“Living Apart Together” couples need to discuss caregiving, health issues with family, each other

Published on February 14, 2022 in Rhode Island News Today

With divorce rates soaring since the 1990s, and aging baby boomers 50 and older having doubled in number, this trend, along with longer life expectancy and those becoming widowed, has resulted in many older adults forming new partnerships later in life. Researchers call this new phenomenon, “Living Apart Together’ (LAT),” as an historically new form of family that allows an intimate relationship without sharing a residence. And it is gaining popularity as an alternative form of commitment. 

According to Couple Therapies, Inc., a 2016 national survey by legal scholar Cynthia Grant Bowman, as many as 9% of older American couples have Living Apart Together (LAT) relationships.

A year after the death of my oldest sister, Mickey, in 2008, my brother-in-law, Justin, an endodontist who had become a widower, found love and began to date Ruth, also widowed. Over 10 and a half years (from their late 60s to late 70s), the couple shared companionship by LAT, traveled to interesting locations for his medical conferences, even traveling overseas to France and Italy. Both enjoyed dining out, attending theater, and enjoying music. “Our relationship was wonderful for this stage in our lives,” recalls Ruth. “At our age in life, and both having grown children, it was just easier to maintain our own homes and our separate lives, but we did many things together,” she said. 

Like Justin and Ruth, millions of older persons are discovering the benefits of LAT. It allows couples to enjoy autonomy in their own living space and to maintain pre-existing relationships with their friends and children. LAT couples are able to be in a loving, long-term, intimate relationship where they have emotional support without having to cohabitate or be married. Often, and especially for those who have been widowed, there is a desire to show respect to their loved one but not engaging in a formalization of the relationship through the legal and religious act of marriage.

LAT is being studied by researchers at the University of Missouri (UM) who say that while the trend is well understood in Europe, it is lesser known in the United States. This means that with increased longevity, it becomes challenging as to how LAT partners can engage in family caregiving or decision-making, and how it could affect family needs.

“What has long been understood about late-in-life relationships is largely based on long-term marriage,” said Jacquelyn Benson, an expert of older adult relationships from the University of Missouri (UM), in a Feb. 9, 2017, statement discussing their LAT partnered research. “There are now more divorced and widowed adults who are interested in forging new intimate relationships outside the confines of marriage. Recent research demonstrates that there are other ways of establishing long-lasting, high-quality relationships without committing to marriage or living together. However, U.S. society has yet to recognize LAT as a legitimate choice. If more people—young and old, married or not—saw LAT as an option, it might save them from a lot of future heartache,” she says.

In this UM study, “Older adults developing a preference for living apart together,” Benson and Marilyn Coleman, Curators Professor of Human Development and Family Science, interviewed adults who were at least 60 years old and in committed relationships but lived apart. The researchers found that couples were motivated by desires to stay independent, maintain their own homes, sustain existing family boundaries, and remain financially independent. Couples expressed challenges defining their relationships or choosing terms to properly convey the nature of their relationships to others, they say, many citing that traditional dating terms such as ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ to be awkward terms to use at their ages.

“While we are learning more about LAT relationships, further research is needed to determine how LAT relationships are related to issues such as health care and caregiving,” Benson said. “Discussions about end-of-life planning and caregiving can be sensitive to talk about; however, LAT couples should make it a priority to have these conversations both as a couple and with their families. Many of us wait until a crisis to address those issues, but in situations like LAT where there are no socially prescribed norms dictating behavior these conversations may be more important than ever,” she says.

Another UM research study, “Living apart together relationships in later life: Constructing an account of relational maintenance,” Benson found that if more people—young and old, married or not—saw ‘Living Apart Together’ as an option, it might save them from a lot of future heartache. However, caregiving needs might cause such couples to change living arrangements.

These couples choosing to “live apart” are tested when their partner requires caregiving. “While autonomy is paramount for these couples, participants in the study also emphasized the importance of having a flexible mindset about their relationships, especially when one partner needs additional care,” she says, noting that certain family issues that become important in your later years, like caregiving or medical decision-making, could be difficult to navigate for the LAT couples and their relatives.

