Turns out a happy and healthy relationship can be actively planned and designed. Couples therapist Peter Fox shares his golden rules of a happy marriage. What do you think?
There are at least three pressure areas in relationships once couples are aged 50+, says Peter Fox, couples therapist. If we can control the A.B.C. of relationship isssues then we are at least off to a great start.
A) Financial pressure: This can affect couples in their second marriage more so than those in their first. The former have to re-build their finances including superannuation, and recoup losses from the family home, for example. As a result the couple becomes time-poor during a period in which they crave quality time together.
B) Step-family or blended-family relationships: The children in the family can be from a wide range of ages and each responds to a new family set up differently. Sometimes grown up children from the first family become estranged. Each generation of children is dealing with multiple new relationships and these can require a great deal of attention and management. Whatever the situation is, how does the couple at the head of the family find time for each other?
C) Chronic illness: Fox says new pressures arrive when one member of the couple, sometimes the one who had previously been the main decision maker, develops a chronic illness. As a result of the illness, their roles must reverse. A similar relationship turning point occurs when the previous main breadwinner is made redundant and becomes financially dependent on their spouse. A crisis of relevance may accompany this.
The great news is that there is plenty that people can do, even if they’re in a perfectly healthy relationship, to increase happiness in their 'togetherness'.
Here, we look at long-term changes you can start to implement in order to help support a happy relationship.
Tip 1: Prepare for ‘longevity risk’
Most people anticipate an active life until the age of 75, but 75 is now considered to be young. In Australia, people have a good chance of living to 90 and beyond, and of staying healthy and active until that time. But do they have finances in place to take them through to that age? Looking ahead and planning for the future can be one of the keys to maintaining romantic love.
“Plan financially and practically for the possibility of being alive and together and healthy until you’re beyond 90 and that will take away a lot of the stress couples can experience as they age,” Fox says. “It’s not just about finances, but also being close to family, in a suitable house and having access to support.”
Tip 2: Cultivate younger friendships
“We have a tendency to grow old around other people of the same age,” Fox says. “This means we all face the same difficulties and require the same sort of support at the same time. If your kids are busy, or are not nearby, it really helps to have someone younger who can drop in, check you’re okay and help out with the shopping.”
Spending time nurturing your relationship pays off
A good relationship with people in a younger generation, Fox adds, can also be stimulating. It can help keep a relationship young and lively and inspire change and passion. “It keeps your outlook young, and that can be of real benefit to a relationship,” he says.
Tip 3: Get your shared priorities straight
How often do you find you’re distracted by responsibility for your grandchildren, or by other activities not directly related to your relationship? And are you sure that you’re on the same page in terms of how you feel about specific activities?
Fox tells a story of a couple he counselled. The wife thought she was a long way down her husband’s list of priorities because he was always in the garage working on the car. He felt he was putting her at the top of the list because the car was to take them on a trip around Australia.
“Have a check-in every few months about your real priorities and whether they are in alignment,” Fox says. “Figure out what it is in your life that is distracting you from those real priorities as a couple, and what you can do to re-balance. Often what couples say their priorities are and what their activities indicate are quite different.”
Tip 4: Enjoy your lives apart
This is simply ensuring you have a separate life and interests.
“Make sure there is something in your life that you do away from your partner, and that you are truly passionate about,” Fox recommends. “If you are passionate about something then it brings a great deal of stimulation back into the relationship.”
And it’s not just a feel-good suggestion, Fox says. A hobby or some other activity also introduces other vital ingredients into a relationship. It’s no secret, for instance, that a healthy social network is a great contributor to health and happiness. If you are able to introduce each other to new networks via your individual passions then it will be enormously beneficial to your relationship.
Tip 5: Share a leisure activity
The flipside to the previous point is that you should also share an activity you are both passionate about. Fox regularly sees a large group of kayakers in his local area heading off to yet another social or competitive event. Many are 50+, couples who paddle two-seater kayaks.
“This ticks all the boxes,” Fox says. “They have shared leisure, develop a social network, and get out in the fresh air for some great exercise.”
What are your secrets to a happy relationship? Let us know in the comments section below.