Julia Mayer – Barry Jacobs – What is the Impact of Caregiving on Relationships for Couples Over 50?

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Julia Mayer and Barry Jacobs
Julia Mayer, Psy.D. and Barry Jacobs, Psy.D.

On this episode of Boomer Living, we have Barry Jacobs and his wife, Julia Mayor. Both are clinical psychologists and together they co-authored two books: “Love and Meaning After 50”, and “Meditations for Caregivers”.

[01:24] Introduction
[02:02] As you get older, how does the role of marriage change?
[04:58] Why is the divorce rate among married couples over 50 increasing in the US?
[07:07] Do you think any of this is because of a lack of understanding of relationships, changing roles as we age? What can couples do to lessen the risks of divorce and stay together and happily married?
[10:01] What is the impact of caregiving on relationships of couples over 50? And how does caregiving affect relationships?
[16:06] Can you give suggestions, how can couples make sure that this doesn’t create tension in the relationship?
[18:16] What are some key ways to revitalizing the marriage in the last third of life?
[20:16] How can senior living communities create marriage enrichment programs and family care, giving support programs?
[22:14] How can senior living communities support residents who have lost their partner and are still dealing with the emotional impact of it?
[23:29] What motivated you to write two books together as a couple? And can you share with the audience about your books?
[25:26] Can you say what the names of the books are and can listeners find it on Amazon or where can they find it?
[25:50] Closing thoughts

Barry J. Jacobs, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist and Principal in the Philadelphia office of Health Management Associates, a national healthcare consulting firm. He is a monthly columnist on family caregiving for AARP.org and an honorary board member of the Well Spouse Association.

Julia L. Mayer, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Media, PA. She specializes in helping individuals and couples with trauma and family caregiving.

They are married and have co-authored two books: AARP Meditations for Caregivers (Da Capo, 2016) AND AARP Love and Meaning After 50 (Hachette Go, 2020).

Visit Julia and Barry on the web at https://loveandmeaning.com/ where you can view their books and learn more about relationships as we age.


Hanh: 1:24
Today on Boomer Living we have Barry Jacobs and his wife, Julia Mayor. Barry is a clinical psychologist at the National Health Care Consulting Firm and also a monthly AARP’s columnist. And Julia Mayer is also a clinical psychologist. She’s in private practice, specializing in helping individuals and couples with trauma and family caregiving. So together they co authored two books, which we’ll discuss later in the show. So Julia and Berry, thank you. Thank you so much. I’m glad you both can make it today and Boomer Living and welcome to the show.

Barry: 1:57
Yeah. Our pleasure. Thank you, Hanh.

Hanh: 1:59
Absolutely. Okay. So let’s get started. I wanted to know as you get older, how does a role of marriage change? Could you give us some insight?

Julia: 2:09
I think the way we think about it is that, we see development in earlier life, and we don’t think about it so much in the second half of life, but there’s so much development that happens. And in a marriage, the development happens between the two people, as well as within the two people. And so, the idea is to have a healthy marriage where the partners can support each other in that growth. So many things change as we get older as our lives evolve, maybe we retire, maybe our children leave home. So many things that are so impactful that it’s really important for couples to share those experiences with each other, to experience the emotions around those experiences together, to, to process them together.

Hanh: 3:00
Yeah, go ahead, Barry. What’s your thought?

Barry: 3:02
I agree with Julia. She and I have been married for 30 plus years now. And I think one of the great joys of my life has been growing with Julie and. Our marriage at the beginning was about developing a family raising children. We have adult children out in the world now. Actually our son is visiting us down downstairs right now. But what we found is that after our children left, it really was a time of reckoning for our marriage, where we had to really renegotiate, what our marriage was focused on. We had to renegotiate some of our roles and really develop a sense of purpose for this last third of life that we hadn’t really given a lot of thought to. So it required a lot of intentional reflection and planning. But I think that a healthy marriage has a lot to do with how well people age and whether they’re able to remain in their own homes or wherever they live to live a high quality life.

