40 Ways to Be a Better Partner After 40
When it comes to relationships, school's always in session.
The uncertainty of your 20s is behind you. The grueling career ascent of your 30s has given way to some stability. And now that your 40th has come and gone, it’s time to focus on what matters most: your relationship.”When you hit the age of 40, you may not need to focus on raising your children or advancing in your career like you used to,” says Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics. With those joyous, yet stressful periods out of the way, he explains “it’s the perfect time…to give your partner some extra loving,”
And while this does sound great in theory, the question is how to translate the love you feel into the love you show. After all, conflicts typically often arise in the space between the two—when both partners care but can’t seem to see to eye to eye on just what expressing that care means in practice. Fortunately, we’ve compiled a list of science-backed, expert-approved tips to help you do just that. Because, when it comes to being a great partner, it’s more than just the thought that counts.
Make time for regular date nights, no matter how busy you are.
“If you don’t already have one, you and your partner should have a date night at least once a week,” says Backe. Whether it’s going out or staying in, a pre-planned night for just the two of you is a great way to keep your romance alive—and provide you time to relax together, an essential component in a happy relationship. If you’re looking for any ideas outside of the typical dinner-and-movie date, hit the gym together for a class, go to a museum, or hit up a local concert. And feel free to splurge—it’s only once a week, and honestly, what’s more important to spend your money on than time together?
Spend time with good friends.
In addition to spending more time with one another, “you may even want to spend more time with good friends,” says Backe. Though friends aren’t strictly a part of your relationship, hanging around trustworthy others can often reveal you and your partner’s best sides. Seeing how funny, sweet, or witty your partner is with others can reignite the flames of passion in a jiffy. Not sure what to do with the friends you haven’t seen in a few years? “Invite them over for a game night,” recommends Backe.
Keep reassessing your goals together.
With your thirties behind you, it’s time “the two of you talk about your new goals and focuses,” says Backe. There’s no guarantee that what you both wanted still holds true, and so it’s crucial to work to stay on the same page. If you feel like your priorities have changed, open up a dialogue on the subject, and remember to be as honest as possible—what you shield them from now will only hurt worse later. If you’re having trouble finding a time talk, feel free to do it on date night, says Backe. There’s nothing like discussing your future together over a nice bottle of wine or a great meal to bring you closer.
Make family a priority,
“Being over the age of 40 may also make you want to spend more time with family you don’t usually see, like siblings or cousins,” explains Backe. In addition to enjoying a nice home-cooked meal and some laughs over inside jokes, “there’s nothing more bonding than spending time with the family,” he says. Even if you don’t always get along with everyone in the mix, spending time with family provides some excellent opportunities for building trust and working as a team player with your partner, he explains.
“Give you partner your full attention when [they’re] communicating with you,” says Bracha Goetz, author of Searching for God in the Garbage. Now that your career and life are a bit more settled than they were a decade or so earlier, it’s time to “cease multitasking and focus solely on what [your partner] wants to tell you.”
“That’s how you can keep the kind of magic you experienced on a wondrous first date going forever,” she explains. So face your partner when they talk, and make eye contact—and yes, that includes even if what they’re telling you isn’t something you want to hear. In fact, that may be the most important time to do so.
Be open to professional counseling.
Want to solidify your relationship in your 40s? Open yourself up to professional counseling. While you may be older and wiser, that doesn’t mean you can handle every problem that comes your way. In fact, real maturity means admitting to yourself when you need help, and not rejecting it out of pride. And remember: just because you’re calling in the big guns doesn’t mean your relationship is in trouble—from your home to your relationship, every solid thing in your life needs maintenance, after all.
Admit to your mistakes.
Humility is crucial to keeping a relationship strong through your 40s and beyond. No one on earth is a perfect partner, but the ones who achieve relationship longevity do so because they’re able to admit when they’ve made a mistake. And while you can listen and give your partner you full attention, it doesn’t mean much if you reject what they say out of personal pride.
And learn from what you did wrong.
The best part about having made it to your 40s is the relationship experience you’ve gained along the way. This hard-won knowledge isn’t worth much, however, unless you put it to good use. That means it’s time to not only admit you’ve made mistakes in the past—that birthday date at Medieval Times, that forgotten anniversary—but make sure you’re doing better going forward.
Work on your introspective side.
It’s important to know your partner well—and not only so you can win The Newlywed Game. What’s often forgotten, however, is how important it is to know yourself, as well—and reassessing who you are periodically over the course of a relationship. Learning your own dislikes, likes, preferences, and needs will allow you to better communicate them to your partner, as well as allow you to understand some of the more uncomfortable feelings that a committed relationship is likely to bring to the surface from time to time. Even if your feelings about your partner, work life, family, or yourself are complicated, being honest about them opens the door for better communication with your significant other in the long run.
