Can your marriage stay close in those middle years?
All month we’ve been talking about the different stages of sex–how sex changes as you get older and your marriage grows. We talked about the honeymoon years, the busy years, and the glory years. This week we’re turning to menopause, and so I thought it would be good to talk about other aspects of the marriage in these years.
Debbie Cunningham has recently written an amazing book, “Dancing in the Kitchen“, and she sent me this super fun post.
Those middle years of marriage are such a transitional season. You and your spouse could be looking for revitalization in your jobs, aspirations, even your home. Lots of remodels happen in the middle years. Maybe it is because with kids out on their own and gained equity in our house we finally have the money!
What about your marriage? This season of transition can sometimes hit relationships hard where couples drift apart instead of drawing closer together. Connecting in the middle years might feel daunting. Especially if you have spent the last 20 years organizing your calendar around your job or your kid’s schedules and not being intentional about cultivating time together as husband and wife.
Your friends may have all been the parents of your kid’s friends and now everyone has scattered. Or you may not have kids at all but still have not had a real date with your spouse in years and you might be wondering, “How do we re-connect now?” Many couples become complacent at this time believing this is as good as it gets. Don’t let that be you! If you find that happening, here are a few strategies to build deeper connection with one another.
Make laughter and fun a priority again!
Many couples find themselves lacking in the fun department about this point in life. I mean when was the last time you and your spouse really laughed together? Most likely, sharing fun activities started your whole relationship. You dated didn’t you? Perhaps you went out to dinner, tried new hobbies, went bowling, hiking, went to concerts, movies or the theater together? That is how you began to discover this person you fell in love with in the first place.
Remember how you felt? You prioritized everything around those times!
Yet, somewhere on our journey as husbands and wives, having fun together seems to slip to the bottom of our to-do list as if it isn’t a necessity. But it is. Life can be challenging and Proverbs 17:22 reminds us
“A cheerful heart is good medicine but a downcast spirit dries up the bones”
….and your relationship!
My husband and I learned this lesson at one of the most difficult times in our lives. When our son Drake was a newborn, we found out our 3-year-old daughter Deanna was going to need open-heart surgery in a few months. The stress of those months facing uncertainty if she would live or not was grueling and it strained our relationship.
I felt like I had a ton of bricks on my chest, and started having chest pressure. So I went to my doctor. What he said surprised me. “All the tests came back and you are fine but you are under a lot of stress. You and your husband need to find a way to have fun together at this time even though your daughter is sick. Watch a funny movie, have dinner with friends, just do something lighthearted. It is important for your health and your relationship.”
We realized then that connecting through having fun together was really important and we’re still practicing that lesson… 32 years and counting!
Refresh your perspective and practice intentional kindness
Sometimes in a long-term relationship it is easy to get annoyed with your spouse. You know, when all those things you initially found endearing really start to get on your nerves. When I feel this way, I frequently ask myself this question: “If my husband only had 6 months to live would this really bother me or would I overlook it?” Usually, I’d overlook it, realizing that my husband was not intentionally trying to frustrate me, just over-stressed with life at the moment.
Remember how easy it was to overlook those little annoyances in your relationship when you first fell love though? You even went out of your way to grab a quick kiss or do something unexpectedly kind for your spouse on a regular basis. You would even inconvenience yourself because you were so head over heels in love. Try doing that again.
Even if you are currently feeling annoyed, choose to do something intentionally kind for your spouse, maybe once a day, just to love them well. It could be sending an ‘I love you’ message via text or a sticky note, running that errand or bringing them coffee, picking up dinner when they’ve had a hard day, giving a 5 minute shoulder rub or picking the clothes off the floor without mentioning it this time and without expectation in return. It is a smart practice to be good Samaritans to our spouse as well as strangers. This is love as a verb, not a feeling, but you just might be surprised at how you feel afterward.
Find an activity you both enjoy doing together
This is not a “date” but a shared activity you do somewhat routinely. Especially in the middle years of marriage this can be a relationship life preserver. It can really bridge the gap when you are at odds. Volunteering, gardening, bike riding, walking, praying together, a hobby the two of you enjoy, dancing, bowling, cooking together, sitting on the porch swing quietly or discussing your day…just something that you routinely do instead of doing separate things in the same room. That is also fine of course. However, having a routine activity you both enjoy doing together builds a connecting point in your relationship. You can do the activity, even when you are working through issues.
