Don’t expect to be one and the same. One of the more ridiculous myths about “true love” is the idea of the soulmate – that there is someone out there who is your perfect match. A good relationship is about navigating the numerous differences between you – over politics, food, money, how to raise children. It’s those differences that make life more interesting, as our lover opens up a whole new way of seeing or understanding the world. Enjoy what others have to offer rather than trying to change them to fit your own template of how life and love should be.
Accept that your partner is fallible. Expecting someone to be everything you need and everything you are not is a recipe for disaster. We all make mistakes, particularly in our love-lives, as relationships are never easy. But if you can exercise forgiveness in small ways at the start of a love affair then you’re more likely to find ways to forgive the bigger hurts and transgressions, if and when they happen.
Learn to talk about “why”. There are good rows and bad rows but make no mistake – everybody argues. Ridiculing or humiliating each other is not a good idea, or a good omen. But if you can both talk honestly about what irritates or upsets you and why, you are more likely to understand each other better. It can feel easier to avoid being honest if we feel that could be hurtful, but it is only with honesty that trust is built, and trust is the essence of a good relationship.
Accept that sex changes. There are different qualities to sex at different stages in a long relationship: first, passion; the urgency of reproductive sex; snatched sex in the early years of parenthood; then the slower intimacy of midlife onwards. But our culture presents only one type as being valid: youthful, vigorous, usually penetrative. It is possible to maintain a happy sex-life for decades with the same person. It may not be as often, or the sort of sex that you think you should be having, or think others must be having (but aren’t) – just relax and enjoy this special kind of intimacy together.
Appreciate what life still has to offer while you can. The great wonder of middle age is that we know our time is now limited. If you have managed to surf the ups and downs of bringing up children, work and making ends meet all within the same relationship, the rewards can be great. You have a wealth of shared memories to laugh over. You accept each other in your entirety. Rather than fearing getting older, remember that many couples in a long relationship find these to be their happiest years together.