40 Relationship Mistakes No One Over 40 Should Make
Learn from your past to perfect your future.
Everyone makes mistakes, and people in relationships (despite any Insta-perfect appearances) are certainly no exception to the rule. In fact, people in relationships may very well take the cake on this one. Sustaining a healthy, loving relationship that satisfies both parties involved is an intensive, never-ending project with a million moving parts that, frankly, requires a lot of work. And when you have two humans working on it simultaneously, there are bound to be errors.
But once you’ve reached your fifth decade, it’s time to start addressing issues head-on—and minimizing errors wherever possible. To that end, we’ve consulted an expert pantheon of relationship experts and love coaches to find out how, exactly, people over 40 most commonly send their relationships to the gallows. (Spoiler alert: most slip-ups are rooted in past mistakes.) For a bond as strong as steel, steer clear of these pitfalls. And for ways to guarantee a long-lasting, loving relationship, here are 20 Relationship Warning Signs Smart Couples Never Ignore.
1. Not Working On Yourself Now That You’ve Met Your Match
It’s easy to feel like finding love is the end of a long journey, but the work does not stop there. It’s important to always be working on yourself, as you owe it to your partner to be the best you can be. Relationship Expert Rachel Moss notes, “Some people are fearful to look at themselves and their actions in their relationships. Once someone is over 40, it becomes increasingly important to self reflect, grow with your partner, and show up with a partner in a different, more self-aware manner.” And for more insight into the science of love, this is The Real Reasons Why Breakups Hurt So Hard.
2. Acting On Jealousy
“Unchecked jealous tendencies can become destructive in a relationship,” says Noelle Cordeaux, sexologist and CEO of JRNI Coaching. It’s completely natural and human to feel jealous, of course, but it’s how you deal with those feelings that matters most.
Couples should practice talking to each other honestly about the jealousy they feel, without making any accusations or judgements. Sure, lashing out at your partner when you feel insecure may have been your modus operandi in high school and college and even throughout your 20s, but this kind of behavior is simply unacceptable later in life. Addressing feelings in an open and gentle way is key! And to get a gauge on your jealously levels, here are 25 Silly Things That Make You a Jealous Wife or a Jealous Husband.
3. Bringing Baggage From Your Past Relationships Into Your Current One
This one is tough, but it can be avoided—or at least worked on. It’s hard not to approach a new relationship with the mindset of a previous one, but they are two separate situations and must be treated as such. “Life is too short to miss out on high-quality connections because you’ve been burned in the past,” says dating expert Daniella Bloom. Being vulnerable with someone new is difficult, but allowing yourself to do so will payoff for you and your partner. For more advice on maintaining a successful relationship, read 20 People Share What They Learned After a Failed Relationship.
4. Assuming And Accepting That Your Sex Life Will Fizzle Out
When you first enter a relationship, there’s usually an initial period when the spark is so intense that it’s hard to refrain from ripping each other’s clothes off. Keeping that same passion alive can be a challenge, and naturally there will be ebbs and flows when it comes to your sex life. The key here is communication.
Obviously, nobody should engage in sex when they don’t want to, but you should be open with your partner about your sexual desires and needs—and whether yours are ebbing or flowing. “Sex is an important part in every relationship and a way to connect in a different and meaningful way with your partner,” says Moss. If things start to feel less sexy, check in with your partner about why that is. You just might learn something.
5. Expecting Your Relationship to Be a Magic Cure-All
Fairytales may paint a picture of happily-ever-afters, but the reality is that relationships have their ups and downs. Yes, being in love can bring you joy and many other things. That doesn’t mean it’s the magic solution to all your problems; there will still be struggles in your life and your partner can’t change that. They can, however, be someone who helps you feel less alone while you navigate the rough patches in life. And for more sage wisdom about coupledom, here are 40 Relationship Tips That Are Actually Terrible Advice.
6. Invading Privacy (“Snooping”)
“If you look hard enough, you will find something that could be interpreted negatively. If you believe the other person is untrustworthy, the interpretation of their actions will be colored by that belief,” says Gina Gardiner, an empowerment and relationship coach and best-selling author, and founder of Genuinely You. While we all may be guilty of peeking at someone’s texts, there comes a time when you must learn to truly trust partner(s) without snooping. Looking through your partner’s emails or texts is a huge invasion of privacy, as well as a violation of trust. You should respect their privacy—and expect them to do the same for you
7. Confusing “Spicing Things Up” With Impossible Sex Moves
Switching it up in the bedroom doesn’t have to mean pulling a tendon while trying to do the upside-down reverse helicopter. It really can mean adding just a pinch of spice, whether that be trying a new setting (the kitchen!), or a new time of day (morning sex!), or a new element (sexy music!). There are plenty of ways to change things up, and many of them are simple and less intimidating than a whip.