Focus on what you love, not what annoys you.
“Focus on what you love about your partner, rather than irritations about him or her,” says Maria Olsen, author of 50 After 50—Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life. After so many years together, it can be easy to let your favorite aspects of your partner dull, while making mountains out of the molehills that are their unfortunate characteristics. Reverse this trend by being mindful of what you focus on, and making sure it’s something good. “Whatever you focus on, you magnify,” she explains.
“One must learn to love themselves to be a good partner to someone else,” explains Olsen. Turning 40 is a great time to begin practicing self-care for that very reason, she says. While it may seem counterintuitive, treating yourself better is often the first step to treating your partner with the kindness they deserve, as well. While 40 often comes with responsibility for many others, you can’t forget yourself—it’s the nicest thing you could do for those who depend on you.
Cultivate new shared interests.
“Keep growing and encourage your partner to keep doing so,” says Olsen. In addition to doing the things you’ve both always loved, it’s important to “cultivate some common interests and activities,” she explains. Trying new experiences together ensures that you’re both on the same page, and it also puts some excitement into your otherwise predictable time together. And if you both end up loathing that cooking class or crafting club, that just provides you another thing to bond over.
Make time to enjoy one another’s passions.
Even if you’re not trying something brand-spanking-new, it’s important to keep up with those shared activities “that bring you joy,” says Olsen. By sharing in an activity you both enjoy, you’re more likely to feel not only content, but bonded to your partner. Just make sure to stay open-minded when it comes to those supposedly shared passions: your partner doesn’t have to exactly match your enthusiasm for those activities, after all.
Make the decision to stay in love.
“Remember that love is a choice,” says Olsen. “Every day that you choose to love one another…it is active, not passive.” When you hit 40, it can often begin to seem like things in your life are the way they are simply due to inertia. This, however, can keep you from truly appreciating your partner for the impressive, amazing, and nuanced person they were when you started dating—and continue to be. You chose them, after all, and who has better taste than you? So remember that love is a choice—and continue choose it.
Express your gratitude.
If you don’t already, start letting your partner know how grateful for you are for everything they do. Studies show that, in addition to increasing your positive perception of your partner, practicing gratitude will make both of you feel more comfortable expressing concerns within the relationship. The sooner concerns can be voiced, furthermore, the more easily they can be resolved. Besides these scientifically proven benefits, expressing gratitude is also just a nice thing to do—and can often make all the hard work you put into your relationship feel worth it.
When your partner shows signs that they are struggling, whether it’s with work, family, or your relationship, take the time to listen to them and show that you understand their concerns. Along with strengthening your bond, doing so can have positive effects for their health: studies show that the more responsive a partner is perceived as being, the fewer sleep problems are experienced by their loved one.
Try to up your happiness quotient.
It makes sense that happiness is a good predictor of a person’s health. But did you know that one’s happiness is also a good predictor of their partner’s health, too?
As time marches on—and long-term health begins to play a larger part in your thinking—it’s time get happy. Not only will it help with your health, but it can positively affect your partner’s as well. While it may seem hard to decide to be happy, the fact is, there are plenty of ways to increase your chances of finding yourself waking up with a smile, from surprising your partner with a gift you know they’ll love to taking those leftover vacation days and spending some quality time together.
You’re not a teenager anymore, so it’s unlikely that you’re blindly optimistic about every part of your life. However, choosing to take a sunnier, more optimistic view of life is strongly correlated with the longevity of a relationship—so try to see the bright side.
In addition, shared optimism has been shown to help partners resolve their inevitable conflicts more constructively. Once you both start doing that, meanwhile, you just might find yourself unable to be anything but be wildly optimistic.
When you’re younger, you can choose your partner based upon traits and behaviors you find valuable. As the two of you age together, however, less desirable characteristics inevitably begin to present themselves. While you can bring this to your partner’s attention—in the hopes they will change—acceptance is typically a more effective strategy. Change is hard and while, for some things, insisting upon change may be worth it, for more inconsequential matters—like how your partner rolls the toothpaste tube or their annoying ringtone—it’s best to simply focus on not allowing those things to bother you so much.
Wear rose-colored glasses.
Still feel butterflies every time your spouse walks into a room? Instead of convincing yourself to grow up, try to hold onto that feeling as long as humanly possible. When it comes to your spouse, inflating their value may actually be a valuable tool for maintaining harmony. “Viewing partners through rose-colored glasses…appears to support marital satisfaction,” according to research from CFCA.
