After decades of marriage, some couples settle into not-so-constructive patterns. After sharing joy, pain, and raising a family, they gradually realize they're fighting often, rarely have sex, and feel far apart even when in the same room.
In 2010, people ages 50 and older accounted for about 1 in 4 divorces. Susan L. Brown, one of the lead researchers for the study, told the Washington Post that the reason for these divorces wasn't "severe discord," but rather "the couples had simply grown apart."
- Communication issues are the most common complaint, followed by (in no particular order);
- Frequent fighting
- Sexual desire discrepancy, (when one partner wants sex and the other doesn't)
- One partner's drinking or drug abuse
- A difference of opinion on work-life balance
- Financial stress
- Weight issues
- Arguments related to adult children
What to do about it
The first step to a healthier marriage (and avoiding divorce): Acknowledge you have problems. "There are signs when a marriage is in trouble and you have to get some help," says Sussman, who notes things like fighting more often than having pleasant times; having no or little sex; preferring to spend free time with friends, family, or alone; dreading weekends; and fantasizing about other partners ....or being alone.
- First, wait until you're calmer, pick a time when things are calm, then open the conversation gently by asking permission. "I have some things I want to tell you—is this a good time?" If your partner says yes, your relationship issue shifts from an emotional outburst (which often provokes a heated response) to something more akin to a business meeting. "In a common fight, the brain is highjacked of its ability to reason and listen, and your partner cannot hear you," she says. Giving your partner the choice to engage in a conversation puts you on even ground.
- Second, clearly and calmly state your complaint and your desired alternative. "I don't like it when you do x, and I would like that you do y instead."
- Lastly, ask your spouse to repeat it back, which ensures they got your message so you you are talking about the real issue at hand. "It seems simple, but I can't tell you how difficult it is to repeat what your partner said," she says. "There's always distortion and defensiveness about what was said. You don't have to agree or respond to the complaint, you just have to hear it."
Identifying the behavior that makes your partner feel loved and connected to you allows both of you to feel more satisfied. If you feel loved when your partner hugs and kisses you, but your partner feels loved when you take out the trash or empty the dishwasher, knowing this consciously then building on it will go far to close that disconnect.
Recent research published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology suggests that having sex once a week—but not more often—helps you maintain an intimate connection with your partner and correlates with a happier marriage, regardless of gender, age or length of relationship. "Many people get in trouble because they're not having sex," says Dr. Schwarzbaum. "They grow further and further apart, but they can't figure out how to get there."
So, remove the sexual pressure. "I try to get them to separate nonsexual touch from sexual activity," says Schwarzbaum. "I tell them to play with each other's body, and take it very slowly, like have a longer hug than usual, but purposely put a stop to further sexual activity. That way they rekindle intimacy without the threat of the performance."
These simple but powerful approaches will help the two of you break free from behavior that's not working, and to once again enjoy one another. Dr. Schwarzbaum "(tries) to help them talk differently, listen differently," says . "Sometimes they go their separate ways because they can't do any of that, but very often it works beautifully. I get people in their 60s who make enormous changes with how they interact."
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