60 Ways to Be a Better Spouse After 40
Home improvement starts with your marriage.
Here’s something nobody tells you when you first get married: You never stop learning. No, you don’t just wake up after your wedding day as the perfect partner. But that doesn’t mean you’re a failure either. (After all, you’re a human being, and human beings are inherently flawed.) It just means that there’s room for improvement. Actually 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 spouse after 40.
Be mindful when you’re together.
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.
Don’t say “everything’s fine” when it’s not.
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.
Don’t avoid fights.
Arguments in a relationship aren’t always pleasant, but they are part of a healthy marriage. In 2008, University of Michigan researchers revealed the results of their study that analyzed more than 200 marriages over the course of 20 years. They found that those who avoided confrontation or disagreements in general tended to die earlier than those who didn’t shy away from tension and instead learned how to argue in emotionally mature ways. That means that if you’re upset with your partner about something, don’t swallow those emotions. Talk with your spouse and put it all out in the open.
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.
Compliment your spouse.
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.”
Laugh at their jokes.
You don’t have to become their Ed McMahon, laughing mindlessly at everything they say like it’s part of your job. But when your spouse says something legitimately funny, show your appreciation. (Bonus: An appreciative audience can be a real aphrodisiac.)
Text during the day just because you miss them.
The occasional sweet and unsolicited text—when you’re writing just to let your spouse know that you miss them—can be a wonderful gesture they’ll beam about for hours. But don’t overdo it, says April Masini, a New-York-based relationship expert. “If you get the cadence right, this kind of behavior can be great for your marriage,” says Masini.
Be conscious of your body language.
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.”
Keep exploring together.
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.”
Put down your phone when you’re together.
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.”
Power down the TV and computer, too.
We spend way too much of our lives staring at screens big and small, from our tablets to our TVs, and it has a negative impact on our relationships. According to a 2016 study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, the more we’re transfixed by our screens, the less satisfied we are with our relationships. So, the next time you feel compelled to check your email or return a text or watch a video that could wait until later, put down that device and look at your spouse instead.
Be honest, even when it’s hard.
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.”
But don’t use your spouse as a personal therapist.
“Sharing is important,” Masini says, “but being neurotic, clingy, and needy is not attractive.” Don’t confuse being open and honest with your emotions as an invitation to tell a spouse every fleeting thought or anxiety that passes through your brain. If your feelings require that much outside maintenance, it might be time to explore therapy. Just like you don’t ask your spouse to diagnose every physical symptom—smart couples leave the medical check-ups to their doctors—the more complicated your feelings, the more important it is that you find somebody qualified to lead you through any emotional maze.
Stop comparing your marriage to others’.
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.
Schedule some double dates.
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.
Have your spouse’s back even when you disagree with them.
“One of the sexiest and most romantic gestures is to stick up for your spouse in front of others,” says Masini. “That’s a true sign of commitment and loyalty.” Even more so when you don’t necessarily agree. Yes, it’s happened to all of us: You’re with other people and your partner says something that’s just glaringly wrong, and you know it. Do you correct them, even if it means embarrassing them in front of friends? Listen, your spouse doesn’t always have to be right, and neither do you. But sometimes you have to choose being a loyal spouse over being the arbitrator of facts.
Do something together every week.
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.”
Let go of resentments.
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.”
Make a list of what you appreciate about your spouse.
Making note of what you appreciate and love about your spouse can help you be a better partner, 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.
Leave each other love notes.
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.”
Be affectionate toward your spouse.
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.”
Put effort into your appearance.
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 your self-esteem is a massive component in a marriage.”
Keep dating each other.
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.”
Better yet, turn “date night” into “date weekend.”
Even date night loses its luster when it feels too regimented and forced, like it’s just another check mark on your already overly-booked schedule. Find ways to turn date night into an adventure, where you’re not just painting by numbers but exploring something new together that could last much longer than just one night. You both could use a reminder that romance needs to be unpredictable at times.
Cultivate your own interests.
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.
Recognize when they just want to be left alone.
“Your partner may have different ‘alone’ needs than you do,” says Masini. And it’s not just about being understanding when your spouse wants a day to his or herself, either. Take the initiative and let your partner know you’re fine with not being attached at the hip.
“Building in alone time to the weeks ahead is a great way to make sure your partner’s needs get met,” says Masini. “Recognize, respect, and offer this up. You’ll be doing great things for your spouse—and your relationship.”
Make your preferences in the bedroom known.
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!
Keep asking questions.
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.”
Reminisce about the good times in your relationship.
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.”
Don’t try to win every argument.
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.”
Keep your ears open.
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.
Be generous with your partner.
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.
Go to bed together.
No, we’re not talking about that (although that’s definitely important, too). We mean the nightly ritual of getting into bed and falling asleep. If you and your partner have different sleep schedules—where one of you heads to the bedroom long after the other is already fast asleep—you’re missing out on important moments of contact and intimacy. A shocking 75 percent of couples admit to going to bed at different hours and missing out on those moments, according to a 2015 Warren Evans study covered by The Daily Mail.
Apologize in person.
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.
Keep your promises.
