I’m always happy when couples tell me they’ve been together for 30 or 40 years, even if they happen to be in my office because of a relationship issue. Like aging, relationship issues are inevitable. I like to talk with these enduring couples about what’s kept them going, kept them connected, and where they’ve struggled. I’ve learned that there are some issues that are common to long-term relationships. Some of these are related to life stages—the challenges of aging, changing, medical issues, and the like.
When you’re young and newly married, it can seem like what you feel and think is going to be the way you’ll always feel and think. Then life happens—education, careers, kids. Time passes. Your focus changes and you concentrate more on outside things and less on your relationship. You get into a routine, devote your energy to simply getting done what needs done, and the playfulness and fun go out of your day-to-day interactions. You aren’t intimately connecting the way you used to.
Fast forward 10, 12, or 15 years. All of a sudden you see your life and your life partner differently. Your giddy young love has changed into something you don’t recognize. You feel isolated, walled off, and unsure how to reach out to your partner. You’re each living your own separate life despite sharing a home. You’ve grown apart.
Life Stages and Aging
Everyone handles different life stages in their own unique way. For some, aging is a breeze, even welcomed; for others, not so much. Our self-image and feelings about our bodies can change. Sexuality and our physical abilities change. Even our identity may change.
We don’t feel the same at 45 as we did at 25. At 65, we often wish we felt like we did at 45.
Many couples are unprepared for these changes, and if they’re not talked about, they can cause partners to begin to pull away from one another. Medical issues, menopause, and physical changes can also affect our interactions with a partner.
Keeping Your Connection
So how do we deal with the issues of aging, life stages, and time in a long-term relationship? How do we keep the closeness and connection we had at the beginning? Communication is crucial.
Many couples are unprepared for these changes, and if they’re not talked about, they can cause partners to begin to pull away from one another.
Stay close with your partner by talking as best friends and confidants. Share your worries and fears about the stages of life you’re entering. Open up with each other about how things are changing in your minds and bodies.
Talk about how your relationship is changing, too. Plan together. Take time to dream about what life will be like in the future. What you will do when the kids move out? Will you travel? Take a class together? Take up a new hobby?
Be curious about your partner’s feelings about the changes that come with aging. Adapt to your changing physicality and sexuality. Focus on one another, excluding outside influences, routines, and demands. Make it about your relationship. Be in it together.
Realize that your love has many facets and you need to stay on the same page in all of them. Be vulnerable, show your partner your authentic self, and determine to never give up on yourselves as a couple. Never lose sight of the friendship, kindness, companionship, and playfulness that has allowed you to be together all these years.
Changes are inevitable, but they don’t have to change your relationship for the worse. Consciously choose to move forward together, no matter what the future may hold.
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