Hanh: 3:51
Absolutely. I’m there with you. I’m very much interested cause I’m trying to navigate this myself. I have three kids and my older two are gone. And my youngest one, I call my baby he’s 18. He’ll be going off to college this fall. So I think I’m right there with you trying to navigate, trying to rediscover and figuring out what’s my purpose for the later third of my life. So I’m excited for this conversation. Thank you.

Barry: 4:16
Yeah. I’ll say, I’ll say to you, Hanh what people said to us and it’s a nice piece of advice and that is congratulations, that you’ve done such a good job, launching your kids out in the world to do good things. Cause even though it does feel like a loss, but you also take pride in the fact that you have been able to instill them with their own sense of purpose so that they can go out and live their own lives.

Hanh: 4:36
I am very blessed. I feel like I my husband and I, very excited, very blessed. But I think you’re so right about, there’s still a sense of, I guess you could call maybe emptiness missing the feeling of being needed. It’s always nice to have your kids need you, but I think it’s even nicer when they’re independent and still need you and come back for counsel every now and then. Thank you for that. So, okay. So why is the divorce rate among married couples over 50 increasing in the US? Why do you think?

Julia: 5:06
Oh, there are a lot of reasons. It’s a strange thing to think that in the past 20 years, the divorce rate for people over 50 has doubled and for people over 65, it has actually tripled. So there seems to be something going on. And when we think about it, when we’ve researched it, we’ve looked into it in our book. What we found is that it’s a number of things. Baby boomers, are often people who are now in their fifties and sixties and seventies. Many of them have lived through divorce in their own childhoods. Unlike previous generations, many of them have had an early divorce, like a starter marriage, and then a longer second marriage in which they’ve stayed maybe for 30 years. But then they might be thinking. I’m not so happy, but I know how to do this. I’ll get divorced and I’ll find somebody else. People are living longer. One out of five people who are in their sixties will live to age a hundred. And so, I think, maybe many years ago when people we’re in their sixties or seventies and unhappy in a marriage, they would think “We don’t have that much more time, but now people think we have another few decades. Maybe we can find true happiness. If this particular relationship is really not, doing it for us.”

Hanh: 6:18
So, what do you think Barry?

Barry: 6:19
Well, I just want to add one more reason and that is when people anticipate that they’re going to have to be a caregiver for their spouse, for instance. If they see that their spouse has diabetes and doesn’t take good care of that diabetes and they can anticipate that, that over time they may develop diabetic complications, have trouble walking, maybe may need ongoing caregiving. Then if that wife say feels rather lukewarm about her husband anyway, then she may say, “If I’m going to bail, I’m going to bail, now. I don’t want to look. Terrible when my husband needs me when he’s starting to have amputations or when he, his may need to go blind from diabetes. So the time to do this is now.” And, unfortunately I think we think that it’s sometimes the avoidance of family caregiving that drives some of this divorce.

Hanh: 7:07
Yeah. So now, do you, do you think any of this is because of a lack of understanding on relationships, changing role as we age? And then of course, what can couples do to lessen the risks of divorce and stay together? Happily married?

Julia: 7:22
Absolutely. It is extremely, related to how people communicate and interact with each other. Unfortunately, for some long-term marriages that couples have begun to take each other for granted. They don’t talk about their hopes and dreams. They don’t talk about their griefs and their losses. And what can happen is this feeling of slow drift? Where the two people in a couple don’t really feel emotionally connected. And that’s another reason why we may have this spike in divorce as people age. Our goal, as in our book, 11 meeting after 50 is to bring people together to give them tools so that they can sit down together as uncomfortable as it may initially be. If they’re not used to it, sit down together and hash through, their hopes, their dreams, the things they’re disappointed by, the things they’re happy with and really rebuild that connection. That feeling of we’re a team we’re doing this together.

Hanh: 8:24
What do you think Barry?

