Why do we get so darn crotchety with our significant other? Obviously, personalities and experiences can collide in any relationship whether you’re young or old, and annoyances can easily build up causing notable unrest. Being thoughtful whilst in the midst of the disturbance is truly the challenge. Although I know this behavior can surface in any relationship, there is one scenario in particular that truly bothers me…when I hear an older woman speak sharply, deny something, or blatantly be mean to her husband. The irritability is palpable.
While it’s fair to say older men get as annoyed with their wives as their wives do with them, for sake of this discussion, I am focusing on my personal experience, where it’s the women who tend to be more annoyed, more impatient, and less compassionate, and it makes me wonder why. This commentary is not an indulgence in women shaming, this is about what I have witnessed; seemingly right-minded older women who can’t help but be mean to their husbands, and in many circumstances, their ailing husbands.
We all know that death is eminent. The idea that in our old age we would die at the same moment as our significant other is sweet but unrealistic. We live like we’ll never die when were young, and when we’re old, we live with fears of the unknown and we don’t want to go it alone. So why, why do older women, in particular, get so crotchety when all they should be doing is soaking up the time they have left and treating the one they love with kindness? And when I say crotchety, I’m not talking about normal annoyances; I’m talking about being mean when everything is telling you to be compassionate.
I hate to say, I have personally witnessed women partake in this behavior, and it bothers me enough to write this article. If I push aside personality traits that could interfere and truly think about the situation these women find themselves in, my guess is that the all-encompassing fear of losing their spouse is what pushes them over the edge. Their worry is real, and I’m sure its excruciating. The one person they signed up to live their entire life with is about to exit from the grand plan, leaving them to worry endlessly about their unchartered future.
I tried to research this “meanness” syndrome online with little to show. But what I did find was an article about levels of well-being* in older people and how it declines no matter the economic climate. For women, they usually become caregivers for family members which absorbs energy, time, and positive mindset. Also, women are far more likely to be widowers, but before that happens, children leave the nest creating the first sense of loss. It’s only natural that “loss memory” would come into play when a spouse threatens the balance of life, whether by choice as in divorce or by death, and the women who live this reality are subsequently left to navigate depression and loneliness on their own.
When you reach a certain age, whether you’re a man or a woman, you may be subjected to watching your closest friends pass away, which in turn may cause you to wonder, am I next? It certainly doesn’t lend itself to a life filled with positivity and motivation, in fact, such thoughts create cracks in the foundation of our being, allowing negativity to seep in. So, it’s not surprising that depression, exhaustion, and impending loss and loneliness must all lead to a fear-based cocktail of impatience and annoyance, which is why an older woman may lash out at her spouse. It all seems so contrary to what we think would happen – wanting to live your best life with the one you love till the end, but fear is a beast, and it takes hostages.
Another interesting article I found was about understanding impatience*. This concept actually applies to all of us, no matter your age. There are certain conditions and triggers that set us up to be impatient. First, let’s say we have a goal set, then we acknowledge that there are consequences to reaching our goal. What triggers our impatience is when the consequences are going to cost us more in order to reach our goal, and then we start looking for ways to avoid those extra costs; hence, impatience surfaces.
If we put this equation into the scenario of an older woman who is annoyed with her husband, or is about to lose her husband, it makes sense that impatience surfaces. The couple has always had a goal to live out their days together, and along the way they make decisions to make sure that comes to fruition. But when the cost becomes overwhelming, when caregiving exhausts a person both mentally and physically and is compounded by the actual fear of loss and inevitable loneliness, avoidance swoops in and the clear goal once held so bravely is no longer clear. The proverbial floodgates open, and that allows anger, denial, impatience, and annoyance to flow.
Fear is truly the root of all evil. It swallows us whole when we’re not paying attention and tricks us into thinking less of ourselves and others. It’s not enough to love…you have to be kind, and amidst all of the emotional duress that relationships can bring, never mind dealing with physical or mental illness or old age, it just must be too difficult for some older people, women in this case, to rise above their overwhelming fears to simply be kind.
I’ve witnessed this crazy phenomenon in some women I know, but that doesn’t mean it’s only women who experience this; we’re all human, and therefore we all can slip into this behavior. Before any of us speak, there are three questions to ask: is what I want to say true, is it kind, and is it necessary?
We are complicated beings, full of emotion. It is not my place to judge, but I can pray, and what I pray for is that instead of fear drawing out meanness, fear could be re-purposed as a long enduring hug that appreciates no matter what, rises above the chaos, and strengthens us to make better choices no matter our age, gender, or circumstance.
Can kindness make a resurgence; I hold out hope that it does. Although I acknowledge that we all, men and women, can fall into this catastrophic behavior, I pray specifically for older women to push away the fear cocktail, allowing kindness to calm the overwhelming chaos.