Have you ever noticed that many love songs are focused on the very beginning of a relationship? There are so many models for what young, early love looks like, but we rarely talk about what it means to nurture a relationship after decades.
Once you’ve gotten past the giddy rush of a new relationship, moved into a routine, and started aging together, if you’ve raised children together or even welcomed grandchildren — how can you continue to show your love for one another?
Understand the way your partner shows and receives love
Figuring out your partner’s love language is important at any stage of a relationship. Essentially, understanding what it is that makes your partner feel cared for — and the way they express their love to you — will help the two of you to communicate better, and to fully appreciate one another.
You’ve probably already figured this out at some level if you’ve been together for such a long time, but just in case, it’s a good idea to read up on which of the styles your partner has — words of affirmation, acts of service, gift-giving, quality time, or physical touch — and really understand how best to make them feel loved and appreciated.
Support one another’s individual interests
It may sound counter-intuitive to strengthen your bond by doing more stuff on your own, but the healthiest couples are actually the ones who make an effort to “flourish as individuals,” couples therapist Bronwyn Singleton told HuffPost Canada.
If you give each other time and space to join a pottery class or take up fishing, you’re relieving some of the pressure of your own happiness from your partner. And pursuing your own interests by yourself means you’ll actually have more to share when you do reconnect.
“I think we always want to be surprising our partners,” Singleton said. “We need to be developing ourselves to do that, so it doesn’t get boring.”
Relive old memories
One of the best parts of making it so long together is that you have decades of memories with one another. Don’t be afraid to talk about some of your most romantic moments, or parts of your relationship that you really valued — that can help bring you closer together.
Watch: Older couples re-create their wedding vows. Story continues after video.
Spend quality time together
Watching TV or doing the dishes isn’t the same as spending quality time together. It can be easy to fall into familiar patterns when you’ve been in a relationship for a long time — and you don’t want to get into a rut.
Going the extra mile of scheduling a date night — whether that means going out to dinner, heading to the theatre, or doing something special at home — is important, Singleton said. “Making time for each other when you’re the focus, especially when things like children or work start to hijack your time and energy [helps] to really make it about you” as a couple.
Find ways to be physical
This doesn’t necessarily mean “have a ton of sex.” (If that is what you want to do, though, good on you.) And the physicality of being embodied is going to be different in your 60s and 70s than it was in your 20s and 30s, Singleton said.
But “finding some ways to remain physically connected and intimate is really important, to remember that you’re in a romantic relationship, not just pals.” Cuddling, holding hands, just holding each other — all of those things can help you maintain your romantic bond.
All this being said, recent research has shown that way more seniors than previously thought are sexually active, including nearly three-quarters of people aged 57 to 64, more than half of people aged 65 to 74 and more than a quarter aged 75 to 85. Once again, good on you.
Think about your expectations — including how they change over time
As you age and grow, it’s inevitable that your needs and expectations for your relationship are going to change, Singleton said.
Maybe sex is really important at the beginning, but after a few decades it becomes less important than companionship and emotional intimacy. Or maybe you really love your partner because they’re such a good parent to your children, and once the kids grow up and leave the house, it feels like there’s a bit of a void.
“People have fundamentally different expectations about what matters in a relationship,” Singleton said. After kids move out, it’s common for many couples to have a little trouble re-adjusting to just being married when they’ve primarily been parents for such a long time.
Taking on joint activities like travelling, redecorating, and adopting a pet can sometimes help. And if you’re willing to be really open with one another, it can actually be an opportunity to strengthen your bond and settle back into that married couple role.
Take care of yourself
One part of maintaining physical attraction is to make sure that you’re making an effort for each other, Singleton said. It can help to dress up sometimes, to pamper yourself and to make sure you’re healthy, well-rested, and feeling good, for both of your sakes.
Show your gratitude
It’s probably hard to do when you’ve been together for so long, but don’t take your partner for granted. Think often about what they’ve given you, and what you like about your life together, and make sure they know those things.
“Gratitude is important,” Singleton said. “Be grateful for how your partner supports you.”
Mark your successes
Don’t be afraid to celebrate your anniversaries, to observe the fights you’ve gotten over, and to openly and vocally celebrate each other.
Staying together in a happy relationship for decades is an accomplishment — don’t forget to appreciate one another and to celebrate together.
One of the few love songs that does take the point of view of a relationship many years down the road is Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash’s duet version of “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow.”
The song is worth a listen for anyone who’s in, or is aspiring to be in, that phase of a relationship. Towards the end, Johnny sings, “I hear you whisper every night / May I have this dance? / And though I’m not light on my feet / I always take the chance.”
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