Here are the summary of six best practices of successful midlife couples.
1. Renew Relationship Commitment
Many couples told us “recommitment stories,” tales of trying times or wavering allegiances, followed by pledges of renewed commitment to the marriage. Having entered a new stage of life, spouses may need to “rechoose” their partnership. One couple implemented this process by drawing a line on a piece of paper, and placing an X toward the middle. In the space before the X, they wrote descriptions of the “old couple” and their child-raising years; the space after the X described possibilities for their future. They committed to seek that future together. As they would say, new commitments breed hope. Hope creates the possibility of change. Recommitment is an important theme, which examines the process of forgiveness.
2. Prioritize the Relationship
Faced with new opportunities and changing obligations, some midlife couples can find their relationship slipping down the list of priorities. Careers often peak at this time of life. A return to school or a new career can be exhilarating, but also time-consuming. Family obligations, such as caring for elderly parents, can be emotionally exhausting. Nevertheless, we find that successful couples continue to make their marriage the highest priority, even in the midst of such challenges as job loss and a return to school. They look for the warning signs of neglect and talk about them. Relationship time is built in to their schedules, the health of their relationship is a major consideration when making important decisions, and regular communication is used to navigate these dynamics.
3. Negotiate Changing Expectations
Conflict at midlife often stems from changing expectations. How much time will we spend together? How much money do we want to save? How often do we want to have sex? Resilient couples “surface” problematic expectations, negotiate differences, and find creative ways to blend their expectations. Relocation decisions often bring different expectations to the surface.
4. Find a Common Voice
When faced with a crises or challenge, resilient couples speak as much as possible with acommonvoice. For example, in decidinghowto respond to an adult child’s request for assistance, they discuss the options and negotiate a common course of action. They avoid the temptation to negotiate “side deals” with family members, and they support each other in conversations with family and friends.
5. Maintain an External System of Support
Resilient couples build supportive relationships outside the marriage. They tend to nurture relationships with friends and often find support in their family relationships. Connections with external groups (volunteer organizations, religious communities, recreational groups) are important when individual and relational identities are revised. In addition, external support systems are a source of distraction and strength during times of crisis. They provide and an unending source of meaningful conversation and joint action during the normal periods.
6. Develop the Habit of Dialogue
Dialogue is the kind of communication that promotes understanding during times of disagreement. It can be contrasted with debate, which is designed to yield a winner, and even persuasion, which is designed to change opinions. Dialogue fosters cooperation rather than competition, even as it honors real differences of opinion. Partners who engage in dialogue agree to join the same team” in an effort to better understand a problem and develop a collaborative solution.