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Women in Love

How to keep your relationship strong through the decades.

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But aside from the stresses of adolescence and menopause, the 40s tend to be a more peaceful time in a relationship. "If things have gone well in the first let's say 10-15 years of the marriage, which is where most people are entering into their 40s, if there's a foundation where there has been friendship, if there's a way in which couples have been able to talk about conflict, then they do pretty well in their 40s," Gottman says.

To stay out of a rut, she advises couples to "make sure to express fondness, appreciation, and admiration for your partner. What the research shows is that in happily married couples there's a ratio of about 5-1 positive to negative interactions, and those positive interactions include things like expressing appreciation. In unhappy relationships the ratio is about 1.9- to 1, so there's still some appreciation being expressed, but not enough, and that can make the difference."

In the 60s both men and women are still intensely interested in a four-letter word that ends in "k" and means "intercourse." However, for women of "a certain age," that word may be "talk." (Men may have a different word in mind.)

Research has shown that for many women, when the hot flashes of menopause have cooled off, the sex drive chills out as well. There are plenty of exceptions to the rule, but for quite a few women the most important type of intimacy at this stage may be conversation and companionship, plus hand-holding, hugs, and proximity.

For their partners, it may help to remember that the woman's loss of sex drive is nothing personal; it may just be a result of dwindling hormones. More cuddle time is important to keeping a decent sex life at this age.

Other than that, the seminal events of the 60s for Alice and Bob are retirement and the emptying of the nest. "For the most part, it's toughest for the women," Gottman says. "But then again you have women who want to return to the work world and it's easier for them to do that if they've been at home when their kids are leaving home."

When the house is suddenly empty, some couples discover that their marriage is a void as well.

"When it has been a very child-centered family the marriage can sometimes get lost, especially when there are a large number of kids, so there's the stress in the 60s on the couple getting to know one another once again at a deeper level -- not just at the level of planning the day's schedule, but [by asking] What are our values? How do we want to live out our 'golden years?'"
For men and women both, the answer to that last question is: with respect, appreciation, fondness, and a positive outlook about your partner's moods and motives. "In other words," says Gottman, "give them benefit of the doubt."

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