Barry: 8:26
I agree with what Julie just said. The phrase that we use is we’re encouraging people at that point in their lives. When they’re looking, they’re in their fifties and they’re looking forward to maybe 20, 30 years together, is to turn toward one another, rather than turn away from one another, because the slow drift that Julie talks about. And oftentimes this occurs in child focused marriages, where all the focus is on the children, is the couple has to then learn to turn toward one another again. And they may lack the skills, they may lack these, the willingness to be vulnerable with one another. They may lack the the goodwill to make themselves vulnerable to each other. And what would happen, consequently is rather than turning toward one another, that may turn further away from one another. And that will lead to at the very least a poor quality relationship over time. And that unhappiness may lead to eventual separation or a divorce. Yeah, no, I agree. I think, for the biggest part of our lives, we were very task oriented, right? It’s teamwork. “We do this follows, “We’ll do this for the kids at certain time of the day, whether it’s school sports activities.” So, a big part of our lives when they are in high school or up to let’s say before they lead for college, I remember to be very task oriented and you need that kind of support.

Hanh: 9:44
But then what happens when those tasks reduced. And it’s the two of you. So, I wholeheartedly believe what you’re saying. It’s coming back towards each other as opposed to drifting, but that drifting, I can see how that easily happens to many people. so thank you for reiterating that. Now, what is the impact of caregiving on relationships of couples over 50? And how does caregiving affect relationships?

Julia: 10:10
So, a lot of couples end up in this very uncomfortable position where they may be taking care of their aging parents at the same time that they are raising their children and working a full-time job, or at least a part-time job. And the stresses is intense. So one way that caregiving impacts couples, is that, we have to as a member of the couple, we have to really be empathic with our partner’s level of stress and what they’re dealing with and whatever they’re feeling about, maybe how the aging parent is doing. If they’re doing poorly, those there’s anticipatory grief, there’s, fear of loss. And, if we’re the, if we’re the caregiving child, adult child, then we need to, find ways to do some self care, to get a break, to ask for help. If we’re the spouse, we really need to participate in that care as well as just be there for our partner in their struggles and talk it through and let that person blow off steam, say some, some things that they’re frustrated about without feeling shame or that they’ve failed. It just has to have, the couple needs to have open communication as much as possible.

Barry: 11:18
And I’ll just add a personal note here, and Julie and I were family caregivers for our own parents for nine years, from 2000, from 2018, to excuse me, 2008 to 2017. First for Julie’s father, and then for my stepfather, then for my mother, you know, just happened one after one right after the other. And there were times when, because each of us were focused on caring for our parent, we had to put our relationship on the back burner. But the non caregiving spouse at that point had to be supportive any way ahead and had to tolerate the fact that our spouse was focused. Their primary attention was focused elsewhere. But I also say that there’s a potential, that caring for an aging parent can pull a marriage apart in unless there’s attention, paid to the marriage as well. So there always has to be a balance. So when we were, when my mother and stepfather moved up from Florida to live in an apartment, a mile from our home outside of Philadelphia, I felt very compelled to have dinner with my mother and stepfather. Almost, no, it was three times a week, and I don’t think Julie wanted to have, dinner with her in-laws three times a week. And we had a little bit of tension there and then she helped me understand over time that, that I was having dinner three times a week with them, not because they needed dinner three times a week, probably almost because really, to assuage my own guilt. And that, my guilt, was both causing me to over-function with them and also pull me away from her and our children more than was necessary. And so, I had to rebalance a little bit and find a sustainable balance where I was doing what I needed to do as a caregiver for my mother and stepfather, but also doing what I needed to do as a husband and as a father to my then teenage children. And in order to make sure that I was taking care of everyone and nurturing those relationships. And so, that, that rebalancing was very important.

Julia: 13:06
And just to add to that, I had to on many occasions, understand that Barry’s mission was to do the best care he could for his parents. And so, that I needed to step back and let him do that a lot of the time, just as he had allowed me to do with my father. And it was really important to me because, as a caregiver, there are ways in which you want to behave, you want to do certain things for your parent. And if your spouse is fighting you on that, it is taking away from your own personal mission. And that’s important.

