65 Ways to Be a Better Spouse After 40, According to Experts
Becoming a better partner and getting your marriage back on track is easier than you think.
Great relationships don't get that way overnight. In fact, it takes years of practice—and countless missteps—to build the kind of marriage that looks effortless from the outside. However, the longer you're together, the easier it can be to take your spouse for granted, and the things you once did to maintain a healthy and romantic relationship start to fall by the wayside.
The good news? No matter what your age is or how long you've been married, there's always time to turn things around. With the help of relationship experts, we've rounded up easy ways to be a better spouse after 40. And for more ways to strengthen your relationship, check out The 50 Best Marriage Tips From Couples Who've Been Married for 50 Years.
Be more vulnerable.
No matter how long you've been together, truly expressing your vulnerability in front of your spouse is rarely comfortable or easy. That said, doing so is an essential component of a healthy relationship.
"Maintaining healthy communication means being vulnerable, honest, and understanding with your partner," says psychotherapist Babita Spinelli, founder of Opening the Doors Psychotherapy. "Closing any distance that has been created because of communication gaps makes for a better spouse." And if you want to keep your relationship healthy, make sure to avoid these 40 Marriage Mistakes No One Over 40 Should Make, According to Experts.
Keep in touch throughout the day.
If you and your spouse both have busy schedules or travel frequently, you can easily go hours, maybe even days, without checking in. However, if you want to improve your relationship after 40, it's important to keep regular check-ins on the schedule.
"Everyone gets busy, but a quick text or call to your spouse doesn't take a lot of time," says therapist Jessica Marchena, LMHC. "It is important for the health of your marriage because it shows you care and are thinking about your partner."
Sleep in the same bed.
Your partner's relentless snoring or blanket-hogging may have made you seek greener pastures—most likely the couch—some time ago. However, if you want to make your relationship steadier for the future, it's imperative that you get back in the same bed.
"Please go to your doctor and figure out a solution to these problems because sleeping together in the same bed is crucial for the health of your marriage," Marchena says. She also says that sleeping in the same space not only increases a couple's physical connection, but their emotional one, as well. And if your relationship feels stagnant, check out these 21 Reasons You're Bored in Your Marriage.
And go to bed at the same time.
If you and your partner have different sleep schedules—one of you is already fast asleep by the time the other one comes to bed—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.
Ask for what you want, but know that you won't always get what you want.
If you want to be a better spouse, there's no time like the present to learn to accept that things don't always go your way. Don't be afraid to make your needs known, but go into that conversation knowing your partner can't—and won't—always oblige.
"Just because you want something does not mean your spouse is responsible for providing it," says clinical psychologist Steven M. Sultanoff, PhD. And if you need some conversation starters, try these 22 Questions to Ask Your Spouse Once a Year.
Pick your battles.
While you may have gone into your relationship wearing rose-colored glasses, after some time together, you will become more aware of the things they do that get on your nerves. However, if you want your relationship to remain on steady footing, it's worth making a conscious decision about which issues you think are worth addressing with them, and which ones would be better to just let slide.
"Is whatever it is important enough to argue about? If it is not that important, let it go," Sultanoff says.
Nobody's perfect—your spouse included—but if you want to keep your relationship intact, it's important to forgive their shortcomings from time to time.
"[Accept] that your spouse is doing the best he/she can given the circumstance in the moment," says Sultanoff, who recommends forgiving them for honest mistakes and trying to move on rather than dwelling on those perceived errors. And if you want to get past a bigger relationship issue, check out these 20 Real Women Explaining Why They Forgave Their Partners for Cheating.
Don't insist on always compromising.
While many people believe that compromise is the key to a happy and healthy relationship, it can also mean that neither person is really getting what they want or, more importantly, what they need. Instead of constantly trying to meet in the middle, accept that not every disagreement you have will have a perfectly equitable resolution.
"If the two of you are in conflict about something you want, consider how important it is to you versus how important it is to your spouse," Sultanoff says. "If what you want is less important, then let it go."
Be aware of the signals you're sending.
Even when you are clearly saying one thing to your partner, your body language may be communicating a completely different message, according to Chelsea Hudson, LCPC, of Cityscape Counseling.
"While you might be saying 'I'm fine' or 'thank you,' your tone and facial expressions might be signaling that you are not actually fine and your gratitude might be perceived as passive aggressive," Hudson says. To avoid this, she recommends trying to evoke sincerity in your voice and checking the mirror to make sure your facial expressions are saying the same thing as your words. And if you want to clean up your non-verbal cues, check out these 23 Body Language Tricks That Will Serve You Well Your Entire Life.
Give without expecting things in return.