8. Not Being In Tune With Your Partner’s Emotional Needs
Thinking outside of yourself is a difficult thing for humans to do. Seeing the world through your own eyes comes organically, while putting yourself in someone else’s shoes requires you to take action. But taking your partner’s feelings and desires into account is something you just have to do if you want things to work out.
“A common mistake people make in relationships is loving their partner in the way they want to be loved, rather than in the way their partner wants to be loved,” says Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a marriage counselor and wedding venue owner. You have to pay close attention to figure out what your partner wants and needs from you. It might not be the same thing you want and need from them.
9. Getting Into A Relationship Based On Familiar Dynamics
You may have heard about the theory that you end up dating someone like your mother or father, but you may not know that there is psychological legitimacy to this phenomena. Referred to as a fantasy bond, this is an illusion of fusion in which two people seek out a feeling of safety and familiarity by choosing people who fit with old identities and roles from their past.
It’s natural to be attracted to a dynamic that feels comfortable and familiar, but it’s important to make sure that this is not the only thing that is alluring you to a potential mate. Understand how your childhood has impacted your adult functioning when it comes to your attachment style, conflict style, and love style, advises Fisher.
10. Working Within A Fixed Timeline
One of life’s hardest lessons is that things don’t always work out exactly the way you planned. When examining your relationship, you shouldn’t be thinking about it in terms of a set timeline. (“I’m gonna get married by 27, have my first kid by 30, my second by…”) Deciding you have to move in with your partner or get married at a certain point—one often pushed by societal expectations—can set yourself up for disappointment and frustration. Remember: Each relationship is different, and you have to play it by ear at times. Also, you have to check in with your partner to see what they want as well. Relationships are too complicated to fit into a rigid schedule.
11. Focusing on Either Your Sexual Satisfaction or Your Partner’s, Instead of Both
People can fall into the trap of either being selfish in bed or worrying too much about how the other person is feeling. As a couple, you and your partner should be thinking about sex as a shared experience. This can only help you and your bedroom life. A Kinsey study showed that valuing your partner’s orgasm significantly increases the odds of sexual satisfaction. And the same goes for your own.
12. Becoming Codependent
“Remember that your relationship is only one aspect of your life and that it’s important to maintain your individuality. Life is a personal journey,” recommends Kevin Darné, an author who specializes in dating and relationships. You and your partner are a team, but this doesn’t mean each person should rely solely on the other for everything. Now that you’ve gotten to know yourself as a person, you realize the value of your independence. Losing yourself in a relationship will ultimately make you feel unfulfilled, which is the opposite of how you should feel in your companionship. It’s essential to find a balance, where you and your partner are there for each other, but still function as independent people in the world.
13. Not Checking In About The State Of Your Relationship
It’s a common misconception that couples only need to talk when things are going poorly. Discussing how things are going and how everyone involved is feeling should happen regularly, whether or not there is an apparent issue. This keeps the lines of communication open and allows for you and your partner to come up with ways to make your relationship even better.
14. Ignoring the Importance of Non-Sexual Touch
While sex is important in a relationship, other forms of physical touch are equally as so. A set of studies showed that engaging in nonsexual touch, such as stroking your partner’s arm, can invoke relaxation and relieve stress, which ultimately leads to a happier bond between partners. A little bit of physical affection can go a long way.
15. Falling Into a Routine
One of the many benefits of being in a relationship is that you no longer have to exhaust yourself going out to bars trying to meet someone. That said, though it’s great to have someone you can simply “Netflix and chill” with, you have to be careful to not let things get too dull. Having fun is a big part of a happy relationship, and it does require a bit of effort. “Find activities you both enjoy to share special time in your relationship,” suggests Rosalind Sedacca, a love and relationship coach and author. For ideas on how to snag some special time, here are 40 Amazing Date Night Ideas for People Over 40.
16. Taking Your Partner For Granted
As you and your partner grow together, you may forget to spoil and court each other in the same way you did when you started dating. But even small gestures are incredibly important. Sedacca points out that tiny things like saying “please” and “thank you” are important. “It’s easy to take one another for granted in mid-life,” she says. “Remembering to show appreciation for little things in your life together shows you care and respect your partner.”
17. Not Setting Aside Time For Each Other
This one may seem obvious, but it’s an issue relationship coaches see all the time: couples everywhere don’t make time for one another. Once you and your partner are past the point of going on dates to get to know each other, you might forget that time alone is still important. If you are living together at this point, it can be even more difficult, because spending time in the same space as each other feels like it should count as quality time. It shouldn’t. Show your partner that you care by putting in the effort to find planned time for the two of you.
