Download the FREE SBS Radio App for a better listening experience
It’s a common portrait of modern family life with the last census showing that about a fifth of Australians had been married before. Whether you feel ready or not to try the knot again, there are complexities that come with age.
Karen Pisk's life changed dramatically when she lost her beloved husband eight years ago.
Not wanting to spend the rest of her life alone, Pisk decided to start a new relationship when she discovered the perfect solution in her present partner, Ian Groden, whom she knew as a family friend.
“I was very good friends with his wife who tragically passed away six months after my husband so we discovered that we had a lot more in common than we had thought when we were friends as couples. So it wasn’t really long at all. We said, ‘well, you’re lonely and I’m lonely, we should get together and neither of us will be lonely,’ and that’s been the solution. We’re not denying that we were married happily both of us for forty years.”
Being in a serious relationship shortly after the end of a long marriage came as a shock to Pisk’s family.
She admits coming across a few barriers along the way - from time allocation between family engagements to questions around finance.
“We took things up as challenges and we almost ‘muddled through’, so that wasn’t easy because all of a sudden, we have a blended family.”
South Australian lawyer Dino Di Rosa often sees older couples in de facto relationships who may be considering a second or third marriage.
He says many are concerned about protecting their assets and the interests of family members.
“If you move in together, the question is: What happens to the house title? What happens to bank accounts? Is the relationship a real partnership? That’s when rights start to accrue. If you keep assets separate and your relationship is one of boyfriend girlfriend, there’s no cohabitation, no rights generally start to accrue.”))
We can’t predict the future, but Di Rosa suggests that at least in the short term, the best scenario is keeping your assets as separate as possible.
“You go fifty fifty on things and its pretty much a co-equal relationship. That’s when I think it’s more likely…especially in the short term to be in a situation where your assets are protected. In the long term, circumstances change. One party might fall ill…ageing…if you’ve lived together for ten, twenty years, there will be an issue of rights starting to accrue in respect of assets held by the other party.”
Clinical psychologist Elisabeth Shaw runs Relationship Australia’s New South Wales chapter.
She encourages couples to discuss practical matters to avoid grievances.
After all, there isn’t always a chance to rebuild your assets if things don’t work out.
“If you’re looking at a new relationship and you’re 58, you may be very concerned about losing that asset and you’re also likely concerned about losing the legacy for your children and seeing the things that you’ve carefully built up go out of the family to step children and so on. So I think that does raise anxiety and not seeing that as unromantic and you don’t trust me but instead to say, look, that’s a mature thing to do. To say what sort of future do we want together? What are we both bringing to the table? How can we be be practical about that so that we can get on with really enjoying each other?”
The last Census shows that 1.8 out of every thousand men and 0.8 out of every thousand women aged over 65 have chosen to end their marriage.
According to Shaw, re-marriage in later years doesn’t always work out if people weren’t ready in the first place.
“People have not properly worked through and resolved the issues from the first relationship and I think that to take the time to really think to yourself: Why did that breakup happen? What have I learnt from that experience? Where I am up to in my own life? All of those sorts of deeper reflections and like what do I want to offer a relationship and what do I want to get rather than being really resolved in themselves that they are in a good place to re-partner or it may be that person is very ready and very resolved, and has done all that work but they marry someone who hasn’t done that work.”
Cultural expectations may also affect a person’s decision to seek a new start after a break-up or loss of a spouse.
Shaw notices that the expectations of others can be a major deterrent.
“Families can really say, ‘well, if you really love that person, you should be loyal to them for the rest of your life, also, when you are more advanced in life, sometimes your children weigh in to it and they don’t believe that you should have the chance to move on. I think there’s a lot of ageism in our society and that people in later life are not supposed to experience desire and now you’ve got time to be a full grandmother or grandfather. Those expectations may not really fit what you want for your life.”
Shaw encourages people not to shy away from obstacles when considering a new marriage.
“We are relational beings and most people want to be close to others. It’s certainly not the case that an intimate partner is the only way to feel good about yourself. There are some people who choose never to partner again and that’s a very satisfying life but for people that do want to repartner, although I am naming a number of practical things like working with step children and money and so on… These are just problems to be resolved, they’re not things to put you off."
Karen Pisk doesn’t intend to marry again but she says being with Groden was the best thing that she could’ve done for the companionship she longed for.
“A lot of the people like living on their own but if it is the case that you feel like that you would like to have a new partner and shared experiences, then you wouldn’t just sit back and let them fly through the window. Everything these days require some measure of proactivity and eventually something happens and I would never say that you would have to spend the rest of your life alone.”