In many relationships, everyday behaviors can begin to carry an element of quid pro quo—"I cooked dinner so you clean up; I got the kids to bed, so I get to go out with my friends," and so on. But acts of kindness shouldn't be so transactional, which is why it's important that you put in effort even if you're unsure it will be reciprocated.
"Focus on what you can do to improve your relationship without expecting your spouse to immediately respond with the same level of effort," Hudson says.
Validate their feelings.
Making it clear to your partner that their feelings are valid and deserve consideration can go a long way toward making you feel more connected in your relationship. And you don't need to fully understand, or even agree with, those feelings to show your support—all it takes is the right language.
"If you're at a loss for what to say, just try to say what you see," says marriage counselor Brent Sweitzer, LPC, RPT. Phrases like, "It seems like it was a hard day for you" or "I can see how much you enjoyed that outing with your girlfriends," are a good place to start Sweitzer says.
Be mindful when you're together.
Being physically present with your spouse isn't the same as being emotionally present. To build and maintain a successful marriage, 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 Maria Sullivan, dating expert and 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 things are fine when they're really not. Though it's not always easy to share certain things, being honest with your partner will make your marriage 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," Sullivan says.
Don't avoid fights.
Arguments in a relationship aren't always pleasant, but they are part of a healthy marriage. In 2008, after analyzing more than 200 marriages over the course of 20 years, University of Michigan researchers found that couples who avoided confrontation or disagreements in general tended to live shorter lives than those who didn't shy away from tension and instead learned how to argue in emotionally mature ways. So, if you're upset with your partner about something, it's best to just put it all out in the open.
If you've been with your spouse for a long time, there may be times when you 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 first dating.
"The spark sometimes does end after the honeymoon stage," Sullivan says. "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.
A little flattery can go a long way, especially when it comes to your marriage, Sullivan says. "When you first started dating, compliments were probably plentiful," she says. "It's important to remind them about how you feel—even if it seems repetitive. Once you stop, your partner will feel less appreciated."
Give your partner gifts just because.
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," say experts at 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."
Laugh at their jokes.
You don't have to become their Ed McMahon, laughing generously at everything they say as if it was a part of your job. But when your spouse says something legitimately funny, show your appreciation. And as a bonus, remember that laughter can be a real aphrodisiac.
Bring back the element of adventure.
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, those impulses to explore can fade over time. To bring that sense of adventure back, try injecting a little spontaneity into your daily routine.
"Your relationship will tire out if you don't make an effort to try new things," Sullivan says. "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."
Avoid multitasking when talking with your partner.
While it's tempting to do two things at once so you can cross off another item on your to-do list, it doesn't always make for effective communication.
"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."
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," Sullivan says. "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," says April Masini, a New York-based relationship expert, "but being neurotic, clingy, and needy is not attractive." Don't mistake being open and honest with your emotions for an invitation to share every fleeting feeling or anxiety that passes through your brain.
If your feelings require that much outside maintenance, it might be time to explore therapy. The more complex your feelings are, the more important it is that you find somebody qualified to process them effectively, Masini says.
Keep your promises.
It might not seem like a 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," Masini says. If you make a promise, even if it's something that you don't feel is life or death—like saying that you'll pick up groceries on your way home from work—make sure you follow through with it.
Never stop saying "I love you."
Tell your spouse you love them not only in private, but in front of other people, as well, Masini says. Not a fan of public displays of affection? Well, we're not talking about a full-on make-out session in the presence of company. They are just three little words, after all. But those three little words can pack a powerful punch.
"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.
Recognize when they just want to be left alone.
We all need some time to ourselves every now and then, including your partner, so it's important they feel comfortable taking it. And instead of them asking for space, take the initiative and let them 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," Masini says. "Recognize, respect, and offer this up. You'll be doing great things for your spouse—and your relationship."
Take an interest in their interests.
"If you're committed enough to marry someone, invest time in learning about what makes [them] tick," Masini says. If they love golf, play a round with them. If they are passionate about opera, get tickets for the two of you to see one. "You don't have to engage with equal fervor," she says. "But at least respect your spouse's interests, and set the bar for trying new things that aren't your bag."
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. Exercising with a partner, even via virtual classes, can motivate you to push yourself harder, too.
Stop comparing your marriage to other marriages.
While you might find yourself jealous of someone else's seemingly-perfect marriage, comparing it with your relationship will only have a negative impact. "Quit comparing your family and relationship, imagining that everyone else has it so much better than you do," says David Essel, a counselor and life coach based in Fort Myers, Florida.
Go on double dates.
As long as you're not comparing, spending time with other couples can actually make you happier and more bonded in your own relationship. According to a 2014 study published in the journal Personal Relationships, "the creation of couple friendships may be an additional way to reignite feelings of passionate love in romantic relationships." Even if you can't get together face-to-face right now, it's still worth setting up a virtual game night or some other safe hangout.