So feel free to wildly exaggerate your partner’s best qualities and minimize their worst—both of you will be happy with the results.
Pay attention to your partner’s requests for support.
You’re not entirely self-sufficient—otherwise you wouldn’t have a partner. However, it can be easy to forget that sometimes partners will need each other explicitly, with one person asking for support and the other providing it. According to researchers at the University of Iowa, the responsiveness of spouses to each other’s calls for support—and their ability to provide it—were found to predict overall marital satisfaction. So when you need support, make sure to make ask for it, and when you receive your own request, step up to the plate and do your job.
Check in to make sure you’re still on the same page.
People change a little bit every day. Ever see a friend after a two-year absence only to find yourself wondering if they’re still the same person?
The same goes for spouses: A 2016 survey of Western countries find that the most popular reason for cohabiting couples to split up was due to their growing apart. To make sure your own romance doesn’t fall victim to this form of relationship drift, check in with your partner often and talk about the things that mean the most to you—do you still want kids? Are you still happy living where you do? Do you see yourself in the same career five years from now? The fact is, you’d be surprised how often a person transforms and how—in the blink of an eye—it feels like your priorities have significantly diverged.
Put your phone down.
This one’s going be tough to swallow: to be a better partner, you have to put your phone down—at least from time to time. While no one is calling for complete digital abstinence, too much phone usage can make your partner feel ignored or unwanted. According to a 2014 Pew poll, for example, “25% of cell phone owners in a marriage or partnership have felt their spouse or partner was distracted by their cell phone when they were together.” And that just isn’t a good feeling.
Sure, your cell phone is the center of your digital life, but your partner is the center of your real one—so do yourself a favor and become a member of that other 75%.
You and your partner are a team, so start acting like it. Not only will doing so make most of your problems half as hard, it’ll forge a stronger bond between the both of you. According to a 2016 study on the well-being of married couples, teamwork is the “underlying theme” in partnerships that worked. And remember: teammates don’t always agree—but they do work together towards a shared goal.
A good partnership is a lot like alchemy: the result is brilliant and beautiful, but the process remains murky and little understood. According to a 2017 study, however, the key to maintaining that magic may be simpler than you imagine: “Our findings suggest that conscientiousness is the trait most broadly associated with marital satisfaction…of long-wed couples,” say researchers at the Washington School of Medicine.
Conscientiousness doesn’t come easy, however, and requires mindfulness and focus. So show your newfound maturity—and wisdom—and start making conscientiousness a priority and thinking carefully and intelligently before acting.
Work on lowering your stress level.
Nobody likes an aggressive partner—after all, it’s much easier to live with someone through the ups and downs of life when they aren’t lashing out in what feels like a personal attack. However, aggression often sneaks up on people, and they find themselves acting in ways they regret later, especially with their partner. Fortunately, researchers have pinpointed that “higher levels of chronic stress” are associated with a higher likelihood to engage in aggressive behavior. So, before you let that anger boil over—potentially having a deleterious effect on your relationship along the way—get a handle on your personal stress level.
Get on good terms with your family.
Aging often means gaining a new family, but that doesn’t mean forgetting your old one. In addition to preserving those important familial bonds, getting on good terms with your family can help your relationship, as well. Researchers at Iowa State found that ongoing tension with siblings or parents is a predictor of depressive symptoms, which can affect a person’s relationship with their spouse. Not only does that mean mending your own family fences, but also encouraging—and helping—your partner to mend theirs.
It might seem like a small thing, but remembering to show physical affection to your partner is crucial to maintaining closeness. Surprisingly, it’s actually even more important for men than it is for woman: one study found that while frequent touching was important for a couple’s overall sexual satisfaction, only in men did physical intimacy predict relationship happiness. Whether it be a cuddle, caress, or kiss, remind your partner that you’re there for them—not just spiritually, but physically, too.
Sympathize with your partner.
Aging means mental, emotional, and physical changes, for both you and your partner. That means that, once you hit 40, it’s more crucial than ever to listen to your partner’s experiences and let them know you care. One study found that, for example, in women undergoing sexual changes later in life, one of their primary concerns—outside of gathering information about what was happening—was “the need for sympathy” from their partner. Because while losing some of the things you once cherished is a natural part of the life cycle, the possible negative effects on the psyche from that loss can be severely blunted by the support of a loved one.
Show your romantic side.
