Think back to the early days of your relationship and it’s sure to conjure up memories of romance and the excitement that comes with the first flushes of love. But fast forward and that same relationship probably looks very different. Even with the best of intentions, long-term relationships can become like a pair of comfy old slippers.
Divorce rates among U.S. adults ages 50 and older has nearly doubled since the 1990s, according to Pew Research Center. This trend has led to the creation of the term "gray divorce." A survey of more than 8,200 adults ages 50 or older revealed that a third of respondents claimed to no longer make love, according to the AARP. This loss of intimacy is what experts say is damaging to any couple.
Getting Back In Touch
Barbara Bloomfield, who co-authored the study, believes there are practical steps towards reviving a waning relationship. Bloomfield is a couples and family counsellor and clinical supervisor with 14 years of experience in the counseling field. “People can so easily get distanced from each other, and it’s surprising just how quickly we can start living what essentially amounts to separate lives,” says Bloomfield. “But as fast as it can happen, it can just as easily be repaired.”
One of the exercises Bloomfield suggests is the "10 Touch Test" — a fun way of reintroducing intimacy into a relationship. “This isn’t necessarily about reigniting passion in the bedroom, but more of a way of reconnecting with your partner and remembering what it feels like to touch them,” says Bloomfield. She recommends thinking of 10 different ways you can touch your partner in a week, whether it’s a cuddle when you wake up in the morning or a kiss goodnight.
Making Time for Each Other
Another common downfall is lack of communication. “I’m often amazed by how little couples talk to each other, especially about the things that matter in their relationship. A common misconception is that when you’ve been with someone for a long time, you know everything about them or what they’re going to say, but if you try to talk to them, I think you’ll be surprised.”
Set aside 15 minutes each week where you can talk to each other without distractions or, better still, make a date of it by going out for a coffee or to the local bar. Ask things like, "Tell me about your grandmother, I’ve always wanted to know more about her," or choose a series of topics, whether it’s politics or films, and take turns to talk about them. “The important thing is to listen to your partner, especially when you’re talking specifically about the relationship, and not to interrupt or try to problem solve,” says Bloomfield.
For example, Denise Gyllenspetz has been married to husband Ian for 36 years. Denise believes making time for each other and communicating has kept their relationship strong:
“Ian and I had only known each other for six weeks before we got married. I was 17 and he was 19. Inevitably, our personalities and outlook on life have changed over the years. But we’re from a generation where walking away isn’t an option, so we have to work hard at making sure our marriage stays strong. There have been times when it’s been extremely tough, but by talking to each other about our feelings, we’ve worked through it. Other demands can be a huge factor when it comes to drifting apart, so we always take time to remind ourselves that it’s ultimately about the two of us. Talking things through, especially when one is at a low point, making time for just the two of us and, most importantly laughing, has helped us to stay together.”
Finding Love Again
Whether widowed or divorced, finding yourself single later in life can be daunting. Here are some of Bloomfield's tips for those looking for a new partner:
- Take time to think about what it is you’re looking for. Do you want romantic relations with no strings attached, something more meaningful, or just companionship?
- Be prepared to step out of your comfort zone in your efforts to broaden your social circle. Just because you’ve never tried a particular club or activity before doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it now.
- Track down old friends, or even old flames. If you liked someone when you were 20, chances are you’d like them now. But beware if you’re looking for love; they might have a partner who won’t appreciate your friendliness!
- Don’t rule out online dating — it can be a great way to meet new people.
This post originally appeared on our sister site, Yours.