Marriage and romance look different in your thirties and forties than it did when you were 22. I remember talking to a friend, let’s call him Ray, about how things were different with his wife Angela “back in the day.” I asked him to describe what he meant.
Ray said they would each come home from work, he would go work out in the gym and she would go to the yoga studio. After they had spent time apart working on themselves and getting their heart rates up, they would come home, have a glass of wine while they both got ready for dinner and talk about their day and work. Ray described this time with a wistful look in his eyes and described friendly banter, flirting, and a type of fun that I knew he wished he could have all the time. After getting ready, Ray and Angela would walk down the block to their favorite Italian restaurant, spend time eating, laughing, and being together. At the end of the night, they would have great sex and go to sleep happy.
This sounds amazing. Who would not want to spend an amazing time with the love of their life drinking wine, laughing, flirting and having great sex? What you don’t know is that what Ray is describing happened when he and his wife were 23, living in their first apartment in New York, they both had their first “adult jobs,” had no kids and all the time in the world. Ray and Angela are now in their early forties, have three boys all under 10, and he feels they don’t have as much fun as they used to.
When talking to someone in the same situation as Ray, I hear the same thing often. “I think our romance is dead.”
What I like to remind these people is that usually the romance is not dead; they are just tired, or their life situation has changed. People expect their marriage to be like it was when they were 20, but things change, and we need to adapt with it. What you don’t know about that time with Ray and Angela is that they hated living in downtown New York, their jobs were driving them crazy, and they felt alone and disconnected from their families. There are always two sides to every story, yet we just tend to look at the” fun side” especially when we are in a period in our lives where the situation is tough. Life was good for Ray and Angela when they were 20, but it wasn’t perfect, yet he is looking at it with rose colored glasses and that could be affecting how he sees his current position in life. Ray thinks romance is dead because he and Angela are both working full time to pay for a mortgage and they are running everywhere during the day to take the three boys to school, soccer, and boy scouts, and they are lucky if they get them fed, showered and in bed before 10 p.m.
If you can relate to the story above, you are not alone. Ray and Angela are tired.
It is hard to flirt, cook dinner for just the two of you and have meaningful sex when you put the kids to bed at 10 p.m. and you still get up for work at 5 a.m.
The key to keeping romance alive after years of marriage and children is intentionality. The key to all the fun when you were younger, was that it came more naturally. Your routines were different than they are now, and it is not that you can’t do it, but you have more responsibilities when you had two incomes, no children, and a lot of free time. This is not to say you didn’t work hard, or go out of your way to be romantic, but it is easier when you have the libido of a 21-year-old, have very few responsibilities and have no children.
Intentionality (making specific plans based on your age and stage of life) means you schedule date nights or a weekend away. It also means that you and your partner are intentional about having sex. While sex is not everything, it is an important part of a healthy marriage, and being intentional about having it will help keep romance alive. We will discuss what healthy sex in a midlife marriage looks like later this year on the Men and Mental Health blog.
Adapt to what your partner needs. You may come home exhausted, but your wife has been corralling the kids all day, or working full time at her job as well, and is also bone tired. Instead of kicking off your shoes and watching TV, maybe ask where you can be most helpful at that moment. This small gesture of adapting to what your partner needs is a way to show concern and interest, and it is a very easy way to show your love and interest in your partner.
John Gottman is a prominent figure in the world of marriage and family counseling. For healthy marriages, he recommends early intervention. If you think your marriage is in a rut or “it could be better,” act now—not in 10 more years. In other words, it is much easier to fix a flat tire than it is to replace an engine. Your marriage is the same way. It is much easier to talk to someone about ways to keep date nates interesting than it is to talk to a counselor about how not to get divorced.
Marriage and romance in your marriage changes and looks differently, just as you have changed and look different than when you first were married. If you are asking the questions, being intentional and seeking help then you are on the right track to keeping the romance in your relationship alive. If all else fails, make sure your partner can have a nap. You will be amazed what three hours of uninterrupted sleep can do for your marriage!
Drew Dilisio is the Director of Counseling Services at Good Dads. He is a graduate of Evangel University’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, a husband and father. He can be reached for question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.