SPECIAL FROM Grandparents.com
Every marriage has its highs and lows, good days and bad. But what if you sense yours has landed in a rut—and you’re not sure how to dig out? “Fifty and older is generally the time when individuals are forced into a stage of exploring how far they’ve come and where they are going,” says Lisa Bahar, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Dana Point, CA. This moment of self-reflection can lead to frustration, which may then be revealed in trivial arguments, a lack of communication and little, if any, sex.
Find out if your relationship needs a jumpstart by reviewing these five cooling signs and ways to rekindle the romance.
Let’s talk about sex
Intimacy evolves with age and a change in frequency is a common theme. But if you’re both satisfied, don’t sweat it if your usual twice-a-week romp turns into twice a month. “Sex is a barometer of a relationship, but so too is physical affection like cuddling,” explains April Masini, relationship expert, author, and founder of AskApril.com. You can tell your marriage needs a lift not just when sexual relations have decreased but also when smaller pleasures have diminished, such as holding hands and kissing each other hello and goodbye, adds Bahar.
“Talking about the absence of affection or love making can be the kiss of death; sudden sex can make a spouse feel uncomfortable and not ready to resume. Instead, begin to slowly reintroduce snuggling and small signs of love that might then lead to more romance,” suggests Masini. And while it may sound cliché, don’t forget to hug everyday and say ‘I love you’.
A deafening silence
Are those crickets you hear during dinner? Don’t let the quiet take over! Even after decades together, the act of conversation is one that can buoy a relationship. “The spark has gone out of a marriage when talks at the table become more of an update about the kids and grandkids than about each other,” points out Kim Hardy, a relationship expert in Marietta, GA, and author of the upcoming book Marriage Relaunch.
“Remind yourself that you’re married to your spouse, not the children,” says Jacqueline Del Rosario, a marriage counselor in Miami. And when you’re having conversations, look your partner in the eyes and smile as you listen, urges Tina Tessina, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage. “Your spouse will automatically feel more understood and cared for, which will change the feeling of the discussion. Proximity is a consideration, too. “A chat becomes warmer and more caring if you place a hand on your companion’s leg or shoulder,” says Tessina.
Same old, same old
Take stock of the situation if your home life looks like cordial college roommates who nod in the hall, seeing each other only in passing, says Hardy. An established marriage is bound to have partners with differing interests and schedules, but going completely separate ways or getting caught up in a boring routine (set meals, dinner at the same time, TV every night) can be signs of a slump.
As long as you break free from the daily pattern, it almost doesn’t matter what you do. “Eat on a blanket, sleep in a different spot, or change around the bedroom furniture,” suggests Hardy. Surprise each other with a love note, a flower, or a balloon for no reason. And of course, making time for each other, whether it’s an official night out, a walk after dinner or a drive in the car, will help maintain a strong connection, says Tessina.
Disagreements here and there are normal, but picking at your partner repeatedly isn’t a healthy approach for mature couples—it’s what siblings do for more attention, explains Masini. You’re putting yourself first at the expense of the relationship when you start a fight. The real danger here is that arguing may become the norm, replacing the loving relationship you used to share.
Get to the bottom of what’s bothering you sooner rather than later. If you have trouble talking it through yourselves, find a counselor, minister or trusted friend who can act as a mediator. Or try hearkening back to the past. "A great way to begin a loving conversation is to say ‘Remember when…", suggests Tessina. Topics could include your early dating days, when you got married, the first house you bought, when you had the kids, or that big promotion. By reminiscing about these times, you can recreate some of the good feelings you shared and the solid history you have.
Where has all the kindness gone?
It’s time to take a close look at your relationship when nice gestures have screeched to a halt. Putting the mail where your partner will see it or bringing a cup of coffee when you get one for yourself may seem trivial, but they’re also the glue in marriage. “Hostility may be lurking beneath the surface in the absence of kind acts,” explains Masini.
Smooth over this rough patch by doing something you haven’t done before to surprise your partner. Take out the garbage for him, get his car washed or detailed, or pack up a picnic and head to the park. Or show how much you care by crowing to friends and family when your mate is within earshot. “Brag about how thoughtful he’s been or the way he helped you around the house,” suggests Tessina. Don’t worry if he looks embarrassed—he’ll be pleased and remember your kind words for a long time.
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