Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 May 2015
With few exceptions, our sample of older persons still living with spouses in their later seventies and older appeared happily married. This might also suggest difficulties in differentiating among our sample. As the famous first sentence from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina proposes: ‘All happy families are more or less like one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own particular way’. Certainly at first analysis, there were many similarities in our participants’ accounts of their married life. Nearly all the married women, for example, described their husbands as providing sources of enjoyment and comfort but also of a sense of importance and of a meaningful role in life, most obviously in caring for them.
However, it is possible to look beyond the obvious similarities to see ways in which the sources of self and meaning that older married people referred to in describing their lives differed from one another. A self-description exclusively based on family interactions and commitments might predict a different future from one that also included external involvements.
We start our account by providing a brief portrait of the one male and female married couple who were both participants at the outset of the Southampton Ageing Project and who survived to be part of the second phase of the project. Both enjoyed a high quality of life up to eighty-five years, and we were able to interview them in depth in their later years.
We then consider married men and married women separately, beginning with the larger group of men who were still married at age seventy-five years when our case analyses began. We describe their lives through their later seventies and into their eighties until either their spouse died or they became significantly frail and dependent on help from their spouse or others. The subsequent story of their lives is continued in the following chapters.