“The societal standard for elder caregiving in the United States is to expect spouses and adult children to step in as primary caregivers; however, we do not know-how these expectations apply in LAT arrangements,” Benson said in a statement releasing the findings Jan. 8, 2018, study. “In our research we are learning that, while living apart seems to be almost universally viewed as a necessity for maintaining relationship satisfaction for these couples, paradoxically couples also are willing to make changes in living arrangements to provide caregiving support to one another,” she said. She found that for most of these couples, living apart and being independent was considered ideal.  Participants in the study recognized that keeping separate homes was the simplest strategy for safeguarding their autonomy, she said.

Benson cautioned against making any conclusions about actual caregiving behaviors. “Most of the individuals we interviewed had not been tested by the realities of caregiving [yet] within their current LAT partnerships. It will be important to follow LAT partners over time to see if their willingness transforms into action and understand the mechanisms that explain these care provision decisions,” she said. Benson called for further research to better understand repartnering in later life.

New AARP Study Takes a Close Look at America’s Grandparents

Published in the Woonsocket Call on April 14, 2019

AARP’s newest research study, highlighting the latest trends, gives us a peek into the world of grandparenting, a role that millions of Americans now take on in their later years. This number has steadily grown, from 56 million in 2001 to a whopping 70 million today.

The youngest grandparent is about 38 years old, with 50 being the average age of becoming a first-time grandparent, notes Brittne Nelson-Kakulla, AARP Research’s Senior Research. For those with children, by age 65, 96 percent of Americans are grandparents, she says.

“Today’s grandparents are an economic force that cannot be ignored,” said Alison Bryant, senior vice president of research, AARP, in an April 8 statement with the release of this 40-page report. “They are living longer, working longer, shattering stereotypes and supporting their grandchildren in a variety of ways, including financially and culturally. Nearly all grandparents are providing some sort of financial support, helping to ease the costs of raising kids,” notes Bryant.

Grandparents Pump Billion’s into Nation’s Economy

According to AARP’s study, 70 million grandparents can have a major impact on the nation’s economy. Grandparents spend money on their grandchildren, an average of $2,562 annually, this equaling approximately $179 billion dollars per year. Those dollars are spent supporting their grandchildren in a variety of ways, from helping to pay day-to-day expenses (meals, groceries, etc.) allowances, vacations, and school/college tuition costs.

The study found that grandparents have, on average, four to five grandchildren, down from six to seven in 2011. The number of grandparents in the workforce has increased in the past seven years, with 40 percent of grandparents currently employed up from 24 percent in 2011.

Grandparents enjoy the positive aspects of grandparenting such as supporting dreams and sharing roots, history and culture, and experiences, says the AARP study, but they face financial challenges, too. Thirteen percent of grandparent’s struggle with the financial expectations of being a grandparent, including the cost of education, traveling to see the grandchildren.

Seven percent of grandparents have taken on debt to help their grandchildren pay for college and one in four of those grandparents have even cosigned private student loans for their grandchildren and/or incurred credit card debt that has not yet been paid back in full.

Over the decades, the role of grandparenting has remained consistent, observes the AARP study. Grandchildren continue to refer to grandparents as “grandma” or “grandpa” (70 percent to 60 percent respectively). But, one in twenty of the grandparent respondents prefer to be called by their first name.

Serving as a Source of Wisdom

Eighty one percent of the grandparent respondents say they play a key role in their grandchildren’s life. Over half say that they serve as a “moral compass” to the grandchildren on variety of issues ranging from education, morals to values. But they say that discussing topics on sexuality and politics are way “out of their comfort zone.”

Grandparents also see the importance of teaching gender equality and rising the be strong, independent woman, too, says the AARP study.

