What I Know About Love Now That I'm In My 60s

02/14/2012 09:34 am ET | Updated Apr 15, 2012

Every time someone tells me "You don't look 60," I paraphrase Gloria Steinem's famous line and reply, "This is what 60 looks like." Yet on some level, I know what they mean: 60 just sounds so old, doesn't it? Truth is, it doesn't feel old once you get here. I haven't lost the curiosity of my 20s, the ambitions of my 30s, the self-confidence acquired in my 40s or the appreciation for what I have that didn't develop until my 50s. And I fully plan on living well into my 90s, just as every other woman in my family has done before me. But the beauty of being 60 is that I really do have some wisdom to share when it comes to finding and keeping love -- and I do mean wisdom, not dating tips. Personally, 60 finds me in a good place, which is sleeping next to the man I love every night. I'm not sure that makes me an expert on relationships, but it does mean I've figured a few things out about sharing your life with someone. Here's what I've learned so far:

You can't actually change people, but can change how you react to them.
My husband is a wonderful guy with many, many behaviors I wish I could change. He regularly leaves the dishwasher door open all day and is pretty much blind to the dog scratching at the back door if he's watching the Chicago Cubs on TV. He always leaves his dirty socks on the bathroom floor and Mr. Hothead got himself kicked out of his first kids' soccer game when our daughter was just six.

His irritating ways and my nagging about them brought us into counseling at one point, where I fully expected to hear how right I was and how idiotic he was being. Instead, I came out understanding that when you love someone, it's best to focus on the reasons why you love them and let the smaller stuff slide.

I now close the dishwasher door silently, let the dog out myself, pick up the socks and make him sit at least 15 feet away from me at all of our children's sporting events. I appreciate that he washes the dishes, indulges my need to have dogs despite his allergies, am grateful he wears socks at all, and love that he has taught our children to stand up for themselves and against all injustices -- especially those delivered at the hands of AYSO referees.

Relationships are like a Cha-Cha and you need to take turns being the leader.
The person with the most power in a relationship is the one who cares the least. In a good marriage, that power is rotated. It comes in the form of compromising.

No one is right all the time. No one is wrong all the time. It takes two to fight but just one to make a bad situation good again.

Intimacy takes many shapes.
Physical intimacy ebbs and flows, but emotional intimacy is what keeps you strong as a couple. My husband and I were co-workers and friends before we dated and married. We are best friends, best companions, co-parents of two amazing children.

He knows me well enough to know that when I snap in anger, tears will follow shortly. He knows how to talk me down off the ledge when the kids stumble, the bills mount, the pressure of life overwhelms. He makes me laugh when I'm sad. He defends me to others, even when he knows I'm wrong. He's my teddybear, my cuddle bunny. And he's gonna just plain freak-out when he reads that here.

Without trust, you have nothing.
I have a friend who spies on her husband. For real. She thinks he's having an affair. She checks his pockets for hotel and restaurant receipts. She says she doesn't like the way he looks at other women, even when she's in the room. I can't imagine walking in her shoes.

Fidelity is the bedrock of any relationship, at least any relationship I want to be involved in. I think people who engage in open marriages are deluding themselves and I think partners who cheat on their spouses are deceitful cowards.

If your marriage is broke, fix it. If you can't fix it, end it. And then you can move freely about the cabin -- but not before.

Compromise without being compromised.
When I was younger, I was guilty of making bad partner choices. I've since learned that anyone who would demand things of me that felt wrong or violated my ethics was the wrong person for me.

It's OK to see things from different perspectives. But follow your gut. If it feels wrong, don't do it. Anyone who asks you to do otherwise isn't the right mate for you.

Compromising is a vital part of a relationship. Just know where to draw the line.

When you have your health, you have everything.
That one was always an eye-roller for me when people said it -- until my husband's heart attack six years ago. My near-brush with losing him changed everything and refocused our marriage. While we occasionally slip back into some quarrelsome patterns, we emerged from the heart attack experience in a better place. You value things more if they are taken away.

Loving someone isn't enough; you need to be able to show it.
Every morning, my husband and I wake up thinking about how to make the other one happy that day. I often come home from work to find flowers -- not just the Stargazer Lillies that were our wedding flowers, but also flowers he picks for me from along the roadside. I don't wait for his birthday to make him the labor-intensive but amazingly delicious recipe from the heart-healthy cookbook that he loves. If he washes, I dry. When he misplaces his cell phone, I help him find it. When my car needs an oil change, he takes it in.

We may have always loved each other. But we had to learn how to show it.

Marriages need tending.
Life is busy and complicated and there is a tendency to pay attention first to problems. All too often in a long marriage, things just kind of chug along. If you aren't careful, you'll just chug yourself into a rut.

I laugh at the advice that people should "schedule" time for the marriage. Those advice-givers have it wrong. The marriage is the priority; everything else is secondary.

We adore our children and love spending time as a family. We believe that doing so is the only way to raise children. We don't shovel them off to sitters or send them on playdates and sleepovers cavalierly.

But we also spend time together without the kids. We go out to dinner, or sometimes just meet on my way home for a walk on the beach or around the park. Sometimes we rent a movie and go into our bedroom to watch it. We lock the door and instruct the kids that they may knock only if they are bleeding, not breathing or someone's hair is on fire.

To be good parents and have a strong family unit, you need first to have a strong marriage.

You have to grow as individuals, which means you have to make adjustments along the way.
We are not the same people who got married to one another decades ago. We have both changed and that, in turn, meant making adjustments in the marriage.

One of the biggest adjustments came when my husband, who is 15 years my senior, retired early from his job of 32 years. I was, and still am, working fulltime. His days were leisurely and empty to the point of boredom; mine were stressful and busy. When I came home each evening, I wanted to decompress but his need for company was palpable.

Our solution came in an unusual form: We adopted two young children from China and my husband became a fulltime stay-at-home dad. It's a role he is amazingly well-suited for. His easy-going attitude makes him a great father and with the exception of 8th grade science homework, he loves every minute of it.

The commitment to being married is just as important as who you marry.
Marriage is hard, don't kid yourself. Picking a partner who you think you can live with harmoniously is a big part of it, but not everything. You have to make the commitment to the idea of marriage as well as to the person you marry.

Unlike living together, the door to exiting the relationship is locked in a marriage. When you are living together and you have a fight, one of you just moves out. It's not so easy in a marriage. And honestly? That's a good thing.

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