Keeping the Spark Alive in Mature Relationships

February 7, 2013

By Jeanie Keogh

The Seven Pillars of a fulfilling retirement“Will you still need me, will you still feed me” is a catchy and apt rhyming couplet. But Paul McCartney – who was 16 when he penned the lyrics – had no idea about mature love after spending a lifetime with someone.

Perhaps the only thing more enticing than the illusive fountain of youth that our culture seems hellbent on pursuing is keeping romantic love alive in long-term relationships. There is plenty of glossy magazine hullabaloo that focuses on maintaining the spark or keeping the flame of romance alight. Needless to say, love is not an eternally burning Catholic Madonna candle. Nor does keeping love alive involve popping Viagra and practicing the Kama Sutra on your sixtieth wedding anniversary.

Popularized – and commercialized – notions of love are wrapped up in the idea that fate brings couples together: two people miraculously meet and are overcome with great passion and then end up with the perfect match, believing they found they best woman/man in the world. (Roll credits)

But what this ideal leaves out is proactive choice. Regardless of who fell in love with whom, or how the love came to be, the person you are with is someone you have decided to love, whether or not the initial decision was made consciously or in a pheromone-spiked haze. The person you are with could have been someone else and that someone else would have been equally as wonderful.

When couples are young, relationships are often procreation-driven and so fulfill a certain purpose. When they mature past this function, people establish deeply entrenched perceptions of their partners. So instead of mellowing into something that is rich with the flavours of age, relationships turn sour. Being courageous and willing to try new ways of relating to each other is what most people miss out on as they mature together. (Husbands grunting responses to their wives while they sit in front of televisions gathering dust comes to mind.)

Wherever you are in your loving journey with your partner, here’s how you can be happy with the choice you’ve made (and presumably decided to stick to).

Personal counsellor Rolf Ahrens has been practicing Choice Theory developed by psychiatrist William Glasser) in the Vancouver area for the better part of 28 years. This is the counsel he offered for older couples:

1) Talk to each other

Find out what you like and don’t like. Re-discover what you think you’ve already discovered about them. Don’t lose interest or curiosity in your partner and end up like the dozens of couples in restaurants who don’t say anything to each other.

You will be surprised by what you don’t know about someone you think you know better than you know yourself. “People often stop really talking to each other quite early in their relationship. For some reason they make assumptions about what the other person will like and not like but they never articulate those assumptions so the other person can’t say, ‘well no, that’s not really what I’m like’.

They haven’t spent enough time telling each other what they want. Maybe they forget or they think the person ought to know. Some people actually get mad at each other thinking, ‘you should have known that about me’. Sharing with each other what is on your mind is one of the single biggest things to overcome, surprisingly.”

2) Talk about death

This is one of the least addressed, most uncomfortable topics that couples don’t like to face. Look at your life now and confront what you’re on the earth to do. When you are tucked into your deathbed and ready to breathe your last, the way you look back at your life largely depends on attitude.

Whether you are despondent and have regrets or gracefully and calmly accept the end is up to you. It is ultimately because of death that life is worth living. If you have always wanted to go on a bike tour around Cuba, bring it up over morning coffee. Your partner’s role is to help you fulfill your basic needs and one of those needs is fun. It might never happen, but there is no cost to dream.

3) Argue, but don’t take it personally

There is nothing wrong with arguing about former injustices, rehashing old wounds and revisiting unresolved issues you haven’t been able to forgive. Take it in, mull it over, and decide what you want to do with the information. How you react is totally up to you. Knowing that your attitude toward something is completely within your power to change is liberating, regardless of the circumstances or situation. In fact, it’s a totally different way of looking at life.

Love is helping another person fulfill and meet their basic needs which are:
1) The need for love and belonging
2) The need for power and control
3) The need for fun
4) The need for freedom

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