What are the key components for maintaining a good relationship when you've been married or cohabiting for many years? Whether you feel that you and your partner need marriage advice or you just want to see if anyone else can shed some light on relationship conflict, we've collated a wealth of advice from gransnetters about how to keep love alive later in life and positive ways to deal with common issues in marriages and partnerships.
According to gransnetters, a flexible outlook and the ability to share humour is one of the key components of a successful marriage. According to our survey results, 92% say it’s important to laugh in order to maintain a healthy long-term relationship. The ability to turn a bad situation into a funny one, self-deprication and being able to see the irony of things are all ways in which we can use humour to deal with conflict and build stronger connections in relationships.
"Humour is essential in any relationship."
"I always said I'd take a man who made me laugh over someone who was good looking. My husband says I got lucky and got both!"
"We have 'in jokes', phrases and sayings that are wheeled out to meet various situations. One of our old favourites is from Brideshead Revisited to explain a hangover - 'the wines were too various' said in a sepulchral tone."
"This morning, my husband decided that, as his back was aching, he would have a bath instead of a shower - first bath in many years. To cut a very long story short, he couldn't get out. My husband never ever swears, but boy did he know the right words today. At one point I sat on the loo, seat down, in hysterics, and he saw the funny side too for a second."
"My husband had a great sense of humour and could always make me laugh - even when I was mad at him! He was still making jokes and laughing through most of his cancer treatment and up until the day he died. I now try to see things as he would have done and am no longer a 'glass half empty' person."
Communication is key to maintaining intimacy in any relationship, but sometimes the longer we have been with our partners the harder it gets to talk about these things. If you feel that there is a lack of intimacy in your relationship - and you want to bring it up but don't know how - you could start by talking about what it is specifically that you would like. As these types of conversations can easily be misconstrued as criticism, try to focus on what you would like, rather than what you feel is lacking - the latter does not encourge problem-solving.
"We always say that we love one another and even occasionally have a spontaneous hug. No, it's not the same as in the early years, but still good and we wouldn't have things any different."
"Communication, kindness, caring, cuddles, and courtesy are the lynch pins for us. Perhaps the earth doesn't move as often as it used to, but we have lots of physical contact."
"It is a question of valuing what you have for me. At the beginning, the excitement and passion is a wonderful thing, but so is the warm companionship that follows. It lacks the urgency and immediacy, but it is comfortable with shared experiences acting as the glue. I do not think that either are better or worse - they are both to be enjoyed and valued."
If you are in a loving relationship, being tolerant of your partner's flaws and supporting each other when things go wrong is paramount. Every couple handles conflict in their own way, but there is much to be said for avoiding hurtful statements and rash decisions in the heat of an argument. Above all, when discussing things such as disappointment, being kind is incredibly important. While loving feelings towards one another is desirable, many believe that kindness and tolerance is just as, if not more, crucial in long-term relationships.
"Mutual support is the most important thing."
"Yes, your initial 'choosing' mechanism - going for a decent person with a similar set of core values - helps, but if you are a loving, forgiving person who tries to live by the rules you for set each other, you will probably have as much chance as anyone."
"My gran once told me that pride won't keep you warm on a cold night and she was right."
"If my husband said something hurtful I would make a joke of it and make sure he understood how that made me feel. We have to be able to discuss our feelings candidly in a marriage or what is the point?"
"Are you thinking that your husband knows your problem? Because if you are, then you need to actually say the words out loud to him."
"I don't believe he does it to annoy me, as that isn't his way. He just doesn't realise what he is saying."
One of the only things we do know for sure about life is that it will throw changes in our direction, be it good or bad. Being able to deal with and build upon those changes is a form of resilience. This type of coping mechanism is developed from personal experiences and thus differs from person to person. As a result, everyone experiences and deals with change in different ways. In a relationship, what matters is recognising those different coping mechanisms and supporting each other through the necessary processes - whether we understand/agree with them or not.
