Whether you just tied the knot or have been with your spouse for decades, maintaining a happy, healthy marriage is no easy feat. This seems to be particularly true after the age of 40, when shifting priorities, financial concerns, and empty nest syndrome can all conspire to create discord where there was none before.
In fact, while the divorce rate for younger couples has declined over the past 20 years, it’s risen significantly for older adults—up 14 percent in the past 25 years for those ages 40 to 49 and up 109 percent for adults 50 and older, according to the Pew Research Center. So, how do you make sure that “I do” lasts forever? Start with these tips for being a better wife after 40.
Being physically present with your spouse isn’t the same as being emotionally present. If you want to improve your marriage after your 40th birthday, make sure that you’re actually paying attention to your partner and not simply sitting in the same room as them.
“Being mindful with your partner allows them to feel like you are present in the moment and that you value spending quality time with them,” says dating expert Maria Sullivan, vice president of Dating.com.
One of the most common sources of tension in a lengthy marriage is saying “I’m fine,” while making it clear with your actions that you’re anything but. Being honest about how you’re feeling, even if it leads to disagreements, will serve you and your spouse better in the long run. “Being open about how you feel is the only way you and your partner will be able to approach problems in a calm and respectful way,” says Sullivan.
If you’ve been with your spouse for some time, it’s easy to find yourselves acting more like friends than romantic partners. If you want to make your marriage a whole lot more exciting, try flirting with your spouse like you did when you were dating.
“The spark sometimes does end after the honeymoon stage,” says Sullivan. “It’s important to prioritize finding fun and quirky ways to keep that spark alive in order to have a successful marriage.” Try being more affectionate, telling your partner how good they look, or surprising them with a romantic gesture—you’ll be amazed at how far a seemingly small demonstration of affection can go.
It may sound shallow, but a little flattery can help maintain a happy marriage. After all, who doesn’t want to feel wanted?
“When you first started dating, compliments were probably plentiful,” says Sullivan. “While it can be natural to get used to spending time with your spouse and seeing them looking their best, it’s important to remind them about how you feel—even if it seems repetitive. Once you stop, your partner will feel less appreciated. Even though nothing might have changed for you, your lack of attention and appreciation will make them want to stop being affectionate back. This can lead to a bad cycle of behaviors.”
Even if your relationship is going well, assuming defensive or angry-seeming postures around your spouse, like crossing your arms or putting your hands on your hips, can quickly lead to a breakdown in communication.
“Practice inviting body language,” says Sullivan. “Listening to them or speaking your mind with crossed arms might send the message you are hiding something or that you have your guard up. This can make your partner feel like you aren’t connecting.”
Early in your relationship, you and your spouse went to a new restaurant every week, tried new vacation destinations every year, and generally kept things fresh and exciting. However, after some time together, those impulses to explore can fade. Inject a little spontaneity into your relationship again and you’ll both be happier.
“Life can get repetitive. It always does. But eventually, your relationship will tire out if you don’t make an effort to try new things,” says Sullivan. “If a partner isn’t receptive to trying something different, like a class or exploring a new location, this can discourage partners from experiencing the joys that married life has to offer.”
While it may be difficult to avoid the temptation to look at your phone or get ahead on work when you’re supposed to be spending quality time with your partner, putting your devices down can make him or her feel respected and listened to in a way that benefits your relationship in the long run.
“When your spouse is attempting to communicate anything with you, make sure you are not multitasking,” says Sullivan. “Looking at your phone or doing laundry simultaneously can send signals to your partner that you don’t genuinely care about what they have to say. If this continues on, you might be on track for a split.”
If you’re over 40, it’s been some time since your parents sat you down to tell you why honesty is so important. But the message remains true—especially in your marriage.
“This may seem obvious, but once your spouse catches you in a lie, whether big or small, the trust will be gone,” says Sullivan. “Make sure to be honest at all costs. Lies that build up lead to distrust, anger, and sometimes infidelity.”
A little seduction can go a long way when it comes to keeping your marriage exciting. “Watch sexy movies and TV shows. Listen to sexy music. Look at sexy art and photography books,” suggests psychotherapist Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR. “Daydream, fantasize, and imagine scenarios that make you feel good.”
While you might find yourself jealous of someone else’s seemingly-perfect marriage, comparing your relationship will only make you miserable. Even if your relationship has seen better days, there’s always hope. “The great news is you can turn it around if you quit comparing your family and relationship, imagining that everyone else has it so much better than you do,” says counselor and life coach David Essel.
As long as you’re not comparing, spending time with other couples can actually make you happier and more bonded as a pair. According to a 2014 study published in the journal Personal Relationships, engaging in activities with other couples can help rekindle a nearly-snuffed flame. “The creation of couple friendships may be an additional way to reignite feelings of passionate love in romantic relationships,” the study’s authors noted.