18. Trying to Completely Change Your Partner
You and your significant other should both be working on self growth, but don’t confuse that with the idea that either of you has to fundamentally change who you are. Expecting someone to radically transform is unreasonable, unfair, and unproductive. “If you or your mate has to change your core beings in order to make the relationship work, you’re probably with the wrong person,” says Darné.
19. Thriving on Drama
Arguments are bound to happen in a relationship, but you should approach them in a more rational way as you mature. Young couples tend to seek out drama and pick unnecessary fights, but this type of behavior likely won’t be tolerated as time goes on ”During youth, you may have allowed happenstance and impulsive connections to dictate relationship choices. However, by age 40, one should be looking to cruise into their golden years rather than buying an E-ticket to ride an unpredictable roller coasters,” says Darné. Save the drama for the theater.
20. Forgetting About Small Gestures
Realistically, you can’t keep a relationship alive with a series of grand gestures. There are only so many surprise plane tickets to Paris one can afford. Fortunately, small gestures can help keep the romance going. Simple things like picking up a bottle of your partner’s favorite wine for them after a long day, for instance, can show how much you care, and that you pay attention to what they like.
21. Not Recognizing When A Relationship Has Run Its Course
A good relationship doesn’t have to mean it’s a forever relationship. Sometimes things are great for a while but ultimately aren’t meant to continue, and that’s okay. It’s important to take note of when a relationship seems to no longer be beneficial for one or both people. Holding on to a relationship that has seen its day will probably lead to resentment, and nobody wants that. “If something does not feel right to you it’s probably not right for you,” says Darné. And if you want to know if that’s where yours is at, learn the 30 Subtle Signs Your Relationship Is Over And You Don’t Want to Admit It.
22. Losing Touch With Your Friends
“Your partner is not and should not be all things to you. A balance of friends, family, coworkers, and social circles helps sustain a healthy relationship,” says Tammy Shaklee, a relationship expert and LGBTQ matchmaker. Nobody wants to be the person who stops hanging out with their friends when they’re in a relationship. Plus, who wants to date someone who doesn’t have a life outside of their relationship?
“The healthiest relationship is between those who say, ‘I need you in my life, but I also need you to have your own life,” says love and relationship expert Jessica Elizabeth Opert. “Having and maintaining the autonomy that allows us to remain individual in our thoughts, pursuits, and ideas is crucial—as is time away from partners to cherish that autonomy.”
23. Holding A Grudge
Whether or not you want to forgive someone is up to you, but if you claim that you’re able to move on from something, you have to keep that promise. Bad feelings towards your significant other that you hold onto will eventually leak into the relationship and wreak havoc. “Forgiveness sets you free. It opens your heart, lightens your load, and replaces grudges with compassion,” says dating coach Treva Brandon Scharf.
24. Not Trusting Your Partner
A relationship should be based on trust, so one without it isn’t going to prosper. Trusting someone takes a leap of faith, but taking that leap shows that you are committed and willing to put your heart on the line for them. If you can’t trust your partner, that will feel like a betrayal to them and will likely drive them away. “Your partner can only give you so many reassurances, the rest is up to you,” says Scharf.
25. Not Voicing Your Qualms Because You Don’t Want to Fight
As an adult, you need to be able to handle confrontation. The truth is that all couples fight, and you can’t avoid fighting forever. “Show me a couple who does not fight and I will show you a couple with deep secrets. It’s not about how much or how often you fight. It’s about how much love is left in the ring when you are done. You can have conflict without being disrespectful and unkind,” says Opert.
26. Not Having An Open Mind
You’re certainly allowed to have goals for you and your partner, but it’s also important to have some flexibility—and definitely don’t use other people’s companionships as a standard for your own. Comparing yourself to others is essentially setting yourself up for failure. “Every couple is different,”says Cordeaux. “Humans have different needs that vary greatly on several separate continuums.”
27. Rushing Into A Relationship
“One common mistake older couples make is that they get too serious too fast. Perhaps because they’re recently divorced and on rebound, or perhaps because they feel the pressure of getting older, they tend to plunge into relationships,” says Fisher. Relationships take time, and trying to race against the clock won’t get you very far in the end.
28. Letting Yourself Go
As you get older, keeping up with your health becomes increasingly challenging. Managing workouts and adopting a balanced diet can feel like too much work without the same results you saw when you were younger, but it’s still important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. A study published in Journal of Sex Research found that people who keep up with their health have much better sex lives, which, to reiterate, is a vital element in a lasting relationship.
