In researching her new book, The Nine Phases of Marriage: How to Make It, Break It, Keep It, Susan Shapiro Barash found 65 percent of women say they wouldn’t marry their spouse if they could do it over again.
“It surprised me because it was more the seasoned wives who felt that,” Barash tells More. “The really big deal breakers in terms of why they wouldn’t get married again were attitudes about money, grown children, grandchildren and retirement . . . As we move through life we are not always as predictable as we think, and sometimes circumstances change.”
We recently spoke with Barash about the hurdles mature married couples today face, and about the different expectations of boomer wives. Here’s an edited version of her thoughts on some of the issues.
Reinvention. “The biggest issue for a boomer wife is that perhaps she took time out from her career and is now in a second career that she’s really enjoying, she earns her own money, she has a tremendous wealth of women friends who seem more like-minded than her husband in some ways, and she doesn’t feel as beholden. This is not her mother’s marriage. The trajectory of a woman in the first half of the 20th century until the second wave of feminism, really, was that you were raised a good girl, who became a good wife, who became a good mother and a good grandmother if you were lucky, and then you died. That was the commitment and that was the arc. But it’s so different today. You can reinvent yourself at any time; you have earning power at any age. A late-in-life divorce might be very much about what hasn’t worked for a long time and just hitting your threshold, which is different from what we’ve seen in the recent past.”
Retirement. “You can’t always predict where life will lead after you retire or after your children are grown . . . You can’t predict you’re marrying someone who actually wants to quit his job and live in a Winnebago. You can’t predict that your husband would be secretly relieved that he lost job in the downturn and that you’re working now. Who knew your husband wanted to move 3,000 miles away from your married daughter who just had a little boy? These are the things women I interviewed for the book told me.”
Dating options. “If the decision is to divorce, it’s really interesting to see how many options there are. It used to be, I’m 58, who will want me? Or, how will I meet someone? But it’s not like that anymore. There are so many ways to meet someone online, like Match.com, JDate, or eHarmony. I interviewed a woman who was widowed and in her eighties, and after her husband died, she said, that was it—she never found anyone again. But another woman in her eighties with whom I spoke told me her husband had died a few months ago and she was already dating two men. So there’s this amazing optimism in women of different ages that we haven’t seen before.”
Grandparenting. “If you were a child-centric couple when your children were little and your marriage thrived during the shared time of parenting children, there’s a great chance that having grandchildren will perpetuate that style of marriage. You were a great team as parents, and now you’re a great team as grandparents. It’s very much a shared value. Grandparents are so vital today. Sixty years ago the whole trajectory was different for a woman—lifespan, expectations, opportunities, everything.”