It is possible that our partners will deal with children leaving the home in different, and potentially, conflicting ways. The ability to understand that this issue could and might affect your relationship is key to not letting it rule your life. While the sadness of missing your children stays with you, there are many ways to keep your mind and relationship occupied until it naturally changes its rhythm such as making new friends or becoming involved with charitable work.
"It is the realisation that life is a long series of goodbyes to our adult children."
"My relationship with my husband is fine currently, but I suppose I do wonder if he will find it enough. Our house will be very quiet. Where I spent years missing girlie stuff with my daughter once she had left, now he is going to miss all the boy stuff. I don't think he has realised yet how much he is going to miss our son."
"It really helps you to prepare for that time if you start learning and joining social activities and groups outside the family. I've seen several friends going through this 'empty nest' depression who have had to forge an 'identity and life' of their own. Perhaps time to learn something you've always wanted to learn - a foreign language, pottery, sewing, bridge - or get stuck in finding out more about a hobby you've never had time to investigate."
"My other half and I have a great relationship, but we are a bit like ships that pass in the night as he spends a lot of time in his study or garage so I am alone for much of the time. All I can say is it can get better, especially if you are trying to keep yourself busy."
Couples are often reluctant to admit sleeping in separate beds/bedrooms for fear of being judged by friends and family. Whether it is a solution to a couple's differing sleeping habits or a sign of unresolved space issues, the issue of sleeping separately is often mistaken for a broken down marriage. Make sure you are both happy with your solution, take it up for dicussion once in a while to make sure that is still the case and remember that it is no ones business to judge what works for you.
"My husband and I have twin beds but side by side so that we can hold hands or slip from one to the other if we want. The separate beds have created harmony in what was once a nightly battle ground. I think a good night's sleep is very important."
"My husband and I have had separate rooms for a few years now. It is my 'me time'. We are together all day, everyday. I need that space."
"I actually think it has strengthened our marriage and removed a lot of the tensions caused by incompatible body clocks and chronic lack of sleep."
Sometimes couples have different ideas about what retirement will mean, both for each other and for themselves. It is not unusual for some women to feel that the majority of the housework is being 'dumped' on their shoulders when they retire. One way to address this issue is by talking with your partner and making it clear what your expectations of retirement are. Be upfront about what you want and make suggestions to how this could be done, so that you are both contributing.
"We're talking about my retiring later this year and my husband seems to think it will be back to how it was when the the children were young; he went out to work and I did all cooking, cleaning and stay-at-home-mum stuff."
"My husband retired nearly five years ago and he will only very occasionally help out. I think he has pushed the vacuum cleaner around twice. It gets my back up when I walk in from work to see nothing has been done."
"Sit down with your husband and say that you need a retirement too and you must share out the tasks."
"You can agree that you both have certain jobs like taking the rubbish out, washing up or whatever so that you both know what is expected of you."
"Talk to each other about tasks needing to be done, be realistic, and play to your own strengths. Things change and, as time goes on, you may find yourselves naturally falling into a routine. Don't stress the small stuff; you both have different priorities and sometimes you have to bite your tongue."
"You may have to be quite upfront about your expectations...a daily to-do list would be a good idea if he genuinely can't see what needs to be done."
"My husband is older than me and was really lost when he retired, so I suggested he should join a local group or two and get involved with the community. Now I practically have to make an appointment if I want to have a day out with him at a National Trust place or something."
What if retirement suddenly highlights that you don't have as much in common as you thought? Spending an increased amount of time in each other's company whilst dealing with a lack of daily structure i.e. not having a work routine, sometimes leaves couples feeling a little 'stuck' with their other halves. Rather than focusing on the potential issues of being in each other's hair, make sure you both have your own spaces in the house.
"Make it clear that it is your special place."
"The fact that you have little in common isn't serous. I have hardly anything in common with my husband, but we do enjoy the simple things in life together. Long walks give us the opportunity to connect and see things from each other's perspective."