Hanh: 13:37
Yeah. I can relate. I think once your spouse becomes a caregiver and so are you because you need to support your spouse and it is very difficult because you’re fulfilling the role of a spouse, of a father, and of a son, and those are heavy roles to fulfill and do the best that you can. I’m right there with you. The word guilt is it’s unfortunately it’s commonly a feeling that we all experience. Somehow we just have to just admit that we’re not perfect human beings. We do the best that we can, just what you said, you balance, you do the best that you can to be available, whether it’s one, two or three days, for your mom. And then of course, a balance to be there with the games for your kids and then being there for your spouse. It’s definitely a fine balance. Put it that way. So I agree with you.

Barry: 14:27
Yeah. And now, let me just, yeah, two other things Hanh to this. The one is that, if you’re being a spouse, a good spouse and a good son and a, and a good father, and you’re being pulled in those directions all the time, you often don’t feel like you’re doing a very good job with any of them. You feel like you’re being spread too thin. And I always felt that. And so, Julie then would point out to me that I would, just what you said, that I was doing the best that I could under the circumstances, and that I didn’t have to be perfect. That being good enough was good enough. And that made an enormous difference to me. The other thing which, which Julie helped me with enormously is that my mother and I always argued a lot long before she became developed vascular dementia. She and I always argued a lot. And when it came time to making care decisions about her, including eventually going to live in senior living, I, my mother would not listen to a word I said. Pretty much anything I said was wrong from the get go. But Julie had the capacity to talk with my mom and negotiate, something which felt, felt comfortable for her in a way that I couldn’t. So, I came to rely on Julie to actually step in and help with some of the care decision negotiating. And so, as a consequence of all that we went through during those nine years of caregiving, I have even greater appreciation for my wife than I had before. I feel it really strengthened our marriage, even though at the time, as we went through it, there was a lot of strain, sometimes misunderstanding, sometimes arguments, but that in the long run, we turned toward one another during that, and that made, has made a big difference now in the quality of our marriage.

Julia: 15:54
Yeah, we feel like we went through it together, cause we did. And even the parts that were very painful, the losses we went through together as much as we could. And that has brought us closer too.

Hanh: 16:04
Yeah, that’s great. Now, can you give suggestions, how can couples make sure that this doesn’t create tension in the relationship? I know you, you’ve mentioned a few. Would you like to just add some more on that?

Julia: 16:17
It’s all about communication. So, couples need to mindfully set aside time to talk through, what they’re thinking about what they’re feeling, and they need to listen to one another with an open mind and an open heart so that even if their partner says something they disagree with, or that, that upsets them, even they need to just listen and let that person speak, reflect it back. And then they get a turn to speak what’s on their mind so that they really listen to each other, rather than shutting one another down, because they’ve heard something that bothers them or scares them or upsets them. So it’s really, it’s a practice that people need to take on, which is where they really pay attention to their partner. And that partner really pays attention to them. We have busy lives, we do a million things. They need, that’s why it’s so important to set aside the time to actually attend to one another.

Barry: 17:11
Yeah. And that’s setting aside of the time has to be very intentional because as you pointed out before Hanh, all of us are busy in our lives. We can be very task oriented. And we always find tasks, even when our kids are gone, we can always find tasks to do, but to turn toward one another and say, “Okay, we have”, and just those same way, we want people to really plan, be very planful about retirement. How, how do they make the plans? How are they going to manage the money? Are they in alignment about what the plan will be, that requires discussion? How often will they see, do they expect to see their children in the future as the children raise their own families? That, that requires discussion. “How far away are we going to live from our children? Do we want to live next door? Do we want to live 45 minutes away? Do we want to lift five States away?” All that requires discussion. So, with our book love and meaning after 50, we’re trying to walk people through the necessary discussions to prepare for this, the, a better marriage in this last third life.

