Meet our expert
Christine Northam is an experienced counsellor who has worked with Relate (www.relate.org.uk) for more than 14 years.
Divorce rates in the over-50s are rising faster than any other age group. Christine Northam, a counsellor from Relate, suggests it’s become an easier option than ever before: “People have more financial resources in place so that they can contemplate separation in a way that hasn’t always been possible. Women are more independent and empowered than ever before, and they believe they have a right to some happiness, especially once the children have left home.”
Of course, channelling this independence, and knowledge of what makes you happy, into your relationship can give it a real boost. Clear communication, good humour and plenty of intimacy can all help to keep your partnership strong.
Try these practical tips:
1 Create harmony
Arguing is, to a degree, a healthy behaviour – after all, there’s no sense in bottling things up. But of course it’s worth steering clear of the ‘red mist’ when possible! While seeing things from your other half’s point of view might not be as easy as it sounds, there are things you can do to diffuse the situation: take a half hour walk to calm down or try some deep breathing.
Studies have shown that couples have more intense rows after a bad night’s sleep, which can affect your concentration, reasoning and mood in general. Resolve to sleep on the problem if need be, and re-address it with a clear head in the morning.
2 Be intimate
Stop your relationship straying into ‘friends only’ territory by keeping the spark alive. Once the kids have left home, you can reclaim time for yourselves.
Christine says: “Romance makes life a bit more attractive, but not everyone is particularly romantic. What’s important is how you connect; intimacy is important and this is an exciting time for you both. Try to discuss ‘how are we going to be intimate now?’ and look at how you know you feel loved. If you want more you have to ask for it.”
She adds: “It’s about your commitment, creativity and energy. You have to find new ways of being together and that means sitting down and working out what you both want.”
3 Sickness and health
What once seemed like an easy promise in younger times can be more challenging than you ever imagined. Caring for an ill partner, or being cared for, can shift the dynamic of a relationship – but with a little work, this can be remedied. Even routine acts can be romantic with a little imagination: if your partner suffers from arthritis, why not offer them a massage to relieve pain? If you are ill, and your other half does most of the legwork, consider ways to repay them, either through a generous act – cooking a nice meal, buying a small gift, or even just some heartfelt compliments, depending on what your health allows.
Also, relieve the pressure on you both by exploring local support groups and accepting help from others – it’s important for both of you to take a break occasionally.
4 Quality time
Spending time together away from the house is a great way to rekindle your affection, and to strengthen your bond. Consider taking up a new hobby together – get inspired by Strictly Come Dancing and try learning to dance, it’s great fun and good exercise. Or why not learn a new language or skill, or get the garden up to scratch side by side. It’s a great way to break bad habits, such as nagging or bickering, which can creep into your home life.
New hobbies or pasttimes will also give you plenty of opportunities to make new memories and just have a giggle. Christine says: “It can be helpful to join a new club together, but look out for both joint and separate activities, which will give you plenty of things to talk about, too.”
5 Rekindle romance
It’s all too easy to settle into a romance-free routine – when you’ve been together 30 years or more it’s second nature to take one another for granted. Try to show your other half why they matter to you. Get creative – there are endless ways to prove you care. Mix things up with a weekend away, cooking their favourite meal or even taking a walk together, to remind you why you’re a great team. Why not book a surprise trip to revisit the place you first met, or write affectionate notes to leave around the house?
6 Look to the future
Retirement can cause a shake-up in even the strongest partnerships: where once you were used to leaving the house every day, full of purpose, you now spend much more time together, which can leave couples re-assessing how much they actually have in common.
Christine recommends sitting down for a chat and looking ahead: “Consider how you want your life to be next year and envisage the future for you and your partner.”
Look at this as a new opportunity to fulfil the wishes you may have shelved. If you’ve always wanted to see the world, move house or even just redecorate, hopefully these are goals you can now achieve together.
Don’t forget that while they may be your ‘soul mate’, that doesn’t make them psychic, so letting them know how much help you need, and with what, can go a long way to stopping resentment building up. Consider relationship counselling to help you become more open.
“Think about how you communicate and how clear you are,” Christine stresses. “Are you open and honest with one another? You need to have the ability to express yourself clearly to one another, and if you’re not used to saying ‘this is what I need’, it can be quite difficult.”