My friend Anita and her husband ride their tractor around their farm together at night to watch the fireflies. My husband and I take ballroom dance lessons for fun and we also walk regularly for our health. Sometimes we “feel” close when we are walking and sometimes we are choosing to “be” close even though we’ve had a disagreement. What’s surprising is that sometimes choosing to be close and go for the walk, even if we don’t feel like it, softens our response to one another and helps to build deeper connection. That’s a win-win.
Revitalize your communication and listening skills
We all have disagreements with our spouse. In midlife men and women both have lots of changing emotions. About this time couples might notice they’ve fallen into a rut of bad communication habits and resentments may start to emerge.
Here is the key: Listen and share without blame, shame or judgment, without trying to fix the problem and without interrupting, even if you disagree.
- Find a way to create regular space in your life to just talk about what’s bothering you or doesn’t seem to be working in your relationship. It is vital we give each other permission to share our heart without penalty. It builds deeper emotional connection when we can safely share our feelings. Also turn off the TV and put down your phone too. This is a respectful way to listen to your spouse and make sure they feel heard. (I’m constantly surprised at how many couples try to discuss issues while scrolling on their smart phones.
- Share without judgment. When you are the one sharing your frustration do it without blaming or shaming your spouse. A great lead in is, “When you did or said (blank), I felt (blank).” Our feelings are neither right nor wrong but our feelings get us into trouble when we shift to shaming or blaming each other. That doesn’t resolve anything.
- Get curious and ask your spouse questions. When you do respond, instead of dismissing their feelings because you don’t see it that way, try to see from their perspective, not just yours. Perhaps they have misunderstood what you meant. Perhaps something you said or did triggered a wound from their past. A great question to ask in response is, “How could I have communicated differently that would have been more helpful to you?” or “what could I do differently next time this issue arises?” Make a commitment to work on the issues together.
My friends Lisa and Kenneth learned to better communicate many years into their marriage during Kenneth’s military career. He said this was hard for him at first, to be so vulnerable and express his feelings to his wife. Their lifestyle had become one of managing frequent moves and deployments so much that they felt like roommates instead of lovers. It was Kenneth that brought up the struggle they were having and asked for honest discussion to find a solution. Lisa tends to avoid conflict but they knew the problem couldn’t be fixed by ignoring it. They both listened to how the other felt even when the message was hard to hear and after making a few changes their marriage is better than ever!
Take time to Dream together again
Remember all those starry-eyed plans you had when you first started dating? Well, chances are life might not have turned out exactly as you hoped. Now is the time to dust those dreams off and think about creating new ones! Of course you may have individual goals and dreams but think about your life as a couple. Try writing a bucket list together. You might not get to check them all off but at least you have some goals to reach toward. That alone will give you a shared activity to pursue for the rest of your life.
Celebrate and have gratitude
Think about how far you’ve come in your relationship. There have been joys and sorrows but here you are, still together. Have gratitude for all you have come through. My husband and I have always been big about celebrating the little things in life as well as the big events. It doesn’t take much.
Celebrating is just about being intentional to set aside a moment of gratitude.
Sometimes we celebrate that a particularly tough season is finally ending!
We might cook a special meal or go out to dinner and thank God for the ability to move forward. It is not just about celebrating accomplishment. We can also celebrate courage through trials as well. It fosters joy in life to have gratitude.
Celebrate milestones you reach, what you currently have, even if meager at the time and keep on celebrating with gratitude as you grow together through the years. I know life isn’t always rosy but it is short. See every day as an adventure worth taking with the one you love!
She has been married to her high school sweet heart, Derek, for 32 years and delights to be the mother of two and grandma of one! Debbie spends her time performing with her jazz quartet, speaking at marriage & women’s conferences and coaching in her spare time. She loves traveling with her hubby, pausing for a sunset or afternoon tea and is always on the lookout for a good gluten free recipe!