When you first walk down the aisle, tons of people give you marriage tips like "never go to bed angry" and "remember that you're on the same team." Of course, during the honeymoon stage, that advice for a long, successful marriage doesn't seem very pressing. But with the rising number of couples over 50 calling it quits—these "gray divorces" now account for 25 percent of splits—it seems harder than ever to make a marriage really last until death do you part.
Changing over the years is one thing, but serious marriage problems also can arise from bad habits. “A lot of couples’ problems have been haunting them the duration of their marriage, but they may not have had the time or energy to deal with them,” says Rachel Sussman, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert, and founder of Sussman Counseling in New York City.
Most common complaints of long-married couples:
When one partner wants sex and the other doesn’t (or sexual desire discrepancy, as it’s known diagnostically)
One partner’s drinking or drug abuse
A difference of opinion on work-life balance
Arguments related to adult children
“There are signs when a marriage is in trouble and you have to get some help, 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. “You call your doctor if you have pain, you call your accountant if you have trouble with your taxes. Ask for help. If you get help at the right time, you can really turn things around.”
3 exercises that can reignite love in your marriage:
1. Create a calm environment for conversation
First, 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.
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, the person receiving the complaint must write down what his or her partner said and repeat it back, which ensures you end up talking about the issue at hand.
2. Learn one another’s love languages
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, you may have an appreciation disconnect.
3. Practice nonsexual touching
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.
The bottom line
In the end, the goal of these exercises is to break free from behavior that’s not working, to get curious about your partner again, and, ultimately, enjoy one another.