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Long-Term Marriage: The Survey, Part 3

by Mary McHugh

<< Part Two

As my 60-year-old correspondent, married 37 years says: 
         Sex has always been good and continues to be, although frequency is less. I read somewhere that when men age and their sex life declines, its like rolling down a slightly sloped hill, whereas with women, its like falling off a cliff. I enjoy him so much that I make any and all efforts I can to keep him interested, happy and satisfied, although the 'satisfied' is debatable, I guess. Keeping the love life fresh and new is mostly just spending time together, getting away together, living in the moment and being very, very grateful for the time we have together. His job takes him out of state three days out of seven, so we always look forward to homecoming night. Its a conscious thing with me that we are very, very lucky to be well, to be in love and to have each other and I try to convey that to my husband as much as I can. 
            Neither of us has had an affair. He had a good female friend at work when we were first married, and when I said it bothered me that they had lunch together, he stopped spending any time at work with her. That was the only instance of anything like that coming up. I really dont know if we could forgive a spouse having an affair. I think it would depend on all the circumstances and what was involved. It would be very, very hard for me because trust is such a big part of our relationship. When you feel you know someone so well and trust them implicitly, it has to be the biggest betrayal imaginable for them to have had an affair. 
           When one spouse does have an affair, the choices and decisions are unique to that couple - do you stay or leave if your husband has an affair? Supposing hes the President of the United States? I thank all of you for being so honest about your sex life and every other facet of your life - especially money. 
          I don't imagine there are many marriages where each partner has exactly the same attitude toward money as the other.  So often its really not about money; its about who is in control. Sometimes it's a matter of, My father always managed the money and gave my mother an allowance, so thats what we did. 
        In other cases, money is considered a symbol of love. The women who wrote all had problems with the management of money in the early days of their marriages but found solutions over the years. It was very interesting to learn the different ways they employed to accomplish this.  The woman we referred to earlier with  gorgeous underwear and an even more beautiful mind, says: 
         Ah, money. No, we do not have the same attitude toward money.  My husband is very conservative fiscally and I am very impulsive. He weighs money decisions endlessly, and I make up my mind rather quickly. He is very focused on not spending anything we dont have to. The management of money is the one area in our relationship that has caused me the most grief. The children learned early that if they wanted something, they had better appeal to Mom because Dad would always ask, Do you need it, or do you just want it? and that would only be the beginning of the battle. The reality is that he usually wins money disputes because he is the one who has always made all or most or our money. Quite frankly, I have yet to meet a couple where the person who made the money was not the one who really decided how it would be spent. 

        She continues: One of the joys of returning to the work force after 14 years of being an at-home Mom was that, for the most part, I finally felt comfortable buying what I wanted without having to discuss it. I opened a personal checking account simply for the joy of the independence. He supported this but told me that he never understood why I needed to do this. I have come to the conclusion that men can't understand how women feel about not having any real money they totally control themselves. I know that women in this country as far back as Colonial times have always found a way to squirrel away some money of their own to allay the impotence that comes from not having any monetary power. Id venture a guess that the majority of women find some way to accomplish this. My mother-in-law confided to me that she had a few thousand in a secret bank account  put away from household funds in case I ever needed any money. This woman, then in her seventies, had never worked outside her home and raised five children on a blue-collar income. 

        Once I was employed full time, we did not mix our money but simply decided what he would pay and what I would pay. For instance, I would make an extra monthly mortgage payment, pay the special education and college tuition, pay for the family vacations, buy the extras, and save. Although I never made as much money at he did, my income was healthy and I was able to build a significant investment portfolio of my own. 

       The reality is that when it comes to the big purchases, my husband is the one who makes the final decision. If I wanted to buy a new car and he wanted to wait, we would wait. He would ask my opinion, but he would really make the decision. It took years of frustration with my husbands dominance over our significant money decisions to acknowledge to myself and to him that it is his frugality that has been the foundation of our financial security. Maturity has made me confront this reality, but money issues still frustrate me. 

       Her experience seems typical of many women of our generation, but I would love to have you e-mail me if you have had just the opposite arrangement with money in your own marriage:  Did you find a fairer way of dealing with money even though he earned the most money?  Did you find a way to educate yourself about money and how to invest it,  budget it and plan for your future so that you were an equal partner in financial discussions? 

       Another correspondent, age 60, says her husband hates to spend money - except on their art collection. She tells a story that points out the absurdity of his philosophy about money. One day I asked him to pick up a filter for the furnace at K-Mart. He said, You just sit around and think of ways to spend money. That infuriated me. And yet Ill bring home a painting for hundreds of dollars and hes pleased. 

      All in all, we handle money better in the second half of our marriage. I have come around to his way of thinking rather than the other way around. I am still the one who plans the vacations and plans how to spend money on the fun stuff. But we talk it over and rarely do I get so invested in something that if he doesnt go for it, its not a problem. We agree 99 percent of the time. 

      A woman married for 52 years has been in charge of the money from the early days of their marriage. Her husband resented her unwillingness to give him money out of the budget, so he solved it by keeping one of the checks (the smaller one) he received from one job and giving her the larger check from his other job. That made both of them happy because he usually spent it on eating out (her favorite thing, she said) and trips. 

      Finally, my question about what you considered the most important thing in making a marriage last a long time received some splendid answers: 

      Patience. Patience. Patience. Dont expect more of the other person than you expect of yourself. Give up the need to be right. Focus on yourself and your own growth. Sleep on it. Forgive. No one is perfect, not even me. 

      The most important thing Ive learned about keeping a marriage going is that it will never be a 50-50 proposition. It will always be 80-20. Sometimes Ill be giving 80 percent and sometimes he will. And sometimes were both giving 80 percent at the same time. But eventually, if we each give when the other needs, itll all balance out. 

      I think our dedication to each other and keeping a sense of humor is the best thing. Having a faith in something larger than ourselves is the greatest help, at least for me. It helps me, who tends to jump on my horse and ride off in seven different directions, to have patience and keep myself on the mark. I love my life. 

     Our spouses cant meet all our needs - thats what family and friends are for. Remember why you fell in love in the first place. Choosing well helps, but really when were 19 and 20, who knows anything much beyond what we learned about marriage at home from our parents and that our hormones are raging? Were lucky if we are mostly always pleased with who and what we chose way back then as our life partner. 

      Weve been married for 50 years. Was it easy? No. Did we work at it? You betcha! 

      Be kind to each other. Laugh a lot. Relax and enjoy life as it comes along. 

      It seems that in marriage as everything else, being senior women (I mean the kind who read this magazine) gives us the perspective and wisdom to make it work. Let me thank you again for your thoughtful answers to my questionnaire. They will enrich my book as they have enriched my life by reading them.


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