Should Your Marriage Be Saved?

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Fear your relationship is getting stale? Lifestyle expert Barbara Grufferman reveals 5 things to help you start over — right now!

When I turned 50 a few years ago, I was very confused about almost everything. Wanting to be healthy, fit, vital, and stylish for many years to come, I sought the advice from some of the best experts around, used their programs, and put it all together in an easy-to-use book, The Best of Everything After 50.

One of those experts was Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity. Esther is a New-York-City-based relationship therapist, and through her workshops and private practice she has helped thousands of couples get through the toughest transitions that life can throw at us.

The most complicated, according to Esther? Finding each other — again.

In the years leading up to this transitional time, most of us were working, raising children, and probably juggling many other obligations. The challenge then seemed to be finding the time to be together as a couple, as man and woman — not as mom and dad or worker, or, as Esther is fond of saying, “productive citizens.” All couples have to pay attention to their relationships and nurture them, but this is especially true of couples who are over 50 and are finding that they have more time together, not less. This can bring its own set of unique challenges, for which many couples are not prepared.

A friend put it this way: “I’ve always worked from home as a marketing consultant, while my husband went to his job at an office. This arrangement was perfect, especially while our daughters were younger and still living at home. Both daughters have left home for college and my husband took early retirement. He’s home a lot, and while I still love him, he’s starting to drive me insane. I don’t think I’ve ever spent this much time with him. Help!”

Another “empty nester” confided that even though she and her partner are both still working and find that they have more time to spend together, somehow their relationship seems a little stale, and she’s getting worried.

What to do?

The most important thing to point out is that couples need to create a space, which is critical for keeping the relationship from getting stale. That’s the bottom line. So, how do we do that? There are several tools that every couple can use to keep their partnership fun, sexy, and alive. The key to success, though, is that both of you have to be on board. Here are a few that you can implement today:

1) A room of one’s own: Create your own physical space, your own place to work, think, be creative, be private, chill out. It can be the bedroom, your home office, a part of your basement, wherever there is a place that you can call yours. Your partner should not be allowed to enter this space unless invited, or unless you give permission. Set the guidelines, the boundaries, and the rules, and stick with them. But remember, he gets to have a space, too!

2) Absence makes the heart grow fonder: A critical mistake that many of us make is believing that in order to have a stronger relationship, we need to be closer and share everything. In fact, Esther argues, the opposite is true. Popular marital advice tells us we need more communication and more talk with our partner, but excess information and over-sharing can put a damper on a relationship, while a little mystery can feed attraction.

3) It takes a village: You can’t get everything you need from one person. Many people (men and women) make the mistake of turning their partners into their “everything” — lover, best friend, confidante, advisor, work-out partner. It’s way too big a role for any one person to fill. This is especially true, very often, of people who retire and find that they have too much time on their hands and expect their partner to fill in the gaps. It’s a recipe for disaster.

4) Get a life: You need lives separate from each other. Both of you should try to find time for friends, hobbies, work that matters to you, and volunteering, if you can. As I often tell my daughters, “The more interested you are, the more interesting you are.” Get out there, get engaged, and when you and your partner come together as a couple, you’ll have so much more to discuss and share. Esther has seen this incredibly simple approach bring relationships back from near-death.

5) Come together: Make time for your partner. Plan it and make it special so that when you are together, you’ll be completely engaged and ready to give it your all. Remember when you were first dating? Remember how you planned what you would wear and what you would discuss? That’s what you want to be doing now. Look fabulous, and have fun!

Esther recently told me that “you can have several marriages in your life.” She didn’t mean that you can divorce and remarry, although that is certainly an option for many people. What she meant was that during each transition we experience in life — becoming newly married, having children, embarking on life after 50 — we can reinvent ourselves and our relationship with our partners. It’s like starting over — together.

Editor’s Note: Barbara Hannah Grufferman is the author of The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts’ Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money, and More

4 comments so far.

  1. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    Hopefully, we come to the time, come to the age where a lightbulb goes on in the brain saying “Hey, I have only one life to live so I better begin living it now that the children are out of the nest”.  Some of us have already begun to at least try to see that some of our dreams, stirring in our minds for so many years, begin to become reality. 

    We may be married, we may love being married (or at least LIKE it!), but we certainly don’t have to be joined at the hip.  .   . and we shouldn’t want to be.  I like the term “personal fulfillment” for in going for it, attaining it, you find you never felt better, never looked better.  The inner confidence sometimes results in a glow that attracts others.  And what more significant other to newly attract with the “new you” is your husband.  You are exciting — hopefully you are — and you can hold your own in all sorts of conversation.  The dinner table becomes a time for such a variety of adult conversation as both of you have gone in your own directions during the day, coming home to share and discuss the events.

    It works both ways.  It really has to.  HE hopefully has developed his own interests – with friends of his ilk to boot.  I remember an old country song with the title “We meet in the middle” — and it is like discovering a new person that has more dimensions that the years have brought.

    I continue to believe though that the glue that holds a wonderful marriage together is the shared experiences they share when they meet in the middle.  Even small getaways and the surprise happenings that break up the routine become the moments to remember forever.
    Excitement in marriage has to have a place.  Complimenting each other, pausing to give an unexpected hug, more, are the surprise elements that women who feel good about themselves are apt to do. 

    This article about reinventing ourselves after 50 covers the waterfront and is filled with truth.
    Making life all it can be – in your separate lives and on the personal front – hopefully combine to make life and love sheer bliss.  Or so I have found.

    • avatar Barbara Hannah Grufferman says:

      Dear Joan . . . thank you for your wonderful comment.  And you are so right: it must work both ways, but sometimes we women have to lead the way!
      All the best,
      Barbara

  2. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    Could not agree more about the separate space theory—if one is lucky enough to have enough room to have ones own space.  (Not all married couples enjoy this luxury) 

    Mr. Wow certainly cherishes  his alone-in-his-room-time. But I have always had a kind of mania about privacy. Sometimes, B. merely asking me “how was your day?” seems like an invasion of my soul.   And then there are the days I tell him way too much about my day.  He looks relieved when I finally go upstairs and start to play with my e-mails and channel-surf or contemplate what I should throw out in my neatly cluttered room. But we have been together 34 years.  I’m sure at times he’d be relieved if I went upstairs and phoned down that I was in Alaska for the weekend.

    • avatar Barbara Hannah Grufferman says:

      Dear Mr Wow,
      LOL!!!  I agree completely with everything you wrote! Sometimes I wish I had a “room of my own” for a full week (except I’d let Gunther the Wonder Dog (our cherished rescued Brittany) join me).  But, in the real world, the tips I laid out in this piece seem to work very nicely indeed.
      Thanks for commenting,
      All the best . .
      Barbara