young — and those who imagine they are — are known to instigate down-and-dirty mêlées purely for the pleasure of making up with equal vigor.  “Don’t go to bed mad; stay up and fight,” Phyllis Diller famously said, and her comment certainly implies some physical intensity — both in the fight’s duration and in its much more fun and juicier denouement. I admit that this recreational style works well for some. It’s a time-honored ploy.

PASHA and I are honoring time with our own ploy — we stay away from pushing the hot buttons. It never leaves our minds, this miracle of finding new love after suffering the deaths of our beloved life partners. Knowing that for us time is compacted, we don’t want to waste a minute playing “gotcha” in a game of trivial complaints.

Note: This is an adaptation of an article written earlier by Sienna; it appeared in The Huffington Post. 

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'Don’t Stay Up And Fight' have 14 comments

  1. July 3, 2013 @ 9:13 pm Pollyanna

    Fighting is energizing, and I like the way you can get a good ngiht’s sleep after making up.

  2. February 23, 2013 @ 1:26 pm Sienna

    Thanks for commenting, Helene. Looking for a man who’s had happy times seems mandatory at our age. It’s too late to change an ogre into Prince Charming, but I’m afraid a lot of optimistic ladies do try….

  3. February 23, 2013 @ 10:17 am Helene

    So delighted to come across this site! After reading the posts, realize it’s not just me to have met a man for lunch/dinner, and find their expertise about everything is amazing! LOL, including arguing and I don’t even know them! Pray to God that most men had some happy times in their life and are not all negative……

  4. January 23, 2013 @ 6:21 pm CGCarol

    You’re a geezer? You don’t sound like one! This is so on the mark. I wasted so much time fighting when I was young, and you’re so right about making an effort at understanding before you fly off the handle.

  5. January 5, 2013 @ 8:41 pm Candy

    When I fight with someone I don’t think about how old we are. I get just as angry now as I did when I was 28 and I’m 58 now. It’s true that fighting is a waste of time, but if you’re a volatile person it’s inevitable.

  6. November 16, 2012 @ 11:04 am Racey

    It amazes me that people think that no one over 50 has the energy to fight about anything, except maybe money.

  7. November 14, 2012 @ 4:05 am Gayle

    I was with a man who started fights all the time, but not because he wanted to make up passionatley. He just wanted to fight.

  8. November 7, 2012 @ 5:58 pm Lollipop

    I love Pasha’s line about Match.com dropping their over the hill category——humor is a disarming way to land lightly on one’s feet in the midst of an argument. I think by the time we “mature ones” find ourselves in an argument we should have carried along with us enough of the long view to put any particular argument into perspective, to know enough about our own predilections to know if we’ve been in that sort of an argument before, and to have amassed a few tools to counteract it. Barring dealing with borderline personalities or other psychically impaired partners, I believe that people have a whole arsenal of responses to stimuli they can use to keep a situation on an even keel. At the very least, we can, always step back a moment and ask ourselves “Now what would an intelligent person do?” Or if we’re not there yet, how about asking ourselves, “Just what exactly would I lose if I gave up my anger?” Unfortunately or not, we are the only people we can change.

  9. November 5, 2012 @ 5:27 pm Sienna

    Good advice, Joanna. Thanks for posting.

  10. November 5, 2012 @ 9:26 am Joanna

    Sienna,
    I agree with you! Looking at the recent horrific events, it is far more imperative to enjoy whatever time we have with our partners. than to a waste precious time on the battlefield. Talk it out and move on…and don’t forget to say “I love you.”

  11. November 4, 2012 @ 3:35 pm Tillie

    I enjoyed your story of the older couple. My father was also in a relationship late in his life. We didn’t like her, and we showed it, and I think that contributed to the fact that they fought a lot. He would defend us and that would make her feel isolated. It wasn’t fair, and I’m sorry we were that way because she wasn’t so bad. After he died we lost track of her. If I could find her Iwould apologize to her.

  12. November 4, 2012 @ 3:10 pm Sienna

    Penelope, I know you and your partner to be “good fighters,” playing by the rules and never staying mad long enough to endanger the relationship.

  13. November 3, 2012 @ 12:58 pm Penelope

    The key is knowing the buttons to press but not pressing them. If I could only do that! There is an art to fighting. We fight but eventually we let it pass because where are we going anyway………

  14. November 3, 2012 @ 8:39 am MJH19

    There’s a certain skill to fighting, and fighting can be energizing. I get what you say about no name calling, and no references to bad sex performance. that one can come back to haunt you.


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