Want to be a better wife? Make a commitment to doing something with your partner every week. “It might be going to one of those ‘paint with wine’ courses, or it could be a sporting event once a week,” says Essel. “It could be bowling once a week. It could be taking dance lessons once a week. But there’s got to be some type of involvement on both of your parts as a couple.”
While completely overlooking glaring flaws in your relationship isn’t healthy, hanging onto those small annoyances with your partner and letting them fester will only damage your relationship.
“You’ve got to let go of the resentment you have against your partner, [whether] that may have happened 30 years ago or three months ago,” says Essel, who recommends reaching out to a professional to get help if you can’t tackle this task alone. “It may take several weeks or even months to let these resentments go, but it’s the only way your marriage has a chance of being turned around into something healthy and fulfilling once again.”
Making note of what you appreciate and love about your spouse can help you be a better wife, especially after 40. “As you take just five minutes a day to write down one or two or five traits about your partner that are positive, a shift begins to happen within the relationship,” says Essel.
Once you’ve identified some of the traits in your partner that you’re grateful for, drop them a few romantic reminders of just how and why they make you happy. “We often forget these little, affirming niceties as a relationship ages,” says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly. “No matter how old a marriage is, it’s vital that both partners feel loved, seen, and appreciated.”
Even if the physical component of your relationship changes as you age, there’s no reason you can’t shower your spouse in affection in other ways. “Chances are, you and your sweetheart loved touching and holding hands when you dated. It’s always a great idea to keep touch going in a relationship,” says Manly. “If you’ve let your touch habits go by the wayside, rekindle your connection by touching frequently and lovingly.”
Whether you’re hosting a weekly game night or joining a sports league together, playing with your spouse can make your relationship a whole lot more fun—and romantic—in no time. “You’ll keep your brain and marriage healthier by engaging in lots of play,” suggests Manly. “Research proves that play and new activities keep the body and mind more youthful.”
You don’t need a full-blown makeover to wow your partner, but spicing things up with a refreshed look from time to time can make a major difference in your relationship satisfaction.
“[If you don’t] feel good about yourself, it will affect all aspects of your life, including your relationship,” says sex therapist and relationship counselor Miro Gudelsky. “It may sound old-fashioned, but it is amazing what getting your hair or nails done can do to your self-esteem. And, that is a massive component in a marriage.”
Keep date night alive now and you won’t find your relationship struggling a few years down the line. “Just because you have been married for a few decades doesn’t mean the romance has to be gone. How about a nice dinner, a concert, or a picnic together?” suggests Gudelsky. “Anything outside the home where you have to make an effort to look nice for each other will work.”
While having common interests can certainly facilitate spousal bonding, having some activities that your partner doesn’t partake in with you can actually increase your enjoyment of your relationship.
“Make sure to do things on your own that feed your soul. If you are not feeling happy and satisfied, this too will trickle into your marriage,” says Gudelsky. Having a few activities that you participate in solo or with other friends that you can come home to tell your spouse about can add another layer of bonding to your relationship, too.
Even if you’ve been with your spouse for some time, your preferences in the bedroom are prone to change, and it’s important that you make those new needs known when they arise. “Get more comfortable asking for [your] sexual needs and wants to be fulfilled,” says Gudelsky. So, if you want to keep your marriage fresh over 40, don’t keep those evolving desires to yourself!
Don’t let your curiosity about your partner fade just because you’ve spent years or even decades together. “When we first start dating someone we ask a bunch of questions to get to know that person, but the longer we are together, the fewer questions we ask,” says licensed marriage and family therapist and relationship coach Lauren Consul.
“People are dynamic and evolve and to think you know your partner’s response is doing a disservice to them and your relationship,” she says. “You can always learn something new about your partner, even if it’s simply a shift in their perspective.”
If your relationship has hit a rough patch, try reminiscing about times when you and your spouse were happy together to get things back on track. “Talking about good memories in your relationships reignites the positive feelings you had during those experiences and allows you and your partner to connect over a shared experience,” says Consul.
It’s easy to start taking your partner for granted when you’ve been together for years, but it’d do you marriage much better to express the gratitude you feel toward them. “Even if your partner takes the trash out every night, be sure to express how grateful you are (and why) every once in a while,” says Consul. “It feels good to know your partner still notices the little things you do for them.”
When it comes to keeping your relationship healthy, prioritizing kindness over being right can make all the difference. “The key to every argument is not winning it and lording your victory over to your partner,” says Chris Pleines, dating expert and founder of Datingscout.com.
“Arguments can be your way of getting to know your partner more and growing closer together,” he says. “Let them win when the situation calls for it. You don’t know it, but they might be extending the same courtesy to you as well.”
