Love in the Real World
OUT OF THE BLUE, it hits me. I look at my partner and am swamped by a giant aha moment. Such sudden jolts remind me why I fell for him all those years ago. He doesn't do anything special to trigger them—he might just be grinding coffee or fixing a bike puncture. But these unexpected bursts of love (or lust?) are sorely needed mini-peaks on the graph of marriage, a line that often just slumps along, waiting for something to send it spiking.
We've been married for 20 years, and like many 40+ women, my excuse for letting the focus on our romantic life slip is that right now, I'm just too busy. I loved him enough once: I'll get back to him when everything else is done.
My chats with friends, also in their 40s and 50s, reveal that common relationship snags tend to surface during this time, and these can scuttle intimacy. Read on to remedy these woes and become closer to your lover than ever.
WE HAVE THE SAME ARGUMENTS ALL THE TIME.
"He seriously believes he does half the domestic stuff and expects a pat on the back every time he makes dinner. I know I do almost everything, but he won't recognise that, so we argue and argue." says Jillian, 51, an accountant with two teenage sons.
» Is that the real reason they're fighting, questions Anne Hollonds from Relationships Australia, or do bigger problems lurk behind the arguments? "Sometimes we fight over small things, such as domestic duties, to mask the fact that we want to discuss the bigger issues. You may be wondering. Does he still love me?" says Hollonds. If this rings true, be courageous and address the larger issues.
» Also, it's not what we argue about, but how we do it, says Relationship Therapist Pamela Supple (counselling4you.com.au)."Reframe your complaint or issue as a request," she adds. "Think first about how you'd like to be treated— and how your partner would like to be treated—before engaging in conflict."
"WE'VE LOST OUR CONNECTION."
"My husband and I have gone from being an extremely close couple to a pair of child carers who only ever talk about our family roster,"says Jacqui, 48, a media adviser with three children aged 11,13 and 15.
» Date nights really do work. A US study involving 132 couples found that those who went on frequent dates were more likely to be satisfied with their marriage than were those who spent less time together. (In this case, partners averaged about six dates a month!)
"(Date nights) get that cycle working again—the one where people know they're valued. Once they know that, they have the world at their feet," explains clinical psychologist Amanda Gordon.
"WE'RE STUCK IN A DEEP, DEEP RUT."
"I feel like I'm on autopilot: same stuff, different day," says lawyer Giselle, 51, who has one adult child. "I can't seem to get my husband to do anything—with me or for himself. I'm so bored, I could scream. At least that would break the monotony."
» A recent study conducted in the US confirms that couples can increase their intimacy and satisfaction by adventuring into exciting new activities—together.
Canadian psychiatrist Dr Norman Doidge supports this theory. In his book The Brain Thai Changes Itself ($29.95; Scribe Publications).
Doidge advises lovers to inject novelty into their relationship. "When couples go on a romantic vacation, try new activities together, wear new kinds of clothing or surprise each other, they're using novelty to turn on their pleasure centres so that everything they experience, including each other, excites and pleases them."
"SEX? WHO'S GOT THE TIME? OR THE ENERGY?"
"Sex just isn't happening at our house anymore. It's like the giant randy elephant in the room. And this has gone on for months now,"says Joanna, 46, a part-time caterer with two children under the age of 12 and a husband of 18 years.
» At the, er, root of many couples' lagging sex lives is their perception that they're too busy. The best way to get back on track after a long break from sex is to diarise it. "What often happens is, your time has been so full with other things, you've let the relationship pass you by," says Gordon. "Schedule lovemaking like you would any other important event."
You're busy with your career, kids and financial commitments, but this is a vital phase of your relationship. Make sure you find the time to focus on what's really important. Plan dates and organise the occasional getaway—you can fit them in!
As kids gain independence and financial constraints ease, use the spare leisure time to rediscover each other. Reconnect and refresh your partnership through shared interests and activities
This can be a decade of great, even exciting, life change. The potential for travelling and entertaining opens up, so enjoy spending lots of pleasurable time together.
This is the time to celebrate the journeys you've taken as a couple. Extend your horizons with short breaks and well-planned longer trips. 'Fish' for experiences and knowledge to share.