Thirty four percent of the grandparents say they have grandchildren of mixed or difference races or ethnicities. Nearly all of the respondents believe it is important that these grandchildren know about the heritage they share. Seven in ten make an effort to help their grandchildren learn about the heritage they do not share, says Nelson-Kakulla.

Sixty eight percent say that distance is the biggest obstacle that keeps them from getting enough one-on-one time with their grandchildren. Fifty two percent of the survey respondents have at least one grandchild who lives or 200 miles away, while 29 percent live over 50 miles from the closest grandchild, up from 19 percent in 2011. Like distance, busy full-or part-time work schedules keep grandparents as well as schedules of their children and grandchildren keep them from connecting.

Grandparents are turning away from making phone calls to maintain contact with their grandchildren, turning to new technologies like email, Facebook, Video Chat and Texting to bridge the mileage gap. Forty seven percent “like” the idea of group texting messages to chat with their grandchildren and 67 percent “like” the idea of using online video chatting to keep in touch.

Finally, 89 percent of the grandparent respondents say their relationship with their grandchildren is good for their well-being and 67 percent believe this role makes them more sociable. Sixty six percent say having grandchildren makes them more active, too.

AARP’s 21-minute online survey of 2,654 grandparents ages 38 and was conducted between August 20 and September 4, 2018.by Hotspex, Inc.

For a copy of AARP’s 2018 Grandparents Today National Survey, contact Brittne Nelson- Kakulla, Senior Research Advisor, AARP Research, at bkakulla@aarp.org.

LRI Graduates Give Sage Advice to President Trump

Published in Woonsocket Call on September 3, 2017

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” — Thomas Jefferson

With the dust settling after the surprising victory of GOP Candidate Donald Trump last November, the news analysis on the election results clearly revealed that America is a divided nation of red states and blue states, either leaning Republican or Democrat. Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and into President Trumps 226 days in office, personal attacks are a very common occurrence on Face Book if the person disagrees with your posting.

Jeffersonian Dinners: Finding a Common Purpose

We have lost our way in agreeing to disagree on political issues. We are no longer able to civilly discuss our differences on issues. How can a politically divided nation relearn how to have civil political dialogue to find a bridge between our differing political philosophies and positions on policies. Here’s Leadership Rhode Island’s answer.

Last January, LRI released its second book in three years. “Dear President Trump,” a compilation of 31 letters written by LRI alumni who attended 1 of 13 structured “Jeffersonian Dinners” held across the state in 2016. The attendees began each dinner conversation answering the question, “When faced with ideological or principle-based differences with another, how did you and the other party find common ground and/or progress?”

Each letter compiled in this 32-page book was written “to the office/position and not the person,” as submissions and selections were made prior to the Presidential election on Nov. 8, 2016. “Given the emotional nature of this year’s presidential election, which might be best described as identity politics at its most divisive, we thought advice from accomplished Rhode Island leaders from different sectors and industries to our incoming president would be gladly received by the next President and the citizens of Rhode Island,” said Mike Ritz, Executive Director of Leadership Rhode Island, in a statement.

“There’s much wisdom and perspective inside.” In all, about 30% of the 111 dinner attendees – corporate executives, small business owners, directors of state agencies, elected officials, executive directors of non-profits, retirees, and veterans – submitted a 300-word letter which began with “Dear President.” Inserted between letters are quotes by each of the 44 U.S. Presidents, which were curated by Dr. Jane Nugent, a 1995 graduate of Leadership Rhode Island and LRI’s volunteer project advisor.

Sage Words of Advice

Here are a few snippets of advice in letters from LRI graduates…

Tricia O’ Neil, LRI ‘09, Family Wealth Director and Financial Advisor at Morgan Stanley, asks the incoming president to remember: “You are no longer a Democrat or Republican; you are now the leader of the greatest country in the world. Regardless of party, we are a rightfully proud country that continues to hold the truths of our Declaration of Independence, all the freedoms it stands for, as self-evident. Sometimes we will agree with your stances and sometimes we will not, but if you talk to us with honesty, patience and understanding, and stay consistent and steadfast, we will all successfully grow together.”