While you may find yourself tuning out some of the conversations you have with your spouse, making the effort to really listen to them can help strengthen the bond of friendship that keeps your relationship strong. “Practice the art of listening and you will be amazed at the difference the simple act…can bring to your marriage,” says Pleines.
You don’t need to have a huge amount of disposable income or make lavish gestures to surprise your partner with your generosity. “Generosity can be shown in small things like asking what they want, and in bigger things such as compromising in your relationship. Being generous, however, is different from spoiling them,” says Pleines.
Instead, you might clean up your spouse’s breakfast dishes without making a big deal of it when they forget, fill up their car’s tank with gas when you notice it’s empty, or set their work bag by the front door if you’ve noticed them forgetting it in the past.
Not everyone communicates the same way in a relationship, and people’s love languages can evolve over time. Even if you’ve been with your partner for years, make a point of checking in and seeing if your partner’s love language has changed.
“People have different love languages, and knowing what your partner’s is can give you an edge when things go wrong,” says Pleines. “It is easier to resolve problems and get through difficult times when you know the perfect thing to do to make them feel better.”
Even if your budget is small, giving your partner “just because” gifts can make them feel wanted and appreciated. “Keep things fresh by surprising your partner with messages, gifts, and gestures for no other reason than because you want to,” suggests clinical psychologist Dr. Carissa Coulston, author of The Eternity Rose relationship blog. “If you hear a song and it reminds you of your partner, let them know. You could also get up early on the weekend and bring them breakfast in bed—just small things here and there that show appreciation.”
It’s easy to get bogged down in all the things that are going wrong in your relationship. But if you want to be a better wife, try focusing on what’s going right between you and your spouse instead.
Suzie Pileggi Pawelski, MAPP, and James O. Pawelski, Ph.D., the husband and wife co-authors of Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love that Lasts, note that focusing on the positive is linked to greater personal wellbeing, as well as greater relationship satisfaction.
Think the mystery is gone after spending decades with your spouse? Think again. Sharing some secrets with your partner can go a long way toward refreshing your relationship when you’re over 40. “It might be a childhood memory, a life-changing experience, or a vivid dream. The important thing is that they authentically share with one another something meaningful,” according to the Pawelskis. “It’s imperative that couples are curious, open, and welcoming of the secrets and nonjudgmental.”
There are few things that can bond a longtime couple like tackling a project together. Take the lead on suggesting a new venture with your spouse, whether that’s starting a business, finishing your basement, or just repainting your bedroom. Having something you can do together and a finished product you can admire will bring you closer and give you a mutual sense of accomplishment.
While it’s easy to interpret your partner’s behavior toward you as negative, whether they’re responding with one-word answers or not texting you back as quickly as they usually do, if you want to be a better partner, you’ll want to ask before jumping to conclusions. “I look for the rightness in people, their behavior, and reactions, rather than the wrongness,” says clinical psychologist Jan Harrell, Ph.D., author of Love Now!: Untangling Relationships.
Instead of assuming that changes and challenges in your relationship are necessarily problematic, try accepting them as part of your learning process as a couple. “When we marry, we pick a learning partner with whom to share this journey,” says Harrell. “We must face the developmental tasks that will be an unending part of our existence.”
If you’re in the mood, don’t shy away from the subject. Even if you and your spouse haven’t been intimate in some time, sex might just improve your relationship. In fact, according to a 2017 review of research published in the journal Psychological Science, the “afterglow effect” of sex lasts up to two days, making couples happier and more satisfied.
Even if retirement still seems far off, getting on the same page about your retirement plan now will make your relationship stronger in the long run. A 2017 survey from MagnifyMoney found that 21 percent of divorcees polled said that finances were a contributing factor in their relationship’s demise. That means there’s no time like the present to make sure you and your spouse are seeing eye to eye about how you’ll be spending your money in retirement.
Want to make your partner feel more wanted, respected, and heard? Try adopting a similar tone of voice to them or assuming a similar posture. A 2010 review of research published in the British Journal of Psychology reveals that subtle mimicry can actually make people feel more empathetic and bonded to those doing the mimicking.
If you think your text message apologies are cutting it, think again. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy reveals that both fighting and making up over text are associated with decreased relationship satisfaction. So whenever possible, try having your big relationship discussions (even arguments) and the subsequent apologies in person.
One easy way to be a better wife? Remind your partner that you’re in it for the long haul, even if things are tough now. According to a 2013 survey published in the journal Couple and Family Psychology, a lack of commitment was the most frequently-cited reason for a couple’s divorce.
The key to being a good partner isn’t some antiquated notion of what it means to be a wife, it’s treating your relationship with the same respect and care that you treat your friendships with. According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, couples who viewed their partner as their best friend were not just happier in their relationships, but more satisfied by their lives as a whole. And if you want your marriage to go the distance, make sure you know the 50 Best Marriage Tips of All Time.
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