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
It is part of your job to make his happen and part of his to make yours happen."Letting Go of the Little ThingsEve has no problems with being too polite or not speaking up. Never did. Over the 22 years she has been married to Simon, she has always grumbled loudly about how messy he is, how forgetful he is, how he is always late. It is a second marriage for both, and they each have grown children from their prior marriages.Recently, though, the grumbling has dissipated — for reasons that Eve has only just begun to analyze. Approximately three years ago, she left the executive job she had been immersed in and set up a consulting business at home. She wanted more time to write and to indulge in bird-watching. But instead of appreciating scarlet tanagers, she found herself appreciating her husband."Changing my work life meant I wasn’t feeding nearly so many hungry mouths emotionally. There used to be so much of me draining away to other people. I had to marshal my generosity, my limited store of flexibility," Eve says. That has helped tip the glass from half empty to half full. "His finer qualities have more room to blossom when I am not all over him all the time," she explains. "To use a Russian phrase, I am not ‘standing over his soul’ anymore. So he’s able to be more generous, to be more spontaneous, even to remember things — because the stakes are not so high."This shows up dramatically when they travel — which both of them love to do, though, typically, in very different ways. Their styles conflict: He wants to wing it; she wants a game plan. But they have figured out how to work with it. "We recognize that I’m going to want to know in advance what we are going to be doing at any given moment of every day," Eve says. "And he’s not going to want that. But we have discovered that it seems to be enough for me to know what the schedule is and then let go of it. I can say, ‘Okay. Let’s not go on that boat ride we’d planned; let’s check out that bazaar instead.’"Eve has relaxed enough to enjoy Simon’s ability to lead them to weird, offbeat, serendipitous experiences. "He can talk to anybody — and does," she says. "Sometimes it irritates me and I’m sitting around tapping my toes, but then I remember how many wonderful things have come from this. I’ve even learned to load him up like a guided missile and send him out. We’ve ended up hearing about things and going places that would not have happened if we had stayed on my schedule."So, what has changed? "I’m much less anxious. I just look at things differently. When Simon annoys me, I can — sometimes, not always — say to myself, ‘That’s who he is,’" Eve says. This doesn’t spell resignation, she insists. To the contrary, she feels that she has moved on, beyond her irritation at the small stuff. She now appreciates the big stuff.Husbands & HormonesWhat Eve is experiencing — and the insights reported by Lucy, Lauren, and Susan — may be rooted in part in physiological changes taking place. Recent research on how men and women age suggests that nature may work to support marriages such as theirs as couples move through stages of life. Eve’s acceptance of Simon’s laissez-faire attitude may be reinforced, according to some studies, by neurological changes that can make women less inclined — or able — to multitask.These days, Eve isn’t racing impatiently ahead of Simon in the getting-things-done department; sometimes it’s she who "can do only one thing at a time." As the control freaks among us let go a bit, we, like Eve, learn to appreciate ingredients in our lives that we’d seen as "gumming up the works" before.By the same token, a new hormonal mix may embolden women to speak up and let the chips fall where they may. As the level of estrogen in our body falls, the testosterone that’s always been there is, as the scientists say, unmasked, giving us a little boost in daring, in the willingness to take risks.But the amount of testosterone that’s been raging through men since puberty diminishes, making many of them less combative and some — Lucy’s husband among them — more inclined toward nesting.

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