Which "sticky" rules are the worst offenders? I have five in mind that I would love to strike from every relationship book ever published, or from the confidential counsel of every "expert" who ever practiced.
So, as we approach Romance Month, let's find and forget these myths:
1. Never go to bed mad
What, you're going to stay up arguing all night? Plus who ever said it's a good idea to discuss a sensitive issue when your heart is pounding and smoke is pouring from your ears?
However driven you may feel to resolve an upsetting conversation and set everything right, you are almost bound to make things worse if you try to talk things through in an emotionally volatile state. Research by the Gottman Institute shows that most people need much longer to calm down than they think they do.
Human emotions can resemble a fire that hasn't been thoroughly extinguished: Add some fuel to seemingly dying embers and you can wind up with a raging inferno. Best approach? Make an appointment to discuss the matter 24 hours later. You will be infinitely more composed, articulate and logical. (You may even wonder where all that heat came from in the first place!)
2. People don't change. Oh, yes, they do!
They may not do it at the exact moment you want them to, but people can — and do — evolve in amazing ways over a lifetime: They stop gambling. (Or smoking. Or drinking.) They learn to control their anger. They figure out a way to show gratitude, sensitivity or sensibility.
The problem with believing that people don't change is that it allows you to ignore the tremendous potential in even a longtime partner: Some people change after learning to say, "I'm sorry." Others change in the wake of stopping, or being forced to stop, a dangerous habit or behavior. Still others go into therapy and emerge from the experience virtually a different person.
Our 50s aren't like our 20s; in many cases they are better! We can revamp not only our actions but also our values, so please don't hide behind this myth. (And don't let your partner, either!)
3. Sex loses importance as we age
I have a policy of never begging, but in this case I beg to differ!
One of the (many) reasons sex remains important throughout our lives is that it is the source of key bonding and love hormones, such as oxytocin and dopamine. Sex connects, soothes and delights — and you needn't strive to restage the sexual gymnastics of your 20s and 30s in order to enjoy a fulfilling sex life in your 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond.
Indeed, intercourse itself may not be required! Partners can please each other with their hands, mouths or simply intertwined bodies cuddling late into the night. So even though a bad patch in the relationship can wound your sexual appetite, don't let it kill it off entirely; loss of sexual desire is neither an inconsequential nor an inevitable part of aging.
4. Men are less romantic than women
You're right that men aren't as romantic as women — they're more romantic!
Scads of research tells us that men say "I love you" to women more than they hear it from them in return. They also give more compliments. Not only that, but husbands are more likely to feel romantically deprived than wives are. And whereas men may be less talented than women when it comes to picking out a romantic gift, they are more likely to give one than to get one!
So … do you really need to hear more than "Men don't get enough emotional strokes" to know what to do next? Misleading gender stereotypes aside, couples simply cannot overdo saying sweet nothings to each other, taking getaways or enjoying candlelit dinners that lead to candlelit baths. In short, more romance, please — of both the his and hers varieties!
5. Once you cross the infidelity line, you can't go back
Another baseless myth. Many couples weather hurtful trespasses in the course of a long life together but still manage to recover, reconcile and soldier on.
I know it's difficult (and may strike the wronged party as downright unfair), but partners must be willing to do the hard work of facing their feelings and determining what role, if any, each one played in a conflict, or in an instance of unfaithfulness. For the "betrayee," typically this demands that you table your disgust — or revenge lust — long enough to understand precisely what devils your partner is wrestling with, or fleeing.
Given the trust equity the two of you have previously built up in your union, however, there is always the possibility that you will emerge stronger as a couple from an episode of infidelity. Hurtful though it may be, a betrayal can eventually fade into the background if the person who broke the rules deeply regrets it — and if the couple searches for, and finds, a new and better way to love each other and protect their marriage.
Also of Interest
- How sex changes for men after 50
- Photos: Celebrity couples over 50
- Match your interests with AARP volunteer opportunities
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