In a survey that's still under way, more than 8,000 people over 50 have already revealed what happens in their relationships — and in their bedrooms. Now the creators of that survey — writer Chrisanna Northrup, AARP relationship expert Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., and sociologist James Witte, Ph.D. — tell us what's typical of seasoned lovers.
Read on for a look at 14 survey questions, think about how you would answer and see how you stack up with the results thus far. Then take the larger survey yourself. (See the sidebar below to learn how.)
1. Do you kiss or hug your partner in public?
32 percent of men and 48 percent of women say no. But public displays of affection (PDAs, for short) are great for your relationship: 68 percent of those who keep hands off in public are unhappy or only slightly happy with their mates, while 73 percent of the happiest couples indulge in PDAs at least a couple of times a month.
Tip: Don't hold back — and don't worry what the neighbors might think. The sight of a lip-locked couple generally makes other people happy — and shows that deep affection and love can thrive in long relationships.
2. Have you given up an important part of yourself to keep your relationship together?
29.5 percent of people in a relationship for a year or less say yes, compared with 48.9 percent of people in a relationship for 21 years or more.
Tip: Happy partners encourage each other's ambitions and passions. If you're feeling shut down, plan together how to change your daily life to support your core hopes and needs.
3. Have you ever read your partner's email?
39 percent of people reported taking sneak peeks. Surprisingly, that percentage prevails in both happy and unhappy relationships.
Tip: Most partners feel violated when they learn their privacy has been breached. Are you sure you want to go there?
4. How often do you hold hands with your partner?
78 percent of couples say they hold hands at least sometimes. But it seems to be the newer pairs who are skewing the numbers: Among all couples who've been together 10 or more years, more than half say they no longer hold hands.
Tip: A squeeze of the hand can add a vital charge of connectivity to a well-worn partnership. Research shows that holding hands can even help settle arguments.
5. How frequently do you tell your partner you love him or her?
More than 90 percent of men tell their partner "I love you" regularly, while only 58 percent of women do the same. Among our happiest couples, 85 percent of both men and women say those three little words at least once a week.
Tip: No need to gush. A daily "I love you" seems to do the trick. Say it at the end of a phone call or when you go to bed at night.
6. Do you ever get the sense that your partner has sex with you out of a sense of obligation?
12.5 percent of people in a relationship for a year or less say yes, compared with 49.6 percent of people in a relationship for 21 years or more.
Tip: Pick good, happy and rested times to suggest sex — and let your partner off the hook if he or she is not in the mood. But don't feel bad if you sense your partner is being dutiful once in a while. Many of the people who told us they have sex out of obligation also told us they were extremely happy in their relationships.
7. Have you ever used sex toys with your partner?
60 percent of women and 40 percent of men say yes, adult toys (vibrators and the like) have been or are a part of their lovemaking.
Tip: Sex toys have gone mainstream and are easy to find online, in malls or even in many drugstores. If you're curious, why not suggest a shopping trip to see what all the raves are about?
8. How often do you kiss passionately?
38 percent of couples do not kiss passionately at all anymore, but 74 percent of the happiest couples exchange passionate kisses at least once a week.
Tip: Kissing bonds partners more deeply. So set the stage at least once a week: lights low, music playing, maybe even a dance in the kitchen. It's easy to get back in the habit!
9. What do you most want from your partner that you are not getting?
More than a quarter of men say they aren't having enough sex, while a quarter of women don't have the lifestyle they'd hoped for. Roughly 14 percent of men and 19 percent of women want more affection. Four out of 10 men and 44 percent of women say their partner is fulfilling all their needs.
Tip: To get more affection, give it. Offer a foot massage or a neck rub, use pet names and dress up occasionally just to please your partner.
10. How often do you do "date night"?
32 percent of couples say they "never" or "hardly ever" have date nights. But 88 percent of couples who say they're "extremely happy" plan time alone together.
Tip: Go out with your partner at least twice a month to maintain a sense of closeness.
11. Do you tell your partner how attractive they are?
47 percent of women and 55 percent of men say yes.
Tip: In unions of any length, more praise will yield more happiness. Be appreciative of your partner and you're likely to prompt more loving feelings in response.
12. Do you perform oral sex on your partner?
77 percent of women and 60 percent of men say yes.
Tip: Couples who do not include oral sex in their lovemaking tend to be just as happy with their partners as those who do. Whether you partake says more about what you and your partner enjoy than it does about the quality of your bond.
13. How often do you and your partner make love?
31 percent of couples have sex several times a week; 28 percent of couples have sex a couple of times a month; and 8 percent of couples have sex once a month. Sadly — or so we thought — 33 percent of respondents said they rarely or never have sex. But even among couples who report being "extremely happy," an astonishing one-fourth rarely or never get it on.
Tip: If you haven't been able to reignite your relationship on your own, see a sex therapist. The American Association of Sex Educators can help you find a qualified practitioner in your area.
14. If you had it all to do over, would you choose the same partner again?
Drumroll, please. Three out of four — 72 percent of respondents — say yes.
Tip: Many things besides romance can keep partners bonded: security, family, illness or even habit. But if you're among those who would not rechoose your partner, ask yourself what might make you feel differently. Could therapy help? A new joint career? A move to a better place? Sometimes recognizing problems and openly dealing with them can create new appreciation for your partner.
More than 70,000 people have completed The Normal Bar's online survey. The results on these pages are drawn from the responses of the 8,240 participants who indicated being age 50 or older. Results from respondents of all ages are included in a new book, The Normal Bar: The Surprising Secrets of Happy Couples and What They Reveal About Creating a New Normal in Your Relationship, from which this article is adapted. Copyright © 2013 by Chrisanna Northrup, Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., and James Witte, Ph.D. Published by Harmony Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House Inc.
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