Facing The Challenges of The Second Half of Life
Dear Neil: I am 45 and in a new intimate relationship that shows a lot of potential for a stable, long-term commitment. I have been married before, have raised kids, paid down a mortgage, acquired possessions, advanced in a career and experimented sexually, which leads me to assume that relationship challenges are different for women (and men) my age than they were when I was younger.
As a couple, if we were going to make the most of this opportunity, what would we need to do?
In Love in Vail, Colorado
Dear In Love: Here are the major challenges the second half of life asks of us in order to keep an intimate relationship vital, passionate and close.
- Develop and use effective communication skills that allow each of you to express your innermost feelings, interests, hopes, fears, irritations and requests to each other in a benign and non-hostile way.
- Develop a non-wounding, effective way to negotiate, problem-solve or resolve conflict—where both of you feel you have a full voice that is heard, understood and honored.
- Clear up anything that gets in the way of full trust on a regular, consistent and timely basis.
- Build a deeper friendship with each other.
- Figure out how to have fun with each other, and then do it consistently and regularly. If you quit having fun with each other, your intimacy will begin to grow stale and brittle. Try some of the simple things: take a hike, go to a movie or give each other a massage.
- Resolve important issues or conflicts in your relationship right away, such as money, health, physical fitness, career issues, children, extended family, substance overuse, religion, household roles and sex, to name a few.
- Stay romantic with each other. Fires go out when they’re not consistently fed.
- Stay engaged with each other. You have to show up in order to keep the connection strong and vital. You show up by being interested in the other person, revealing your innermost selves, and devoting quality time, presence, energy, reciprocation, benefit of the doubt, responsiveness and heart.
- Listen to your partner with your “third ear.” In any communication between the two of you, listen carefully and respond to the emotional content your partner expresses. Is s/he hopeful, fearful, anxious? When we feel as if someone is emotionally hooked into us and our emotions, we wind up feeling closer and more connected. It is intoxicating to feel that someone is truly interested in what you’re saying and feeling.
- Integrate passion with tenderness. Affectionate, non-sexual touch is vital in keeping the two of you close and connected. Don’t touch just when you want sex. Make affectionate touch (holding hands, kissing, cuddling) a cornerstone of your relationship.