This month my husband Larry and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Ours is a second marriage for both of us. And, even though 25 is traditionally thought of as the silver anniversary, we feel “golden” pretty much every day.
Younger couples often tell us that they want to know our secret. They are painfully aware that one of every four divorces in the U.S. is a “gray divorce” – a divorce involving people over 50+ ending a long-term marriage.
I’m happy to share the secret to our happy marriage. You can protect your marriage against this “gray divorce” phenomenon by adopting these four habits that will keep your marriage golden, even when you’re gray.
(1) Treat your marriage as the foundation of your family. If you allow your marriage to erode in the early years, you, your spouse, and your children will feel insecure, unsettled, and tense. Without deliberate care and attention, a once intimate, loving marriage could become conflictual and distant. Even if a distressed marriage survives until children are launched or careers have ended, the kids will likely be troubled, and the couple will likely opt for divorce as a relief from their unfulfilling relationship.
When it comes to family priorities, put marriage stability first, whether you are a family with children or without.
(2) Create a long-term goal and work toward it together. Young adult couples are less likely to divorce if they are well educated. Older adult couples, however, are less likely to divorce if they are financially secure. This means that unhappy older couples who can least afford to establish two households in their later years, are the ones most likely to separate.
Why? Financial security typically results from shared commitment to a long-range plan. To achieve financial security couples must define their financial goals and form a joint commitment toward them. Working toward shared goals requires constructive discussions about conflicting priorities. However, establishing shared goals also creates shared interests, a joint commitment, mutual respect for each other’s contribution, and reasons to celebrate your success – all components of a satisfying marriage.
(3) Be your best physical self. Gray divorce is rarely connected to male sex enhancement drugs that allow men to satisfy younger women. But physical appearance is still important to keeping sexual intimacy alive for older couples.
Fortunately, satisfied older married couples don’t expect their partners to conform to an unrealistic, unnatural standard. Instead, they expect each other to show affection and make the most of what they’ve got.
So, work toward a shared goal to stay fit and healthy, clean up each day even when you’re just hanging out at home, hold hands, kiss regularly, and occasionally, share physical intimacy any way you still can, whether that’s dancing on the kitchen floor, rolling like thunder under the covers…or anything in-between.
(4) Be your partner’s best friend. A romantic spark ignites initial attraction and typically only continues to burn through the first few years of marriage. Couples who have shared interests and a true friendship are the ones most likely to stay married and thrive when that romantic flame becomes embers.
The single most distinguishing characteristic between happy couples and distressed couples is that happy couples are more likely to be best friends.
These married friends truly enjoy each other’s company and embrace their partner’s interests. They routinely create opportunities to do activities they both enjoy and alternate between each other’s favorites. So, if your husband loves to watch football, get excited about the game. If your wife loves musicals, take her to the theater. Take exercise walks. Ride bikes. Cook together. Plan trips and travel together.
To sustain a happy long marriage, show an interest in what interests your spouse and treat each other with mutual respect. When you are upset by something your spouse has done, focus on the friendship and not the incident. Talk to your spouse as you would your best friend. That is the single most important habit of couples who remain golden, even when they are gray.
So, the next time you worry whether your marriage will last your lifetime, remember these four habits of couples who stay golden, even when they are gray and “Work it Out”.
Let me know if I can help.
Jamie C. Williamson, PhD is a FL Supreme Court Certified Family Mediator and Couples Counselor. She is an owner and partner at Amity Mediation Workshop, a mediation practice specializing in “friendly divorce” mediation and psycho-educational marriage revitalization sessions for couples. Dr. Jamie speaks frequently on relationship topics and authors the blog “Work it Out.” You can find her online at amitymediationworkshop.com.
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