“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.” -Robert Browning
Relationships and marriages come with all sorts of expectations. We often hear the words “forever” and “lifetime” used when marriages are discussed. Up until quite recently, long-term monogamy has been set out as a goal for young people in committed relationships. The expectation is that we’ll love each other all of our lives, growing old together in wedded bliss. As a couples counselor, I frequently hear these expectations from clients in my office practice. Ideal love, romantic love, passion, desire, connection: will these last forever?
For some people, I think they will. However, there are a lot of variables that determine longevity in relationships. Expectations are one of them. Rigidity and unwillingness to change, grow, and adapt will definitely affect the longevity of a love relationship. We don’t remain the same people over the years. Not emotionally, not mentally, and certainly not physically. Age and time march on, and we are vulnerable to their impact on our lives and relationships.
The reality is that change is a constant. Our interactions and our experiences cause us to grow and evolve into the people that we become. If we are willing and open to it, we will continue to evolve and grow as individuals and as a couple for the rest of our lives. There isn’t an age or time when learning and growth stops. It never needs to.
The secret to an enduring relationship is for both parties to accept the reality that their partner is not the same person they were 10, 20, 30 years ago, and neither are they. When a couple can accept this, they are able to embrace the changes in themselves and in their partner and treat them kindly throughout the process. The excitement in an authentic long-term relationship is that you get to be with a new person throughout that timeline. Every person your partner becomes is someone new to discover and to fall more deeply in love with.
The problems come when one or both partners get stuck in their perception of the person that their significant other used to be. They fail to see that person’s change and growth. Or perhaps the individual themself is not open to growth and becomes stuck. They risk losing the relationship because they are not willing to accept the new changes in their partner nor support that growth.
Aging with a loving partner requires acceptance of physical changes, of an inability to do what we once did, and even of the mild to severe cognitive deficiencies that occur as we age. It takes a great deal of patience to deal with declining health issues or to show love when people are at their least lovable. But that’s when they need love the most.
Adapt and Thrive
It is possible to have a strong and loving relationship in your golden years. Understand that all relationships go through peaks and valleys, ups and downs. There will be times when you think all is lost. Other times you’ll feel like you want to stay like this forever. It’s all changeable; fluid and dynamic.
The best advice I can give my clients is to be grateful, to show appreciation, and to never take your loved one for granted. Try to stay in the habit of being kind to each other, no matter what is happening in this cycle of your lives together. Try to see that having someone in your life that you can love and that loves you back is a great gift.
Be willing to adapt to what’s needed. As you age, you’ll need to change your approach to just about everything in life as your physical abilities change. Sexuality is one area in which adaptability is crucial. You may need to use different positions, shorter sessions, or pharmaceutical intervention. But you don’t ever need to give up your sexual relationship unless you choose to. It can be a fulfilling and special part of your relationship until the end of life.
Topics of Conversation
Talk to one another about everything. Tell your partner what you need and encourage them to express their needs to you. Then set about meeting those needs. Give your partner what they need to continue to feel loved by you and to feel like you value them deeply. Show them every day how grateful you are to have them in your world.
The excitement in an authentic long-term relationship is that you get to be with a new person throughout that timeline. Every person your partner becomes is someone new to discover and to fall more deeply in love with.Talk about the hard stuff too. When things are tough for them, be supportive. Don’t always try to fix things. Sometimes a listening ear is what they truly need. Talk about how you both can adapt and try to make things better going forward.
Encourage each other to feel important and loved. It’s hard to feel old and unattractive. Tell your partner that you still find them desirable. Show them.
Let your partner know that you still “see” them for who they are and love them even more now than you did then. Build each other up and spend quality time together. Have fun and laugh a lot. Talk about the future; make plans for your golden years that include loving interactions and new adventures.
Talk about your fears and plan for contingencies. You never know what life will throw at you next. The most important thing to remember is that you’re in this together. You’re stronger together.
Through the ups and downs of your relationship, you’ve probably had attractions to other people. You may have had crushes and flirtations. It’s normal to experience this. We’re all human with basic sexual desires that can be triggered by someone other than our partner. The question is, what happens when you see a young attractive person? Do you act on that desire? Or do you realize that the best thing that ever happened to you is right there at home, and chuckle to yourself and move along home?
Long-term monogamy is a wonderful way to have a relationship. Monogamy can be sexy, exciting, and ultimately fulfilling. There’s something so wonderful about being in a relationship late in life where you can look back on decades of memories, shared experiences, and joy with a feeling of accomplishment that you saw it through the hard times and the good and made it all the way to your golden years together. You and your love can enjoy the end of your lives knowing you went through it all together and that you are stronger and more in love than ever.
© Copyright 2019 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Stuart Fensterheim, LCSW, therapist in Scottsdale, Arizona
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