It might seem like no big deal, but every broken promise, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, leaves a residual effect. “If you renege on your promises, your word becomes meaningless and you’re going to have trust issues in the relationship,” says Masini. If you make a promise, even if it’s something that you don’t feel is life or death—like remembering to pick up groceries on your way home from work, or taking the kids to the park on Saturday—make sure you follow through with it.
Learn your spouse’s love language.
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.”
Give your partner gifts.
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.”
Focus on what’s going right in your relationship.
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 partner, 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.
And support your spouse when things go right.
We all know the importance of supporting a partner when things go wrong, but what about when everything is going well? Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2006 showed that being your spouses’s biggest cheerleader when things go right can actually be more important to a relationship than just supporting them during the hard times. It demonstrates that your relationship truly is all for one and one for all, and you’re not guided by petty jealousy or competitiveness.
When you workout as a couple, “not only are you having fun and spending time together, but you’re also building your health together,” Masini says. Hitting the gym with a spouse can motivate you to push yourself harder, too—sometimes twice as hard as you would if you exercised alone, according to a 2012 Michigan State study.
Don’t try to “fix” their problems.
Some of us are hardwired to be problem solvers, but that can often lead to misunderstandings about what your partner actually needs. “Most times your spouse just wants to vent, and they want you to listen,” says Masini. “When you jump in and go into fix-it mode, they don’t get their needs met. They feel frustrated, angry, and misunderstood.” Sometimes the best support you can give is just being a sounding board.
Share secrets with one another.
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.”
Retell the story of how you met.
Have you ever heard a couple retell the story of how they met like it’s part of their personal mythology? The details might be slightly exaggerated, and the ending like something out of a romantic comedy. But their excitement over that story—their shared nostalgia for how they finally found each other—isn’t just to impress friends and family. It’s a reminder of what makes their love unique and special. If you and your partner haven’t told your love story in years, it’s time to blow the dust off the cover of that timeless tale.
Kiss every morning.
We mean every morning. Before you’ve had your coffee, glance at the morning’s headlines, or picked out your outfit for the day, give your partner a kiss that says, “I’m grateful for you. Before the whirlwind of the day steals our attention, I just wanted to remind you of that.” It all comes down to prioritizing what’s truly important.
Hire a babysitter.
Children are a blessing, but the time commitment involved in raising them can have negative consequences for even the strongest of marriages. According to a 2009 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90 percent of couples feel that they experience less marital joy after becoming parents. So, how do you fix this? By having a babysitter that you don’t only call on rare occasions. A romantic night out with your spouse shouldn’t be reserved for anniversaries or special occasions. Call right now and see if the babysitter is available this week, because it’s time for you and your one-and-only to celebrate “Thursday.”
Care about their favorite activities even if they’re not your thing.
“If you’re committed enough to marry someone, invest time in learning about what makes her tick,” says Masini. If she loves golf, take the initiative to learn about golf. If he loves opera and you’ve never heard a single note, buy two tickets to an opera production in the nearest big city. “You don’t have to engage with equal fervor,” says Masini. “But at least respect your spouse’s interests, and set the bar for trying new things that aren’t your bag.”
Start a project you can focus on.
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.
Try to seduce your partner.
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.”
Make sex a priority.
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.
Be more spontaneous.
Given enough time, even the best of marriages can fall into a rut. There are responsibilities and financial obligations and it just doesn’t seem like there’s time anymore to do something truly fun and surprising. Well, let this be the year when that changes. You don’t need to do anything crazy like quit your job or empty your savings for a last-minute trip to Paris. But playing hooky for a day, when you both take off work for a midday movie date, could be just the adrenaline rush your marriage needs.
Encourage your spouse to take risks.
Has your partner always dreamed of writing a novel? Or wanted to try skydiving but never found the courage? Sometimes all a person needs to take that leap of faith and try something they’ve always dreamed of is a word or two of encouragement from their spouse.
Make an effort with their family.
When you vowed to be with someone, for better or worse, that includes extended family. Even if they rub you the wrong way, or make you feel defensive or combative for no good reason, you need to take a deep breath and remember the value of patience. You’re in this relationship for the long haul, right? Learning to coexist peacefully with in-laws proves that you have no intention of going anywhere.
Get on the same page about your retirement finances.
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.
Remember to be a “we.”
As researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, discovered in a 2010 study, couples that frequently refer to themselves as a “we” are better at resolving marital disputes than spouses who are fiercely independent. That means if you use words like “we” more often than “I,” “me,” and “you,” you’re going to feel closer and more connected with your partner.
Never stop saying “I love you.”
Tell your spouse you love them, Masini says, “and tell them in front of people, too.” Not a fan of public displays of affection? Well, we’re not talking about a full-on make-out session in mixed company. It’s just three words—three words that you’re not afraid to say for the whole world to hear. “Affirming your feelings and making little public proclamations is a great way to let your spouse know you don’t take them for granted,” Masini says.
Learn to anticipate.
It’s a skill that comes after many years in a relationship, when you begin to anticipate your spouse’s needs before they have to speak them out loud. It’s pouring her a glass of her favorite wine because you can sense it’s been a stressful day. It’s when he’s feeling under the weather and you bring him a box of tissues before he asks. It’s going grocery shopping to pick up a few items before she even realized the refrigerator is getting empty.
Treat your spouse like your best friend.
The key to being a good partner is 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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