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," Masini says. "That's a true sign of commitment and loyalty." Even more so when you don't necessarily agree.
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 their friends? The fact of the matter is, your spouse doesn't always have to be right, and neither do you. Sometimes you've just got to cut them a break and be supportive.
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." Though options may be limited right now, there are plenty of virtual classes, tours, workouts, and activities you can do at home. Or, if you need fresh air, consider a picnic in the park or bike ride around your neighborhood.
Let go of resentments.
Everyone makes mistakes, and being married is full of challenges. It's how you handle the aftermath of mistakes and the feelings of anger and resentment they caused. Do you put it behind you or do you let it fester quietly?
"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. "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."
Write down the wonderful things about your spouse.
Making note of what you appreciate and love about your spouse can help you be a better partner. "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," Essel says.
And never take them for granted.
After years of marriage, it can be easy to unknowingly take your spouse for granted. But even though it's likely not intentional, that doesn't mean it can't still poison the relationship. That's why it's essential to let them know how much you appreciate and love them.
And while writing down those things is a good place start, "A better spouse will express appreciation to their partner, which can only help the relationship," Spinelli says.
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 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," Manly says. "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," Manly says. "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 positive impact in your relationship.
"[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," says Gudelsky, who recommends a nice homemade dinner or picnic.
Pursue your own interests and passions.
While having common interests can certainly facilitate spousal bonding, having some activities that your partner doesn't partake in can actually increase the enjoyment you get from your relationship.
"Make sure to do things on your own that feed your soul," Gudelsky says. "If you are not feeling happy and satisfied, this too will trickle into your marriage." Having a few activities that you do alone or with other friends that you can tell your spouse about can add another layer of bonding to your relationship.
Make your preferences in the bedroom known.
Even if you've been with your spouse for decades, 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," Gudelsky says. 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 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 marriage has hit a rough patch, try talking about the good times to help 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," Consul says.
And 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 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.
It's easy to start taking your partner for granted when you've been together for years, but it would benefit your marriage 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," Consul says. "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 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," Pleines says.
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 something special. "Generosity can be shown in small things like asking what they want, and in bigger things such as compromising in your relationship," Pleines says. "Being generous, however, is different from spoiling them."
Instead, you might clean up your spouse's breakfast dishes without making a big deal of it when they forget, fill up their car 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.
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—including even arguments—and the subsequent apologies in person.
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 their's has changed since you first met.
"People have different love languages, and knowing what your partner's is can give you an edge when things go wrong," Pleines says. "It is easier to resolve problems and get through difficult times when you know the perfect thing to do to make them feel better."
Don't watch too many TV shows about relationships.
A good Netflix binge is a fun way to spend a night in with your spouse, but try no to overdo it. That's because the amount of television you watch and the kinds of programs you view can have a significant impact on your relationship. According to 2012 study published in the journal Mass Communication and Society, "Heavier viewing of romantically themed programming and greater belief in television's portrayals of romantic relationships were associated with lower marital commitment, higher expected and perceived costs of marriage, and more favorable perceptions of alternatives to one's current relationship."
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, PhD, 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 well-being, 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 spouse'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.
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," Masini says. "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."
Kiss every morning.
We mean every morning. Before you pour your coffee, glance at the morning paper, or pick 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 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 hiring a babysitter, and not just on anniversaries and 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 have a night out just because.
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, don't jump to negative conclusions before knowing the reasons behind their actions. "I look for the rightness in people, their behavior, and reactions, rather than the wrongness," says clinical psychologist Jan Harrell, PhD, author of Love Now!: Untangling Relationships.
Offer to help without having to be asked.
While you may not be a mind-reader, if you want to be a better partner, you should lend a hand—or at least offer one—on your own volition.
"Do not neglect your share of household chores," says psychotherapist Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, LMFT, ATR. "Order takeout and bring it home when your partner had a busy day. Make life easier for them."
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," Scott-Hudson says. "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 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 left for fun. Well, let this be the year when that changes. You don't need to do anything crazy like quit your job, but playing hooky to spend a day together could be just what your marriage needs.
Get on the same page about retirement plans.
Even if it's years away, getting on the same page about your retirement goals now will benefit your relationship when it does come time to slow down your professional life. According to a 2017 survey from MagnifyMoney, 21 percent of divorcees said that finances were a contributing factor in the demise of their marriage. That means there's no time like the present to make sure you and your spouse see eye to eye about how what's in store for your golden years.
Remember to be a "we."
As researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, discovered in a 2009 study published in Psychol Aging, 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.
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 put into your closest friendships. 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 with their lives in general.