Grey divorce, the phrase coined for break-ups where at least one spouse is over 50, is common these days.
Adults in their late 50s are most likely to be divorced than any other age group. Unwilling to spend 10 or 20 years in a loveless marriage, many would rather live alone for their remaining time. Today, women make up 68% of Canadian seniors living alone; 72% of women report they are happy to be single while only 62% of men say the same.
So, while seniors some are happily single, others may decide to begin actively looking for a new relationship later in life. Let’s see what’s going on.
Marjorie and Jim, both in their seventies, met on a cruise and discovered they lived in neighbouring towns. Back home, whenever her three children came by, there was Jim, charming Marjorie but dominating everything and talking over everyone else. He had a lot of parenting advice and ideas for the Marjorie’s misbehaving grandchildren too!
Marjorie’s kids were still grieving the loss of their dad, who had died only 18 months ago, and felt Mom was betraying the 60 happy years with their father. It was bizarre to see her flirting and cuddling – “Mother, really!!”
Barry was recently widowed after his wife’s long illness. Their lifestyle had never been healthy. Barry was now overfed, out of shape, and aging far beyond his years. His daughter Janet contacted her friend Kitty, a wellness coach and fitness instructor, to create a plan for getting her dad back on track.
Kitty found Barry extremely attractive and before long had him “eating out of her hand”. Within six months she had moved in, creating bad blood with the family and limiting his access to family and friends. She even initiated joint bank accounts and started managing his finances “to streamline things”.
Janice and Di met in the dementia unit of a nursing home. When they started spending all their time together, their families considered it sweet, but when they were found in bed together, the staff and families were shocked and asked the nursing staff to intervene.
All these situations have a common thread – what to do about late-life relationships? Can seniors and their adult children navigate the ‘bumpy road to love’ in a way that works for everyone? Here are some ideas:
What is motivating your parent to seek this relationship?
– they have been lonely
– this person makes them feel special
– they can see a future for the years they have left
What is motivating you and your siblings to object?
– being taken by surprise
– fear of the unknown of how your family will operate now
– resentment towards their late parent being “replaced”
It’s important for you and your family members to try and be open-minded while acknowledging the both the benefits and the losses of the new situation:
– you are glad that your parent is happy and looking forward to the future
– you acknowledge that the new partner’s care and support will benefit everyone
– you are unsure about new roles for your family with the new partner
– you realize your parent will have less time to participate in your children’s lives, including child care and financial help
– you still miss your absent parent and find it hard to see your parent as a new couple
Talk about finances
If you are concerned, ask the hard questions now – you have nothing to lose:
-what is this new partner’s financial position and how will it affect your parent?
-do their children have any financial needs or expectations from your parent?
-if they are moving in together or getting married, what will the financial arrangements be like?
-are they aware that marriage invalidates any prior Wills?
-will there be a pre-nuptial agreement? If not, why not?
-will any financial support your parent has provided to you or promised to your children still be honoured (such as a down payment or university tuition)
Keep in mind that, assuming they are mentally competent, your parent can make their own arrangements and their assets belong to them. And, while you may have been named executor of their estate, they are still very much alive; the executor only acts after death has occurred.
Take the high road
Regardless of what financial arrangement your parent has made, try to concentrate on relationships rather than material possessions. Try to celebrate with them.
However, if you have valid objections or concerns, speak up! If you feel your parent is being manipulated or coerced, act immediately. Signs of manipulation include restricting access, never leaving your parent alone, taking over finances, moving into the family home or purchasing homes for other people. Talk to your siblings to compare notes and create a strategy. Ask a trusted friend or advisor such as a doctor, lawyer or member of the clergy to talk to your parent about your concerns.
How does this advice apply to our families?
Marjorie and Jim – Marjorie listened to her family and realized she should have better prepared them for the situation. They agreed that each weekend would be reserved for alone time with family and Marjorie asked Jim to be a little less interfering when they were all together for family events. Will Marjorie’s kids ever like Jim? Hopefully, over time they can learn to appreciate his devotion to their mom.
Barry and Kitty – Barry’s outcome with his daughter Janet was not as successful. Neither Barry nor Kitty had admitted the extent of their relationship and Janet felt betrayed when she found out. If Barry wants to reconnect with Janet and her children, he will have to work hard to regain their trust. Ironically, under Kitty’s wellness regime, Barry is healthier than he’s ever been. In fact, one of his grandchildren was delighted to see his 70-year-old Grandpa at their ski club where they skied a few runs and had a good chat over hot cocoa. So, all may not be lost!
Janice and Di – While both families were initially charmed by the friendship, neither woman had ever displayed a tendency for a same sex relationship. Was it consensual? Why was it happening now? A capacity assessor was assigned and observed the couple closely both when together and apart, and was confident the relationship is consensual and healthy. In fact, it enhances both their lives and is doing no harm. The staff continues to monitor them for any apparent changes in their behaviours or reactions, but they continue to be affectionate.
Di’s two sons remained upset and wondered about relocating her. Why? Janice’s daughters said “Let’s leave them. This is the best place in the city. Mom had forgotten us, yes, but she had the comfort of a friend who loves her and she’s well looked after. She’s obviously happy, and dementia has robbed her of so much. Let’s let her have this.” The families agreed to work together to make this new couple as happy as possible, decorating their shared suite with photos and mementos of their former lives, as well as keepsakes of their new life together.
Love is precious, no matter your age, but growing old with someone you love is priceless. It’s even better when all generations can share the joy and make new memories together.
Abuse affects up to 10% of older adults in Canada. Only one in five incidents of elder abuse comes to the attention of those who can help. Is this only the tip of the iceberg? Red flags for abuse include:
– The partner isolates your parent from family and friends
– You can’t get straight answers when you talk to your parent
– The partner won’t let you talk to your parent alone
– Money is disappearing with no explanation
– The partner’s family is moving in, or money is being given out and/or big purchases like cars, homes, etc. are being bought for them
Call the police if you have immediate concerns about an older adult’s safety. You must report abuse when the victim lives in a retirement home or a long-term care facility. You may also contact your provincial Guardian and Public Trustee.
Remember that your parent may be in denial about being abused. Better to risk their anger than allow them to be abused.
Here are the contacts for provincial Public Trustees: