What's it Mean to Grow Old?
Looking across at Greg as we said our wedding vows, my thoughts were not on how to successfully grow old together! Rather, my thoughts were on how handsome he was and how glad I was I made it through the song I wrote to sing to him. (which was super-corny, but I loved it at the time!) I said my vows with no idea really of what the future years would bring!
So, we've made it through having babies, running the kids to all their youth events, surviving the teenage years, delivering three mature, well-adjusted adults to society and recently living through the passing of our parents. We now sit resting on the couch and peering into the future asking, What's next?
What's next is a battle between the inevitable affects of aging and our enjoying each other through the process. What's detailed in growing old is the effect it has on us physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Physically we are going to get weaker. As our muscles weaken, we move slower, our endurance declines and our balance will diminish.
Emotionally, taking on new challenges will become less attractive and appear more and more like a poor investment of time. We tell ourselves that fewer and fewer people are interestedin us, so almost by default, we become increasingly more isolated. We begin to cling to memories of the past instead of gallantly forging new memories as we would have boldly done in our youth. We tend to want to experience things, not necessarily because they help us grow as a person, but rather because if we don't do it now, we may never get to it! There's a definite dark side that encroaches our thoughts.
Intellectually, our brains literally shrink. We become less inquisitive and certainly remember less. Although, we realize as we age that there is just less that we really need to remember, so we don't try as hard. Spiritually, we realize that if there is an afterlife, we are certainly much closer to experiencing it than we ever would have imagined when we were young. Questions about bigger subjects as meaning, purpose and bucket lists quickly become regular topics of discussion.
The above are the things that happen naturally to all of us. We watched it with our parents and with our friends as they took care of their parents. While it happens naturally, observing and discussing the onset of all those elements has given us some ideas to mitigate some of the effects of aging. We think they will help us grow old together, happily.
Feed Your Mind to Breed Vibrant Conversations
One of the things that has always been true of Greg and I is that we have consistently read a lot. The primary benefit of this is that we always have new ideas to talk about. While feeding your mind may also stave off other age-related issues, the practice of conversation around new ideas keeps you feeling a part of this world. One of the sad things we notice in our parents, as many other elderlies, is that they begin to watch TV shows from the distant past. They quickly no longer feel a part of this world.
Having conversations about fresh ideas keeps your conversations current and keeps you engaged with each other. A vital by-product of being engaged is that you consciouly stay on top of changing circumstances.
Greg was a minor league professional baseball player when we got married. Four weeks into spring training, he was cut. Circumstances had changed. I had assumed that I was going to be driving all our stuff from Tucson, Arizona to Chattanooga, Tennesee at the beginning of April. Instead, Greg and I would be driving our stuff back to California.
However, because we were good at conversations, as we talked over our plans for the next couple days, we came to realize that we had a once-in- a-lifetime opportunity to drive around the country for a month. Neither of us needed to be back in California for pressing deadlines. So that's what we did; travel the country.
In the same way, as we grow old together, changes in our realities are going to bring up new opportunities. If we are engaged in regular, vibrant conversations, then we increase the likelihood that we will take advantage of them as they come up rather than just dredging on towards old age.
Continue to Become a Better Listener
Obviously, as we move beyond being married 30 years, the temptation is to feel like you've heard everything your spouse has said before. Maybe there's a bit of reality in that! (wink!)
When we were younger and really busy, it was vital we learn to talk to each other in quick sound bites in order to survive. We are older now and have more time to express thoughts. Plus, we have more time to really Iisten to our spouse. It is important to take the time to become a really active listener.
An active listener is one who engages the speaker. They can often be heard asking, That's interesting. What do you mean by that? Becoming a good listener has three valuable benefits:
1. It values your spouse because it affirms they are sharing something that you may find beneficial.
2. It increases the chance that through conversation, new and really good ideas will be discovered.
3. You'll be able to hear things that you normally would have missed, which deepens your realtionship with your spouse.
One tool that has helped Greg and I in listening is our awareness of love languages. Love languages were first asserted by Gary Chapman in his book, The Five Love Languages. (read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman) Its essential assertion is that people tend to show love by the means that they enjoy receiving love. Consequently, if someone most enjoys feeling loved by receiving presents, they tend to give presents whenever they are really trying to communicate love.
The five love languages are gifts of time, extensions of touch, kind acts of service, expressions of appreciation and sharing of gifts. What Greg and I have discovered is one way to hear the other one say, I love you, is how we engage each other accoring to our individual love language. Greg's love language is gifts of time. So when he wants to leave the house with me and spend three hours going to dinner and Christmas shopping together at the Mall, he is saying he loves me. This is regardless of the fact we could stay at home, make salads and do all our shopping online at Amazon!
My love language is kind acts of service. So, when Greg does the laundry without being asked, I find him suddenly extremely sexy! When I go out to the yard and trim some plants I know he has been trying to get to, I am telling him, I love you! However, unless you can understand and hear your spouse's love language, you will miss that insight and awareness.
Keep Your Sense of Humor
One story that somehow I keep bringing up because it continues to be so relevant to us, is the first time I helped Greg recover from a sprained ankle. We had been married a couple years and were away with a number of couples on a family camping trip. The guys had decided to play touch football and while playing, Greg stepped in a hole and sprained his ankle. I looked at his ankle the size of a large orange and immediately felt tremendous amounts of sympathy for, My poor baby! So, dutifully I drove away from the campground about 15 minutes into town and bought a big bag of ice and some asprin. When I returned, he took the asprin and put the ice on his swollen area for about half an hour.
After the half hour, he wrapped it up, prounounced himself healed and went out to help the guys continue the game. I have never been that sympathetic again!
In my mind, he was going to be in pain for a week. For an ex professional athlete, this was a hiccup. For me it has become this hysterical example of how willing young, in-love couples will over-respond to an ever-new crisis. For Greg, it has become a What? The guys needed me! example of how maybe he didn't express quite as much appreciation for his young wife as maybe he should have!
Admittedly, my version of the story as grown a wee bit more dramatic as the years have drawn on, but it still serves to illustrate that as we grow older, we have to learn to laugh with each other, then at ourselves. Let’s face it; neither of us are going to getting any better than where we are right now! We better start laughing!
I am still energetic and need all of the energy I have to reach the goals I have set for myself. But, more and more often a 2:00 cat-nap to just put my feet up with a good book, sounds good, and Greg just winks and laughs. Greg is still an athlete at heart and he’ll come home after the gym, barely able to get off of the couch. After watching the news for an hour, he'll say to me, You should have seen me an hour ago. I really still had it! We laugh together and give thanks that we can both still move.
Being able to be self-deprecating allows both of us the freedom together to be honest about life and what it is doing to us. It allows us to be us and to share it with each other. Hard work and long hours actually energize me. However, I know there will come a time when I need to back off. I’ve also created a schedule where I can be flexible to travel and spend time with our family. (see: Define Your Work Schedule) That is the ideal lifestyle I want for my second half as I know I can’t buy back these years. (See the song: Buy Back the Years) Below are four priniples you can take away from this article.
Four Principles to Remember as You Grow Old Together (applies to friendships as well!)
One: Continue to read. It will keep your mind and your conversations vibrant.
Two: Listen and explore areas to experience together. Push yourselves to enjoy and go somewhere different, especially if it's new and outside your comfort zones.
Three: Seek to understand each other. Really listen to each other and learn from each other
Four: Approach the future with a healthy mindset that includes humor. As we age, it is easy to become consumed with what body part is not working today. Decide not to take yourself so seriously and just laugh at the fact that you don't move quite as fast as you used to. Or that your hearing has become much more selective!
Studies reveal that relationships become even more important as we get older. Take the time to develop quality friendships and contacts that will encourage, inspire and be there for you.