Hanh: 18:04
Thank you. Yeah, everything you’re saying I’m right there. I’m in my mid fifties, my husband and I we’ve been married 29 years and I’m also near an Empty Nester like I mentioned earlier, so it’s very relatable. So now, what are some key key ways to revitalizing the marriage in the last third of life?

Julia: 18:22
We like to recommend to couples that they do things together and they do things separately, both, and that they plan that mindfully as well. Often people have, they develop missions in their later life. After empty nest, sometimes people make career changes. Sometimes they start to volunteer. I know someone who joined 10 boards, people do things too. Fulfill themselves after they have raised their children. it’s a really important phase of life to be able to meet some of your own needs that way. So as partners come up, figure out what they’re going to do, that’s meaningful in their lives or add to what they’re already doing. That’s meaningful. Couples need to support one another. They need to listen to what the other one is doing and respect it. And then they also need to find some things to do together that bring meaning to the couple and to each of them, maybe they volunteer at a food bank together, or maybe they take walks because they love nature, or they read the same books or they watch movies together because they’re movie buffs, but they need to really make sure that they’re doing things together that enhance their relationship. But apart too, because then they can have things to talk about and learn from one another, which is also really important.

Hanh: 19:37
Yeah, go ahead, Barry.

Barry: 19:39
And I’ll just say that, the decision about. Where are you going to live as you age, whether you’re gonna remain in the family home, maybe the three-story home you’ve been in for 40 years which I wouldn’t advise, or whether you’re gonna move into a CCRC or you, whether you’re going to move to Florida. Those are all decisions, which don’t have to be onerous. They could really be about building a vision for a joyful life or high quality of life, a healthy life. And that, that building that vision around how we are going to live, where we’re going to live are what’s important to us in the choices that we make about living that brings people together and and strengthens the marriage.

Hanh: 20:16
Great advice now, how can senior living communities create marriage enrichment programs and family care, giving support programs? What is your thought?

Julia: 20:26
I think Barry has more to say on that than I do actually.

Barry: 20:29
Well, thank you, Julie. Well, thank you, Julie. So, uh, there are many senior living So, uh, there are many senior living communities that have developed family caregiver support programs, and they do this out of necessity because they see that. The folks that are living there begin to develop health problems, including unfortunately dementia. And so there’s a need. And so within the community, there are then support groups that are often professionally run by, by senior living social workers. There’s lots of resources available. I also think, and I haven’t seen this so much in senior living communities though. It’s often done in religious or spiritual communities. And that is this idea of focusing on marriage enrichment. We’re going to very intentionally set a week and decide where. As a couple, we’re going to go. And we’re going to think about the things that are important to our marriage. What is the mission of our marriage? What, and what are the things that we may stumble over? What are the arguments that we seem to repeat, again and again. And how do we find ways of tolerating the arguments and strengthening the amount of fun we have in our lives and the sense of mission we have together? And so, I think that actually those sorts of courses, and so, could be very easily imported into senior living communities. It wouldn’t be necessarily ongoing, but on an annual basis of a three, the three weekends a year of bringing somebody in to do marriage enrichment, or having a three session, a marriage enrich enrichment or marriage education. A course that could be offered to them, to the folks living within these communities. Um, I, I believe that they will they will be quite popular with the spouses, many of whom want to, you know, even they’ve been married for 50 years and they look at the other person, they say they’re a part of me, but to think consciously about what we can do together to make things, make each other, even happier. That’s a nice follow-up. And I think I think people living, within senior living communities would appreciate the opportunity.

Hanh: 22:14
Now what about, how can senior living communities support residents who have lost their partner and are still dealing with that emotional impact of it?

