40 Ways Your Marriage Changes After 40
Sorry, but it's not all about the bedroom anymore.
When you and your spouse first tied the knot, you probably considered how your life might play out: What your kids would look like, where you’d buy your first house, which breed of dog you’d adopt—maybe even how it would feel to rock side by side in matching chairs once you turned old and gray.
But you might not have considered what it would take to see your union through your 40s. And that’s a shame, because it turns out these transformative years can alter your relationship more than you might think. From dealing with aging parents to coping with mismatched sex drives, a lot can happen between 40 and 50.
With that in mind, here’s a collection of the new realities you’re most likely to face as you and your spouse round the corner toward middle age. While some are more desirable than others, each contributes to what may hopefully be a joyous, lifelong bond. For more on that, learn the 40 Secrets of Couples Who’ve Been Married 40 Years.
1. You Won’t Crave Sex as Much as You Used to
“Couples often find that their sexual intimacy fades a bit in their 40s and beyond,” says Dr. Carla Manly, clinical psychologist and author of the upcoming book Joy From Fear. “This is often due to changes in a woman’s female hormone levels as well as significant shifts in a man’s libido and sexual abilities,” she explains. Want to nip this in the bud? Don’t miss the 40 Ways to Have a Healthy Sex Life After 40.
2. You’re Able to Bond on an Even Deeper Level
“As age increases—particularly in one’s mid-40s and beyond—many people become increasingly introspective,” says Manly. “Rather than focusing solely on goals and external accomplishments, this can be a time to turn inward.”
Fortunately, that can have a beneficial effect on interpersonal relationships—particularly with your spouse. “This can significantly affect a marriage by increasing connectivity and mutual interests,” she attests.
3. You Rediscover What Your Marriage was Like Before Kids
“Many couples with children find that their 40s give them more personal space, as child-rearing duties often lessen as children mature,” says Manly. For better or worse, adolescents simply don’t need—much less want—the same level of attention they once received. This could mean one of two things for your marriage: Either you rediscover what your partnership was like before kids or you forget what it was the two of you used to talk about all day.
4. You Each Have More Free Time to Devote to Your Marriage… Or Not
As a result of decreased child-rearing duties, couples often find themselves with much more free time on their hands than they used to, says Manly. How they use that time, of course, is up to them. Some devote it to work and hobbies. Others, however, choose to focus more on their personal relationships, she says. And obviously, that can only lead to an even deeper connection. If it doesn’t make sure it’s not one of the 40 Signs You’ll Get Divorced in Your 40s.
5. You Find Ways to Give Back Together
At 40, you likely have a sizable number of resources under your control. For some couples, that becomes motivation to turn their attention to helping others, says Manly. “This may be a time when volunteer activities increase to the benefit of the marriage and the community,” she explains.
6. You Realize You Have Less and Less in Common
It’s sad but true. “Unfortunately, some couples move apart from each other in their 40s,” says Manly. “When child-rearing duties, the building of a household, and career growth are no longer the primary focuses in a couple’s marriage, sometimes one or both partners realize that they don’t have much in common or have fallen out of love,” she explains. And if you want to shorten the distance, be sure you’re aware of the 40 Worst Mistakes Married People Make.
7. You Search for Excitement Outside of Your Marriage
For some couples, the increased freedom of their 40s feels more like a rut they must satisfy outside of the partnership. “Some people find that they begin to look outside the marriage for fulfillment—whether through material purchases, extramarital affairs, or external achievements,” Manly explains.
8. You Put Other Responsibilities Ahead of Your Spouse
Just because your marriage, work, and children don’t require the same daily attention that they once did, doesn’t mean the responsibilities behind them haven’t increased. In fact, even as your children ask for less physical closeness, they often require more material and emotional support. Your job, meanwhile, may feel more secure, but that only means it requires more work behind the scenes.
As a result, “we are often overwhelmed with these commitments,” explains Kerry Lusignan, founder of the Northampton Center for Couples Therapy. And that, in turn, could force you to spend less time on your marriage. Make sure it’s not an indicator of something more by reading up on the 20 Signs You’re in a Bad Marriage and Don’t Know It.
9. You Go from Parenting Your Kids to Parenting Your Parents
At 40, you’re likely to become even more aware of your aging parents, says Lusignan. Not only are they a reminder of one’s own inevitable aging, but they are also a reminder that they may need your help in caring for themselves one day. Thus, even as your kids may ask less of you, your parents may step in and take their place as the object of your energy and affection.
10. Your Marriage Feels Like Work
Marriage after 40 can become increasingly stressful as we deal with what Lusignan calls “the demands of tending to a life well-built.” That means that all the relationships, hobbies, and connections you’ve cultivated can demand your time, money, and emotional energy. “By nature, these burdens are often born of love,” she says. And as long as the love is there, the labor required is small beans compared to the reward.
11. You’re More Likely to Stand Your Ground on Certain Key Issues
“The 40s can be a period of more maturity,” says Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, a therapist at The Marriage Restoration Project. “In general, 40-year-olds can be more stubborn and think they have all the answers,” he explains.
