Learn to talk about “why”. There are good rows and bad rows but make no mistake – everybody argues. Ridiculing or humiliating each other is not a good idea, or a good omen. But if you can both talk honestly about what irritates or upsets you and why, you are more likely to understand each other better. It can feel easier to avoid being honest if we feel that could be hurtful, but it is only with honesty that trust is built, and trust is the essence of a good relationship.
Accept that sex changes. There are different qualities to sex at different stages in a long relationship: first, passion; the urgency of reproductive sex; snatched sex in the early years of parenthood; then the slower intimacy of midlife onwards. But our culture presents only one type as being valid: youthful, vigorous, usually penetrative. It is possible to maintain a happy sex-life for decades with the same person. It may not be as often, or the sort of sex that you think you should be having, or think others must be having (but aren’t) – just relax and enjoy this special kind of intimacy together.
Appreciate what life still has to offer while you can. The great wonder of middle age is that we know our time is now limited. If you have managed to surf the ups and downs of bringing up children, work and making ends meet all within the same relationship, the rewards can be great. You have a wealth of shared memories to laugh over. You accept each other in your entirety. Rather than fearing getting older, remember that many couples in a long relationship find these to be their happiest years together.
‘Set aside time without the children. Easier said than done, but important’
Irma Kurtz is a writer and journalist. She has been the agony aunt for ‘Cosmopolitan’ magazine since 1970
Forget trouble for a little while and laugh together. A good laugh is like good sex: spontaneous and uninhibited and an act that unites two beings as one. It’s worth going out of your way to have a good laugh, especially if things have been rocky. Go to a place where you used to laugh or where there’s a good chance of laughter. That moment when you exchange a look and end up laughing, often over a shared memory, is the best way to understand each other again. It can be pretty sexy in bed too – as long as you’re laughing together.