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The Second Half of Life Relationship Rules: 6 Ways to Keep the Fires Burning

Being married for any length of time is truly an accomplishment these days. Just last week a woman asked how long I had been married and when I said forty years this July, her eyes got huge and she said, “To the same person? How is that possible?”

When we got married, people were taking bets on how long our union would last. The average bet was between two weeks and two years because of our age difference and personalities. Let’s just say, my husband is calm, wise, and conservative and I am the exact opposite. I do remember feeling really shaky when I said my vows … “for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health, till death do us part.” Now that’s a huge promise! Could I really do this?

Flash forward forty years. We are still married, happy and love each other, although it hasn’t been an easy road and our relationship has been tested on many occasions, and I’m sure more will come as we navigate through our senior years.

Someone once said, “I married you for better or worse, but not for breakfast and lunch.” I never really understood that until now. Obviously, when couples first get married, it is exciting, challenging, romantic, and fun. And then if children come along, the marriage gets even more interesting and challenging as people try to raise their kids together. But after the kids are gone, and retirement looms, people start to feel displaced as their roles in life change. Who are we without our careers and kids? What do we have to talk about? And why do we keep bumping into each other in the kitchen?

So in order to keep a relationship going all the way to the end, here are six rules of engagement to keep the fires burning.

Stay Vibrant and Interesting! Continue to learn and try new experiences. You can do this as a couple or individual. No one likes to get stuck in a boring routine or a mundane life, so make sure you keep reinventing both yourself and you as a couple.

Have Date Night at Least Twice a Month. It’s important to have something to look forward to and it doesn’t have to be fancy. Just carving out a special time together is meaningful, thoughtful, and fun!

Make Sure You Don’t “Let Yourself Go.” Even though our partners have probably seen us at our most unattractive, we need to continue to make an effort to look appealing to our spouse. Try to stay fit, have good hygiene, and take good care of you. Doing so is imperative if we want to keep the intimacy going in the marriage. No one likes to sleep with a slob.

Listen! We have Two Ears and One Mouth for a Reason. Communication is essential for long-term relationships. To have someone who actually listens to you is one of the best gifts you can get from your marriage and give to your partner.

Never Go to Bed Mad at Your Partner. A friend once told me that when he and his wife have an argument that can’t be resolved, they “fight naked.” He said that it is impossible to keep arguing when you are in bed close to the one you love. My husband and I haven’t tried this one yet, but we won’t count it out.

Never Take Your Partner for Granted. Always show appreciation, even for small acts of kindness and help. And don’t forget to say those magic three words, at least once a day: I LOVE YOU!

These rules seem simple, but how many couples do you know who don’t abide by any of them? Are they happy? Are they fun to be around?  I saw an older couple at a restaurant the other day and they just sat there, ate their food, and never spoke or even looked at each other. It was sad!

So keep the fires burning and love the one you’re with. All it takes is a little effort, ingenuity, and a lot of love.


Sharkie Zartman, MA is a college professor, a former All-American volleyball athlete and award-winning volleyball coach. She hosts “Sharkie’s PEP Talk” on Healthy Life radio, is a certified health coach and is the author of five books, including “Take on Aging as a Sport.” She helps people take an empowered approach to life and aging so they can have optimal health and success at any age.