The couple relationship brings a whole new dimension to independence. Each one can be more or less independence than the other. They probably depend on each other in several areas.
While promoting our Book at a local show, a middle-aged woman shared an experience she had while reading it.
‘My husband and I were working our way through Aging Loved Ones: A Guide to Organizing and Managing the Aging Process’ when we came to a ‘Caution’ included in the section, ‘This Thing Called Independence’ that neither of us had considered.’ (p.29)
Be aware that some couples will cover for one another’s limitations. It is only when one becomes seriously ill or dies that family members discover how much the well-being of the survivor has deteriorated.
‘We paused at this point for a frank discussion of how each of us was compensating for the other and, perhaps, setting the stage for one of us (or both) to be unable to perform tasks we had allowed the other to assume. It was an ‘aha’ for both of us as we continued to plan for our aging process.’
Driving is one of the first ‘adult’ things most of us learn. However, in many cases, especially after we have been married for awhile, we develop the habit of hopping into the passenger seat, leaving the joys, challenges and often the maintenance of operating a vehicle to another. Times change as do the drivers with whom we share the road. Sheer volume has necessitated that two-lane roads be converted to multi-lane highways, complete with over passes, multiple lane changes, and a plethora of directional signs. Getting from A to B, a straightforward task several years ago, has now become an exercise in strategic planning, an ability to make decisions quickly, and the alertness to constantly be aware of what the other drivers are doing. This is definitely not the place for someone who has not been ‘behind the wheel’ for several years.
Driving is not the only activity we consciously or unconsciously ‘delegate’ to our partners. Financial responsibilities such as bill payment, annual taxes, and investment decisions are often assumed by the one most computer savvy. The partner may not even be aware of the basics s/he will need to know should s/he suddenly have to assume full responsibility for all transactions.
These are just two areas where it is quite common for one to take the lead while the other understands that either their partner is more comfortable with this activity or it has simply evolved that way. Unless there is a physical, mental or emotional reason why this is so, it may be time for the other partner to return to driving some of the time to regain that skill or to rekindle their lost confidence. Similarly, if one performs all financial transactions, it is definitely time for the other to be at least an observer of why, how and when these occur. In time, s/he should experience performing the activities him/herself.
You may want to initiate with, and/or encourage discussions between, your loved ones (even if age-related limitations are not obvious) to identify any areas where one has assumed responsibility for a task, such as driving, financial management, home maintenance, etc., with the unspoken agreement of his/her partner. It may very well be doing a disservice to both. As well as supporting such discussions, you may want to encourage ways to increase inclusion of both parties in significant activities. A working knowledge of key responsibilities may help to offset or at least minimize the trauma and fear of suddenly finding oneself in total control of his/her own life and, in some circumstances, the management and well-being of a loved one’s life as well.
When evaluating your loved ones, don’t forget to look beyond the couple relationship to the evaluate each individual on their own as well.