"Volunteering for a charity might help - it certainly introduces a routine back into your life. I have friends who work in charity shops, volunteer as drivers, etc, and they really enjoy being out and about doing something to help the community."
"My husband has few interests apart from TV. I once complained to my sister that he never does anything, but she said, 'if he's happy then leave him be as that's what he enjoys.'"
"My husband has his own interests (golf and learning Spanish), but we also do a lot together aside from spending time with children and grandchildren. We cherish 'our time' more than ever. This can be anything from National Trust days out, going to the cinema, reading together, holidays. I'm not sure you actually need a shared interest, for instance I don't give two hoots about golf, my husband's much loved hobby."
How do you best support a depressed partner? And what can you do if you slowly start to realise that they could be in the early stages of dementia? This is an incredibly lonely and tough situation to be in and you might need some support coping. These conditions often express themselves as anger or irritation and can feel very unsettling. The important thing to remember is to take care of yourself as well as your partner and reach out to friends and family for help so the two of you are not alone with this.
"Be kind to yourself. Being a carer or living with someone with depression is incredibly difficult. If you're caring for someone with a physical illness, people notice and are more likely to offer their support. People don't notice invisible illnesses and won't realise that you may need help. I would be lost without my husband and I'm sure your husband would be lost without you, but he might not be able to say it."
"My husband changed completely from the loving, warm person to someone I couldn't reach. He didn't want to admit how ill he felt and the loss of confidence he suffered, but support and medication have brought him back to me."
"Is your husband frightened that he has some form of dementia? That could cause him to be depressed and want to be on his own. I used to write down how my husband had been behaving and give it to the psychiatrist at our appointments so that I wasn't embarrassing my husband by telling the psychiatrist in front of him."
"I've been through so many of the feelings - loneliness, anger, resentment, self-pity and unhappiness. We have an Admiral Nurse who has been wonderfully supportive and pushed us gently in the right directions for help."
"The one piece of advice I would pass on is do encourage him to go out of the house (my dogs have to be walked whether I want to or not), as it's easy to make excuses to stay in, which is not helpful to the condition. Plan days out, to a steam railway, to a castle, for a picnic as these could stimulate and help him."
"The change in the relationship is an insidious and subtle one - it creeps up on you. Gradually I have been expecting less and less of my husband. There are ways in which I am his carer and others in which I am his partner."
"It is hard to live with a person who has changed substantially from the person one fell in love with, but try to make sure that you don't drop all your interests and friends, whatever the problem is. Try to keep hold of yourself and don't just become a nurse/therapist/housekeeper. "
"It can be a lonely life, living with someone who has an illness that causes them to be focused almost entirely on themselves, through no fault of their own. You have to 'compartmentalise'. You have to be there for your other half, but keep some doors open and have some life of your own."
Do you feel like your partner no longer makes a real effort to your commitment? It is relatively 'easy' to get so involved with day-to-day life that you forget making a romantic effort with each other. This does not necessarily have to be a bad thing, however small romantic gestures can help keep the affection going in a relationship. The crucial thing to recognise is that these gestures should be small in nature, so they are easily done again and again over the years. What separates habit from gesture is the thought behind it i.e. I'm doing this because I know my partner will gain happiness from it.
"We don't get chance to go out socialising very much and my husband works very long hours, but we still very much enjoy each other's company. Just cooking a nice meal, enjoying a glass of wine and dancing together in our own sitting room."
"He never makes spontaneous romantic gestures and his idea of a day out usually includes a trip to the local tip and a visit to B&Q, but he always tells me that he loves me. The other day, he told me I was his best friend and the only one he could rely upon 100%."
"We don't drool over each other and my heart doesn't beat faster at the thought of seeing him. Our relationship is nothing like when we were first married - but I'd be lost without my husband."
"For us, mutual respect and our shared faith have been hugely important in our relationship and, after almost 30 years since we wed, we still say the magic words, 'I love you', to each other often."