Jerauld Adams, LRI ’14, President of North American Industries, Inc., urges the new president to: “Find the strength to negotiate a middle ground on issues and policies so that your team will lead responsibly and will gain respect. Americans need you to be strong; they crave someone they can look up to. As the earth grows smaller, we need a more united America.”

Mayor Scott Avedisian, LRI ’97, of Warwick, gives his thoughts to the incoming president, too: “When dealing with the opposition, please find ways to agree and to disagree without vilifying them. Lead this nation by being an example of calm, allowing all to have their say and make decisions that exemplify the best in all people and all things.”

The “Jeffersonian Dinner” series, which provoked the idea for the book, will continue by Leadership Rhode Island in 2017. Leadership Rhode Island is currently in talks with other organizations outside of the state to collaborate on a national initiative for helping citizens talk through their differences productively and with civility, an action which Ritz says is desperately needed to heal a divided country after very contentious and negative election campaigns.

Adds, Matt Coupe, LRI’s Alumni & Community Engagement Liaison, the idea for Jeffersonian Dinners came out of a series of alumni focus groups held in early 2016 regarding membership benefits. “Alumni told us they wanted to connect with each other in more intimate settings than the large parties and networking events we often host, and they wanted to discuss topics of substance, says Coupe.

According to Coupe, Maryellen Butke, of Providence-based Namaste Consulting who graduated from LRI in 2008, introduced the concept of Jeffersonian Dinners, which had been developed by Jeffrey Walker at the Monticello Foundation, to LRI. Walker wrote a book, called The Generosity Network, in which he describes the Dinners as being modeled after dinner parties that Thomas Jefferson had once hosted at Monticello. Jefferson’s idea was to bring people of different backgrounds together to discuss topics of importance, so he could hear multiple perspectives on various issues he was facing.

LRI launched its Jeffersonian Dinner series in March 2016, after a few months of initial planning. Each dinner took about a month to plan, said Coupe, noting that the nonprofit organization did not even any expenses in planning these dinners, other than some minor advertising costs and staff time. “Thanks to the generosity of Paul O’Reilly, President and CEO of the Newport Restaurant Group (graduating LRI in 1995), we were able to host six dinners at his restaurants [22 Bowen’s Avvio, Castle Hill Inn, Trio, and the Waterman Grille] at no cost to us. The rest of the Dinners were hosted and paid for by individual alumni, held a t the Hope Club, University Club and in their homes” he said.

LRI has recently conducted an online survey of participants, which showed an overwhelming consensus of agreement that the conversations held at the Dinners were valuable in and of themselves, even if they didn’t always change someone else’s way of thinking, says Coupe. “We view this as a validation of the Jeffersonian Dinner model, since their purpose is to expose participants to different viewpoints, not necessarily to build consensus,” he says.

LRI continues to hold its Jeffersonian Dinners in 2017 and plans to continue for at least another year, says Coupe, with the goal of eventually host inviting LRI graduates and the general public to participate. We want to eventually spread the word about the value of Jeffersonian Dinners outside Rhode Island with assistance from the Monticello Foundation and the national Association of Leadership Programs (ALP),” he says.

Now, is the time to work together to build a better American and world by learning how to discuss our differences and finding the root of compromise. Jeffersonian Dinners organized throughout the nation my just be the answer to bringing a politically divided country together.

Let’s hope that a copy of “Dear President Trump,” finds it’s way to Trump’s desk. It’s a great read.

Books may be purchased for $20 (domestic shipping included) online at http://bit.ly/dearpresidentbook or by credit card over the phone at 401-273-1574. About Leadership Rhode Island Leadership Rhode Island is a nationally awarded community leadership development nonprofit organization, founded in 1981, with over 2000 graduates across the state of Rhode Island. For more information about Leadership Rhode Island, visit http://www.LeadershipRI.org