A lot of things change after the age of 50: our bodies, our friendships, and our finances, to name a few. Another area to watch is your relationship. Whether you're married or in a long-term partnership, you may see shifts in your union in your sixth decade. Developments in your sex drive, personality, childcare situation, and housing come into play—and, if you're not careful, they could cause countless miscommunications and other issues between you and your partner. Fortunately, you can avoid these fissures. Ahead, therapists tell us the biggest relationship mistakes couples over 50 make—and how to ensure you see them coming.
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They become too absorbed in their children.
Kids are important, but so is your partner. "I have seen many individuals become absorbed in their children and grandchildren's lives causing them to minimize the importance of their own relationship," says Cynthia McKay, JD, MA, LAC, clinical psychotherapist and relationship therapist. "This practice may negate the possibility of a rewarding lifestyle or retirement." Instead, prioritize your bond. McKay encourages travel, learning together, and staying curious about each other's lives.
They assume their sex life will decline.
It's not all downhill from here. Quite the contrary, actually. "Couples over the age of 50 might believe that they are too old to enjoy sex or too old to orgasm, which is not true," says Katie Ziskind, LMFT, owner of Wisdom Within Counseling. "If you are over the age of 50 and struggle to reach an orgasm, intimacy and marriage therapy can help you figure out what is going on and support an empowered sexual experience." That way, you can rediscover each other's likes and dislikes and create new and improved experiences in the bedroom.
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They hide medical issues.
Honesty is key in any relationship. But Sam Nabil, CEO and lead therapist at Naya Clinics, notices that some couples become less forthright as they age—even around major issues like health problems. "They want to avoid being a burden to their partners and/or spouses, especially when their other half is going through midlife challenges of their own," says Nabil. "However, this often causes them to be distant and absent in the relationship, leaving their partners feeling alone and unwanted."
Dealing with health issues as a team is a necessity. Your partner deserves your full honesty and you deserve a person to rely on during challenging times.
They don't plan ahead for retirement.
Retirement causes a major change in your lifestyle, and couples must prepare for it properly. "Although the couple may be financially 'set,' they often aren't aware of—or prepared for—the challenges that arise when work is no longer a major focus of their lives," says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly. "Couples often end up bickering with each other as a result of spending too much time together, having insufficient personal interests, or having too few shared interests."
Ideally, you can plan ahead to discover new shared and independent endeavors. Manly suggests things like volunteering, exercise programs, friendships, and travel.
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They embrace complacency.
You know the cliche of the old couple that's always either bickering or not talking? Avoid it at all costs. "The most common mistake we see long-term couples over the age of 50 make in their relationship is to become content… to the point where they don't care to improve or address issues," says Cierra Fisher, LPCA, Ed.S., a licensed therapist at Healthy Habits Therapy in Charleston, South Carolina. "This is a mistake because it decreases fulfillment in the relationship and overall wellbeing."
Turn things around by addressing any issues or dissatisfaction you have in the relationship. Then, work together to establish an action plan that targets and eventually eliminates those issues, says Fisher. "This will result in a more fulfilling, happier, healthier relationship at any age," she adds.
They stay in a relationship that no longer works.
Sometimes, you just have to call things quits. "I would say that one common relationship mistake that long-term couples make over the age of 50 is staying in a relationship that no longer works due to fear of being alone or being single," says Lauren Napolitano, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist. "I work with women in therapy, and some women feel that they haven't been single since their early 20s and that it would be too scary to start over. They fear being unattractive to new suitors, they fear having to manage their own finances, and they worry that their kids might be angry with them if they divorce their partner."
If you're unhappy in your relationship, Napolitano suggests trying couples counseling. "It's worth talking openly and directly with your partner about how the relationship may have changed over the years and what can be done to reconstruct something that is pleasant to both of you," she says. From there, you can decide if things are worth saving or not.