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.”
Sex. “It’s really important to keep the passion alive. Throughout the book, I write about time shared with your spouse and the level of commitment it takes as your priorities shift. You should always have time to have a nice social life together, to have interests in common, and if your interests aren’t in common, to placate each other. But really take a look at how to preserve the commitment, how to keep infusing it with energy and interest—and that includes sex. We have sex a long time. Women like it; it isn’t like it should just go away.”
Expectations. “Women I interviewed for this book who were in their early sixties were so different about what they expected from their marriages than women who were in their late sixties. So much changed in the ’60s . . . [But] the Gen X wife is very much invested in egalitarian marriage, very hopeful and really wanting a real partner in the marriage. A woman who is 35 or 40 has very high expectations that her husband will pull through for her. I think the reason the role of the wife has evolved and that the concept of marriage has evolved is because the Gen Xer has taken a look at her boomer mother or boomer coworker and has seen what has failed . . . Maybe you looked at your mother, and said, ‘I don’t really feel like ending up divorced, or in separate bedrooms but still married to my husband. I don’t want to just drag him out for holidays and parties; I want a real friend.’ Her mother may have wanted that, too, but didn’t get it.”