Meet our expert
Barbara Bloomfield is a Relate couples and family counsellor and Clinical Supervisor with 14 years of experience in the counselling field
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 30, 40 or even 50 years, and that same relationship is likely to look very different indeed.
With the best of intentions, long-term relationships can, by their very nature, become like a pair of comfy old slippers, comforting in their familiarity but as far from fresh and new as it’s possible to be. And with children often being cited as the glue that holds a relationship together, is it any wonder so many people feel despondent when they’ve grown up and flown the nest?
Official statistics show the proportion of couples splitting up in their 60s has increased by a staggering 58 per cent in recent years and is predicted to keep rising. A new study carried out by the relationship charity Relate, and the Mature Times newspaper, found that a third of the 2,000 over-50s questioned no longer made love or else did so less than once a year on average – a loss of intimacy experts say is damaging to any couple.
Relate couples and families’ counsellor, Barbara Bloomfield, who co-authored the study, believes there are practical steps towards reviving a waning relationship.
“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 Barbara. “But as fast as it can happen, it can just as easily be repaired.”
One of the exercises Barbara suggests is the Ten 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 Barbara. “One of the saddest things that came out of our research was the number of people who admitted never having a cuddle from one year to the next, when showing affection is the one thing that makes a marriage different to a brotherly/sisterly relationship.”
Barbara recommends thinking of ten 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.
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 pub. 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 Barbara.
‘Making time for each other is key’
Denise Gyllenspetz (54), from Gloucestershire, has been married to husband Ian (56), for 36 years.
“Ian and I had only known each other for six weeks before we got married, and three of those were waiting for the banns to be read in the church. 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 in later life can be daunting. Here are some of Barbara’s tips if you’re 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. Try the Yours dating site www.yours friendshipandromance.co.uk