Contrary to popular opinion, romance doesn’t necessarily fade from a relationship as time goes by—it just changes. “Romantic love, without the obsession component of early stage romantic love, can and does exist in long-term marriages,” says researchers from Stony Brook University. Furthermore, they conclude, this type of romance “is associated with marital satisfaction, well-being, and high self-esteem.”
So light a few candles, buy some scented oils, and connect with your romantic side—there’s never been a better time to do so.
Don’t let your sex life fizzle out.
At 40, you’re too busy for many things. Sex, however, should not number among them. Like calling your mother every Sunday, it’s just something you need to make time for.
So, how important is sex? Researchers from Portugal found that, among middle-age adults, sexual satisfaction is linked not only to the quality of a relationship, but to measures of personal well-being as well.
Practice emotional regulation.
Everyone experiences flares of intense emotion sometimes, especially within a long-term relationship. However, crucial to maintaining that relationship, according to researchers at Northwestern University, is regulating those intense emotions and not letting them explode in your partner’s face. While nobody is recommending that you ignore the cause of these emotions—they should be discussed and handled constructively. After all, it’s much easier to resolve them when you don’t let instantaneous, often intense, reactions define your behavior. Instead, find a method (counting, breathing, thinking good thoughts) of calming down in the moment, allowing you to discuss the problem situation more effectively with your partner after your blood pressure has reached a stable level.
Work on your own coping skills.
You don’t have to deal with relationship difficulties alone: learning coping strategies can allow you and your partner to resolve conflicts in a stable, steady, and predictable manner. Even if you’ve already been together for an extended period of time, finding strategies that work for the two of you can “substantially improve [a relationship] in a number of domains,” according to researchers at the University of Fribourg.
Try behavioral couples therapy.
Behavioral couples therapy, or BCT, is a form of couples therapy based upon social learning and behavioral analysis. By analyzing specific actions—and working to reform them—it can help participants lead healthier lives. It’s also extremely effective. “BCT is the closest thing that couples therapy has to an established treatment,” according to researchers at the University of Washington.
Work on your own self-esteem.
It might be in the name, but self-esteem really isn’t all about the self. In addition to making you feel better about all things you, it’s also “beneficial in romantic relationships,” according to researchers at the University of Bern. So work on yourself if you want your relationship to thrive; from hitting the gym to getting into therapy to work out some of your issues, your relationship will definitely benefit from you doing so.
Learn to forgive.
It would be great if your partner never did anything to upset you. It would also be great if money grew on trees. Unfortunately, neither of those are likely ever to come true. That’s why it’s crucial to be able to forgive your partner for whatever they may have done to incur your wrath.
In addition to releasing negative energy from your system, forgiveness has also been “linked to overall relationship satisfaction,” according to research published in the Journal of Family Psychology. While the exact cause is unknown, they hypothesize that forgiveness from one partner leads both partners to work harder at making the relationship successful going forward. It also helps to defuse negative conflict much more quickly than holding a grudge.
Support your partner’s hobbies.
Nobody likes it when their hobby isn’t taken seriously—and your partner is no different. According to research published in Leisure Science, marital satisfaction was significantly influenced by a partner’s support of their spouse’s “recreational role identity.” Making fun of their mahjong or bowling tournaments, in other words, is a big no-no. Remember: what may seem profound to one person can seem like the biggest, silliest waste of time to another.
Listen to your partner’s work problems.
Work can become especially grueling after 40, when you or your partner’s expertise is in high demand. While work overload has been shown to negatively affect relationships, there is evidence that the support of a spouse can help moderate these effects. If the difficulties last, of course, it may time to consider a new position, but in the meantime, providing support for your partner in their time of stress can help benefit both of you. So be patient, be present, and let them vent: it’ll be worth it in the long-run.
Beware of burnout.
Forty is a great time to consider whether or not you’re on the road to burnout in terms of your professional or personal life. The fact is, you don’t want to be stuck five years down the line without a feeling of passion for the things you do. However, it can also help prevent your partner’s feelings of burnout. According to researchers from the University of Tel Aviv, one partner’s feelings of burnout is positively correlated with the other’s. So make now the time you take a good, hard look at your work-life balance and how those long hours at the office are affecting your relationship—after all, a couple is only as happy as its least content member.
Pay attention to your body—and see the doctor when you need to.
As you age, you undergo changes. Some of those changes, if left unnoticed, may affect the way you treat your partner in response. Hearing loss, for example, if undiagnosed, was found to negatively impact the well-being of both partners. While this is just one example, there are many ways that our bodies dictate how we behave to our partners—and the overall satisfaction we feel in our relationships over time. Being on top of these mechanisms allows you to ensure that your partner doesn’t bear the brunt of a physical issue that you should have attended to personally.
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