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Five - A life of relationships

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2022

Torbjörn Bildtgård
Affiliation:
Stockholms universitet Institutionen för socialt arbete
Peter Öberg
Affiliation:
Högskolan i Gävle, Sweden
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Summary

The purpose of this chapter is to attempt to bridge the macro–micro gap by showing how the historical transformation of intimacy described in earlier chapters is reflected in older individuals’ relationship careers. We will challenge the idea that current generations of older people have normally lived their lives in single lifelong marriages ending in widowhood and show that their relationship careers are instead often quite complex. A second purpose of the chapter is to discuss the consequences of prior relationship experiences on interest in, and preferences for, late-life intimacy. We discuss the different implications of being widowed versus divorced for interest in repartnering and explain why divorcees are often more prepared to repartner. This is important in relation to the fact that the society of older divorcees will soon be bigger than the community of older widowed people in many Western countries (as described in Chapter three). Finally we focus on the different biographical relationship experiences of women and men and how they impact on the interest for repartnering in later life. We will conclude the chapter with a discussion of our findings in relation to the deinstitutionalisation of the life course thesis. In contrast to the previous chapters this chapter will make extensive use of biographical case descriptions and quotes to give the reader a richer understanding of what it means to have lived one's life during the historical transition to divorce culture.

Relationship careers among older Swedes

In our opening case we introduced Cohabiting Carl and Caroline, who had had rather complex relationship careers, involving marriages and remarriages, divorces and widowhood but also a number of nonmarital relationships and separations. Their relationship experiences correspond directly to the normative changes following the transition from marriage to divorce culture, but they also had a concrete impact on the organisation of their current relationship – for example due to three earlier divorces Carl did not want to remarry, and due to grief after being widowed in her second marriage Caroline was totally uninterested in new romantic episodes for almost 20 years.

It is often assumed that older people have lived their adult lives in lifelong marriages lasting until widowhood – and that after widowhood they will stay single unless they remarry (Lopata, 1996).

Type
Chapter
Information
Intimacy and Ageing
New Relationships in Later Life
, pp. 57 - 74
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2017

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