As a result, fights become more about actual underlying disagreements rather than silly surface-level issues. That could expose long-standing differences neither of you recognized were there.
12. You’re Better Able to Make Compromises
Although you’re more likely to stand your ground on the issues that matter to you most, you’re also better equipped to make compromises on the ones that don’t. Most 40-year-olds “have experienced life and understand that it’s important to be flexible,” says Slatkin. That means when it comes to navigating troubled water and everyday arguments, you’re better able to compromise than you were in your 20s and 30s.
13. The Foundation of Your Marriage Will Feel Stronger Than Ever
A couple that remains married into their 40s “will experience more stability,” says Slatkin. After more than a few years of marriage and the possible raising of small children, very little can manage to rock the boat, he says. Most of the “significant transitions in life” have already been made. But to make sure that stability doesn’t turn to boredom, be sure to check out these 50 Ways to Keep Your Marriage Fresh.
14. There Will Be Nothing Left to the Imagination
When you can use the bathroom with the door open without a hint of resistance from your significant other, you realize that privacy has officially become a thing of the past. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a factor to be aware of. As for the things you should always keep to yourself, be sure to check out the 30 Things No Wife Ever Wants to Hear.
15. The Element of Surprise Becomes Harder to Achieve
A consequence of your partner knowing you better than you know yourself is that there’s very little that a couple can do to surprise one another after 40. Sure, you can book a random getaway or attempt to introduce some other form of excitement, but let’s be real: Your partner will probably see the surprise from a mile away.
16. You and Your Partner Become More Financially Trusting
A young couple may need to check in with one another often when it comes to spending and financial habits. After all, the one who spends the most money may not be the one who makes it, and vice versa. After 40, however, couples have typically reached a mutual understanding on money matters, which allows both partners to implicitly trust the other to spend, and earn, wisely. And to make sure your pre-40s savings are only the tip of the iceberg, be sure to check out these 40 Ways to Seriously Boost Your Savings After 40.
17. The Two of You Spend More Time with Other Married Couples
After 40, your married and single friends typically begin to travel in different circles. After all, your single friends don’t want to third wheel and your married friends don’t want to play wingman and wingwoman forever. So get used to spending more leisure time with other couples, and learning to tolerate friends with spouses whom you may not love.
18. What You Consider “Sexy” Changes
When you were younger, you probably found traditionally sexy things sexy: Abs, humor, luscious hair. After 40, however, it’s the little things that really begin to turn you on.
For example, when your partner does the grocery shopping even though it’s your turn because they know you’re stressed about a performance review. It may not be red satin sheets, but acts like these will go a long way toward restoring any spark that was lost through the years.
19. You Have Increased Expectations of Your Relationship
After 40, you and your spouse have probably fallen into a routine of who does which chores and who attends to each responsibility. That means that instead of thanking you for each task—such as putting on a pot of coffee in the morning—they may take it for granted and become peeved should you ever forget. While this is an inevitable aspect of any long-term relationship, it can be a good idea to remember to step back and thank your significant other for everything they do. And doing so won’t just be good for them, either; check out the 20 Science-Backed Benefits of Gratitude.
20. You Find More Reasons to Stay Together
At an earlier stage in marriage, you and your partner stayed together for love. But after 40, your lives become so intertwined that the reasons for staying together multiply. After all, just think of how many responsibilities and memories you share now.
21. You Show Your Love in Different Ways
Even if your love remains just as strong as it was at the beginning—or becomes even stronger—that doesn’t mean it will manifest itself in the same ways. That means the smooching and caressing of your 20s and 30s may come less and less, while you now begin to rely on them emotionally more and more. Whatever it is, expect your love to change—and try not to let it scare you.
22. You Might Become Your Partner’s Part-Time Nurse
After 40, many not-so-fun things can begin happening to you and your partner’s bodies. And as a spouse, it often falls on you to help your significant other through whatever it is that’s afflicting them. While it doesn’t exactly scream sexy, sponge bathing a loved one following a successful surgery can actually be rather romantic.
23. You Acknowledge Some Inconvenient Truths
While it’s unlikely you or your spouse are going to die suddenly anytime soon, 40 marks a turning point at which it becomes important to plan for the potentially devastating unknown. That means making sure you and your significant other are covered by life insurance should tragedy befall either one of you.
24. You Start Considering a New Place to Live
Once your kids leave the nest, there may not be much tethering you to your current location. Whether it’s a new state, a new neighborhood, or simply a new home, after 40 you and your spouse may start wondering whether you might be better off living elsewhere.
As much value as your current space holds as the childhood home of your kids, it’s worth it to consider if it still suits the two of you now that they’ve left. And for more decisions you may want to make at this stage in your life, check out the 40 Life Choices You’ll Regret by 40.
