What is it about?

The rate of divorce in the US has evened out or gone down, except for those over 55, where it has doubled in the last decades. Many of these folks go on to make new relationships. The understandable fantasy is, "The kids are out of the house. The dog is dead. It's just us. Now it's our time." In fact, late-life recouplers, and their adult children, are often stunned to find themselves facing many of the same challenges that younger stepfamilies do. That's because it's not "just us." Some of these normal challenges are even intensified by decades-long parent-child and ex-spouse relationships, as well as extended family and friendship networks. There are also challenges specific to this life stage-. Late-life stepfamilies must negotiate emotionally-fraught issues of elder care and estate planning among stakeholders who often have divergent needs, and no time to build a history together or establish trust with each other. This article describes the challenges for late-life recouplers. It provides evidence-informed pathways to meeting those challenges. It also provides guidance for one particularly pained subgroup--recoupling older dads and their partners, where Dad and his new partner are thrilled, but Dad's young adult or adult daughter is having a very hard time. As with all stepfamilies, the good news is that we know a lot about what works. The bad news is that using a first-time family model will not be helpful, and may even be destructive.

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Why is it important?

The number of late-life recouplers is increasing dramatically. These late-life stepfamilies, like their younger counterparts, must build intimate relationships on a fundamentally different foundation from first-time families. To be helpful, therapists need to fully understand these key differences, and they need a solid grasp of what works, and what does not, to meet the challenges they create.


I'm often touched by how surprised late-life recouplers and their adult children are when they find themselves facing all of the challenges that younger stepfamilies do, plus some. And I'm way too often disturbed by the well-meaning but just plain wrong "guidance" therapists working in a first-time model end up providing. Writing this article gives me a chance to help lots more of us to provide the wise guidance these folks need and deserve.

Patricia Papernow

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Recoupling in Mid-Life and Beyond: From Love at Last to Not So Fast, Family Process, September 2017, Wiley,
DOI: 10.1111/famp.12315.
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