Advice for Long-Married Couples

Here's how to get even closer.

By Sarì Harrar and Rita DeMaria | Ph.D. from The 7 Stages of Marriage

Take time together to reminisce about wonderful moments in your own history. Reliving times of closeness and love rekindles warm and even passionate feelings. For Joan and Michael Hoxsey, the memory of a mis-mixed honeymoon martini sends them back to the earliest days of their long marriage — and evokes lots of giggles. “Just after we got married, we were supposed to go on a cruise, but we missed the boat,” Michael recalls. “So we stayed in our Seattle apartment for four or five days with really nothing to do. Joan cooked our first meal in our home. It was fried chicken. And she offered me a martini — mixed with four parts vermouth and one part gin instead of the other way around. It was delicious! I’ll never forget it.”

Joan Hoxsey giggles softly as she adds, “I was a 19-year-old bride, and with all the confidence in the world I handed him this martini. All I knew was that it had to have an olive in it. After all, I’ve seen it in the movies! That memory really does take us back to the beginning of our marriage!”

Adapt to new limitations — but hang on to physical intimacy. Bob and Bette Richters admit that a variety of health problems have intruded on their lifestyle in recent years. “Between the two of us, we made 17 trips to doctors, clinics, and drugstores in the past month alone,” Bob notes. “Things come along when you’re older, including the fact that I fell out of a tree I was trimming recently and fractured three vertebrae.”

Bob’s injuries have made it difficult for him to walk long distances. “My knees bend just fine, but my legs just won’t keep going,” he says. But that hasn’t ended sexual intimacy, just changed it a little. “You learn to adjust your intimate relationship,” he says. “We’re still sexually active. There have been brief times when we weren’t due to illness, but we always resume. If intimacy has been good all along, if you’ve worked to keep it going, then you don’t have to give it up. Lots of older people do, but we don’t think they really have to. It makes such a difference.” Adds Bette, “I think good sex is a strong tie for a marriage. And so is affection. We kiss and hug frequently. When one of us is leaving the house, it’s almost a law that we kiss. We’ll kiss when we pass each other in the hallway. And we scratch each other’s backs. We’re affectionate in many different ways.”

Barbara and Chris Christensen keep the romance in their lives by cuddling, hugging, giving each other shoulder and neck rubs, planning little surprises, and “always kissing hello and goodbye,” Barbara says. “Due to Chris’s medications and physical ailments, we have not been able to have the intimacy that is such an important part of a loving relationship, but we’ve found ways to make up for it. We know of many couples in our age group who stay married even though they can no longer have a sexual relationship, and they grow distant from each other as they live more or less like brothers and sisters. We don’t want that.”

Sexual intimacy in long-married couples isn’t unusual — it’s just that nobody says much about it, notes Dr. Treat. “The whole issue of sex and libido is not talked about in older age,” he says. “We certainly know that many older couples in their 70s and 80s are sexually active and content. Their sexuality may have changed from intercourse to touching, kissing, holding, but there are many, many couples that have very alive, very meaningful sexual relationships.”

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