25. You Realize if Your Relationship was Rooted in Physical Attraction
Even with the strictest of gym regimens, your body is going to change after 40—often not in the most appealing ways. That’s only bad news if your marriage is based purely on physical attraction. Otherwise, it’s simply another thing that the two of you can bond over. Remember: They’re getting older too.
26. You Rediscover Your Mutual Hobbies
Maybe you and your spouse were known for being sharp dressers when you met in your late 20s. Or you used to be up on all the latest bestselling books. Whatever it was, your 40s allow you the time and cash to rediscover your mutual hobbies in a more mature way.
27. You No Longer Want to do Certain Activities Together
Early in a marriage, spouses are more likely to accommodate themselves to their partner’s wishes and desires. They might, for example, watch football on Sundays just to spend time with their beloved. After 40, however, when they’ve had plenty of time with their spouse and have an increased sense of their own needs, they may feel less inclined to do so. While this can lead to difficulties in a marriage if one spouse thereby feels abandoned, talking it out can often lead to a stronger bond than ever.
28. You Get Into Fights Over Grown Children
Not every child grows up to become a smooth-functioning adult. When children experience difficulties after they move out, it often puts a unique strain on the parents who—while no longer legally responsible for their child’s well-being—often feel a moral responsibility to them. These new, untested waters can often reveal significant ethical differences between you and your partner.
29. One—Or Both—Of You Might Have a Mid-Life Crisis
After 40, some individuals begin to look back on their lives with bewilderment, wondering how—and why—they got where they are. In popular parlance, this is referred to as a mid-life crisis. As the spouse of someone undergoing such an experience, however, you are not spared the brunt of it. While it may cause your partner to lash out, or act different than usual, it’s nothing that two responsible, loving adults can’t handle. And if they’re really getting down, make sure to show them the 40 Facts That Will Make You Totally Psyched to Turn 40.
30. You Navigate the Deaths of Your First Pets
If you got a pet for your young children to play with—or to commemorate your first home—they’re likely to pass away around your 40s. While this is a heartbreaking experience, it can often bring your relationship closer, as well as prepare you for the loss of parents and others who are aging along with you.
31. You Watch Your Friends Get Divorced
Not every marriage ends in eternal bliss. In your 40s, you may find that many of your friends who got married alongside you are calling it quits. Learn from their mistakes by asking what went wrong, and try your best to avoid taking sides.
32. You Learn to Accept Your Children’s Partners
At some point, your child will begin bringing home their own romantic partners. You and your spouse may have wildly different reactions to whomever that partner may be. As always, however, it’s best to come to a consensus and present a unified front.
33. You Have to Play Nice With Siblings-In-Law
If you or your partner have brothers and sisters, by the time you turn 40 they’ve likely settled down as well. That adds a whole new dimension to family gatherings and familial relations as a new spouse enters the equation.
34. You Re-learn How to Satisfy Each Other in Bed
In addition to varying libidos, either you or your spouse may begin experiencing different sexual urges as you age. If this is the case, it’s important to be open and talk about it. While your spouse may not be able to satisfy your urges, they should always feel comfortable sharing what they are experiencing. And for why sex ages like a fine wine, check out The Amazing Benefit of Having Sex As You Get Older.
35. You Each Require More Alone Time
It’s perfectly normal for aging spouses to require more alone time. Especially during a transitional period as crucial as your 40s, you may find yourself needing more space to think and breathe on your own. However, don’t be alarmed—that doesn’t mean you love your partner any less.
36. You Learn How to Say ‘No’ to Others and Put Your Relationship First
As partners enter their 40s, they become more focused on what’s really important. Take advantage of this natural inclination by saying “no” to more things and putting your energy solely on things that deserve it. And to accomplish all the goals you’ve placed for yourself, make sure to check out The 40 Best Ways to Conquer Your 40s.
37. You Love Each Other Even More
Even as the lust of your 20s and 30s fades, your love for your partner will likely increase to unimaginable heights. The fact is, going through momentous life moments together can shed a whole new light on your partner, revealing qualities which one can’t help but cherish.
38. You’re Better Able to Tolerate Each Other’s Quirks
After 40, you realize that many of the annoying things your spouse does simply aren’t going to change. With your newfound wisdom and flexibility, however, you’re able to see that while you may find these behaviors unbearable, that’s really more of a you problem. In response, you’ll find yourself much more tolerant of the “mistakes” your partner makes. Eventually, they’ll simply become “quirks.”
39. You Develop a Newfound Respect for Your Partner’s Work
When a couple first meets, their occupations typically play a minor role in their attraction. However, after spending a significant amount of time together and seeing all the hard work that their partner puts into their job, spouses may begin to value the work their significant other performs more highly. Soon, they won’t just mention that you are tall, dark, and handsome, but also that you are a magnificent carpenter.
40. Your Marriage Gets Better
Like anything else, marriage gets better with practice. While your 40s may bring may bring many other unwanted changes, your marriage is only set to benefit from the passing of time. And now that you know what to expect from marriage after 40, see what you’d be missing by checking out the 40 Things No One Tells You About Being Single Over 40.
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