Barry: 22:22
I I I think by the same token that we have family caregiver support programs with within senior living communities, there are many who also have grief support groups. What I have seen in the senior living communities where I have worked as a consultant psychologist, is that, there, there are formal support groups and then there’s the informal support community where people reach out to one another and they care for one another because they’ve already developed relationships. And you know, us guys don’t typically last as long as the women. So you have you may have a, a large number of widows who find ways of supporting one another, particularly around the time of loss. Julia, you were going to say?

Julia: 23:00
I feel like the support around loss is crucial because sometimes when people lose a spouse, they isolate themselves. They feel ashamed of being single, believe it or not, just because they’ve been married for so long, they feel just so bereft, like they’ve lost a limb practically. So, it’s so important for there to be community outreach and encouragement and just built in opportunities for gatherings and processing of loss.

Hanh: 23:29
Now, what motivated you to write two books together as a couple? And can you share with the audience about your books?

Julia: 23:36
Yeah So, since you’re, you’ve been mentioning empty nest, when we became empty nesters, we looked at each other and said, ah, so what next? And we had this opportunity to write the first AARP meditations for caregivers book together. We had just completed, as Barry mentioned all those years of caregiving, and we thought what a great opportunity for us to do a project together to process our losses and our caregiving experience and to help other caregivers. So that was the first book and we had a lot of fun with that and we gave a lot of talks and we traveled and. And so, the opportunity for the second book came along and we thought this is great. We can help couples work on their relationship. once they become empty nesters, it’s usually the starting point. And then all the other things start to happen. The financial changes, retirement, extended family issues as Barry mentioned losses. And so it’s, it was just organic how it evolved.

Hanh: 24:31
MmmHmm. Whats your thought Barry?

Barry: 24:34
I mean writing books has been well writing was something that we always did. We used to write for uh, webMD many years ago and, we ran, we wrote for Health Central and other health websites. So we always like to write together. and then the opportunity to write these books together was a way for us to as Julie said process, what we’ve been through, but we also saw it as an adventure. And It was a new endeavor for us to write a book together and, and it’s something that I, was not always easy. We didn’t always agree. A matter of fact, frequently we disagreed. But we tolerated the disagreement and, persevered and we can look back on it and say, “Hey we produced something that hopefully, it’s helpful to other people, but the process was helpful to us.” And, and so I, not every couple is going to find in writing or write, producing a book, the the common mission that we keep talking about. That’s not, it may not be at all, but that’s, what’s worked for us.

Hanh: 25:25
Great. Now, can you say what the names of the books are and can listeners find it on Amazon or where can they find it?

Julia: 25:33
They can find the books at any bookseller, certainly on Amazon, and on our website, which is LoveAndMeaning.com And so, that’s the second book.

Hanh: 25:42
And the name of the first book again?

Julia: 25:44
It’s “Meditations for Caregivers”.

Hanh: 25:46
Okay, great. I’ll make sure to include that in the show notes.

Julia: 25:49

Hanh: 25:50
Yeah. Do you have anything else that you would like to add?

Barry: 25:52
I mean, just thank you, Hanh. I mean, this is, you’ve given us a chance to, to share some of our personal experiences and the way we’ve learned in some of the ideas that we want to share with others. And I just say that if we can strengthen marriage in the last third of life, it makes caregiving go better. It makes just dealing with getting older, go better. And it really makes the last third of life of much. It can make it’s more of an adventure than it would be otherwise. And that’s really what we want for everybody. We also want to say though that not every relationship is going to last that long. And there are people who have been miserable in relationships. And for them it’s liberation to leave a marriage at the age of 60. And for them, I w, I would wish them well and hope that they either enjoy uh, find find ways of creating meaning for themselves in their single lives or find other ways of connecting with people, because we know how important social connections are, to preserving and in some ways to restoring health.

Julia: 26:45
Yes, we hope people will hope people will make the most of the last third of their life because it can be great.

Hanh: 26:51
Yeah Well thank you. This topic is very relatable to me. I’m right there. So thank you so much for your time.

Julia: 26:57
Thank you so much.

Barry: 26:58
You too and good luck with your, your, your empty-nest years ahead.

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