Rewriting the Terms of Endearment in a Long-Term Marriage

Creative ways to get the intimacy, adventure, and self-expression you’re craving in your marriage.

By Suzanne Braun Levine
We have lots of years ahead of us. We’re still committed and want to stay together. But we are in a rut." Her husband agreed; he wasn’t feeling good either, and he felt "drained." So Lucy set a challenge for the two of them, something any smart business team would do: write a mission statement for their future, the second half of their marriage."The starting point was to say, ‘We still have a lot in common. We’ve worked hard, we’ve put the kids first — now it’s our time,’" Lucy explains. Their goal, they decided, was "to celebrate and increase the enjoyment of and with each other." As they got more specific, it turned out that the list of things to celebrate included those they didn’t do together. He was looking for more time to play golf with his buddies; she wanted spontaneous time with her girlfriends. Lucy was struck by research showing that healthy people not only eat well and exercise but also have good social support. She and her husband realized that their busy schedules had kept them from doing much with friends. "So on our new list were the names of some couples we wanted to get to know better," she says.There was another element in the mix Lucy wanted to adjust: work. While her husband was looking forward to retiring and doing much of the cooking (and even housework), she had become more keenly involved in her job. Earlier in the marriage, he’d felt threatened by her work. At this stage, the revised balance felt comfortable. "I’m going to have to carry the ball" — and the health insurance, Lucy told him, and "that’s fine, because I’m such a people person." But she wanted to change their rules for the times when her job takes her to out-of-town conferences. "I didn’t want to do it alone anymore," she says.When Lucy and I talked, she and her husband had just come back from a conference in England and she was exultant. He had accompanied her before, but on those occasions, she recalled, "I would feel like I needed to attend to him. This time I’d walk out of a session and there he was, meeting people. And when I was getting ready to do my presentation, I looked up and he was standing in the door with roses!"Revising Their Marriage Vows Lauren had less goodwill to build on than Lucy, despite a happy and egalitarian start to her marriage. She and her husband, both lawyers, had shared one job so they could do things together. But when their two children came along and she cut back on work, they reverted to more traditional roles began to resent each other. "Things moved from good to worse," Lauren recalls. Instead of relating to her and to the children, her husband "went into provider mode," becoming a workaholic and sports addict.Lauren hung in; she thought the kids needed two parents, even if her husband was present so rarely that he amounted to "a quarter of a person." And there were times when they reclaimed the old energy. "Whenever we went on vacation, we really enjoyed each other. On a certain level, I really love him and he really loves me. I suffered from his not appreciating me for who I really am, but I got a lot of ‘Oh, you’re so beautiful, you’re so kind. You’re just an amazing woman.’"And the sex was good. "Really great!" she says. Even during the bad times.Turning 50 was a watershed for Lauren. She had always been "very assertive professionally, and successful," she says. But she discovered that she was tired of pushing, and wanted to use some of that boldness to new effects. "I’m going to open up more space for myself," she resolved. As Lauren began to figure out her "third act," she wanted to know if her husband, too, could slow down. Her first impulse was the familiar "we need to talk" gambit. She tried bringing it up at a dinner while they were on vacation. But her husband felt threatened, she says, "thinking that what I really was saying was, ‘I regret being married to a person like you.’" At one point, he panicked and suggested renewing their original marriage vows."Are you kidding?" Lauren thought to herself. "Not until we work out, like, 93 new vows."To get some distance, Lauren signed up for a trip to Peru with a group of women. It was the first time she’d been away for two weeks without her family. She climbed to Machu Picchu and participated in a spiritual retreat in the jungle.

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