29. Feeling Too Embarrassed To Ask For What You Want In Bed
“Communicating openly about each others fantasies and desires allows a couple the easiest access to spicing things up,” says Opert. Expressing yourself sexually doesn’t come easily to everyone, but engaging in an open dialogue about your desires will assure your satisfaction in the bedroom. Your partner won’t know how to make your fantasies come to life unless you tell them how.
30. Not Resolving Fights
After arguing, it’s tempting to go the “pretend like nothing happened the next morning” route, but bottling up resentment never does anyone any favors. Disagreements need to be resolved, and approaching them in a non-hostile manner is best. It’s okay to take a second if things are really heated, and to come back once you’re feeling more calm. In fact, that strategy is recommended. “If you’re in a bad space, step away, walk the dog, run an errand, and come back home with a better intention. Framing your words to be positive, even when pointing out something you wish could be corrected, has more power when spoken with positivity,” says Shaklee.
31. Assuming You Don’t Have to Talk About Money
If you’re in a long-term, committed relationship, money is going to become a shared issue. What decisions you make will likely affect your partner, so you should include them in the process. “Don’t assume your financial comfort level is the same as your partner’s.” says Shaklee. You and your partner may have completely different spending habits, so in order to avoid conflict Shaklee recommends that couple discuss financial goals, wants, needs, and desires. And for some free sage financial wisdom, here are 20 Easy Ways to Stop Wasting Money.
32. Avoiding “The Talk”
Ugh, the talk. Asking the person you are seeing to classify “what you are” can be scary, but it does need to be done. “Couples often avoid talking about this because neither person wants to be the first to admit they are falling in love,” explains Darné. However, without clarification it’s more likely for one person to get hurt. “Making assumptions can lead to disappointment and heartache once one discovers the other person is not on the same page.”
33. Being Unaware of Your Own Needs
Your partner can’t be expected to read your mind, so you have to be able to articulate what you want and need from them in order to be happy. “If someone still hasn’t taken stock of their values and what is truly important to them, it is going to be hard to find a lasting partnership that has real depth and fulfills both people’s needs,” says Moss. One of the benefits of getting older is that you are more in tune with what is important to you. Make sure to share this with your partner so they can meet you halfway.
34. Playing Mind Games
Listen, you have to the leave the games in the schoolyard. One of the best parts of getting older is that you no longer having to deal with pettiness. You’re too busy and tired for that. Any relationship that involves mind games is toxic, so either get out or work on changing it.
35. Letting Money Affect Your Dynamic
Once in a committed relationship, you and your partner should address money. However, you shouldn’t let finances dictate the way you and your partner interact. “When it comes to money, couples make the mistake of belittling or disempowering their partner because they make more money than the other,” explains Moss. This is a toxic way to approach your relationship, and will likely lead to an emotional rift between you and your partner.
36. Not Knowing Yourself
Unsurprisingly, mature relationship requires maturity, and that means being in touch with yourself. “These are the years to really hone your character, find your purpose, get clarity, and become who you really want to be. Don’t depend on someone else to make you happy. Be the source of your own validations ” says Scharf. In short, know thyself!
37. Dating People Who Are Too Young for You
Getting into a relationship with someone who is younger than you is not an absolute no-no, but age is definitely something to consider. Dating a more youthful person when you’re older can seem enticing, but it’s not always best for long-term success. “Developmental stage, experiences, and maturity are all very important aspects of successful relationships. Thus, dating someone much younger can result in a disconnect or a mismatch of needs,” says Moss
38. Not Compromising
You and your partner are a unit, but you’re also two individuals, which means working to make both of you happy is going to require compromise. This takes practice, and unfortunately many couples don’t rise to the occasion. When asked what general mistakes most people in relationships make even after they’ve reached 40, Moss says it’s “an unwillingness to compromise.” Don’t make this common mistake.
39. Lack of Communication
Everyone seems to know that the key to a happy relationship is communication, and yet so many couples still struggle to keep an open dialogue. Gardiner points out that it is a “lack of effective that is at the heart of most partnership breakups.” Talking isn’t always productive. You and your partner need to listen to each other, and be able to express, explain, and articulate your feelings in a space where you don’t feel judged. As Moss puts it, “In order for both people to feel happy and fulfilled and navigate challenges as they arise, there needs an environment where safe, open communication can occur.”
40. Shutting Your Partner Out
If you’ve been in relationships in the past, you may have built up some walls along the way. That’s understandable, but not an excuse for leaving your partner in the dark. Consider approaching your relationship in the same way John Legend does with Chrissy Teigen when he sings, “‘Cause I give you all of me, and you give me all of you.” Because, if anyone knows how to sustain a happy and healthy relationship, it’s those two.
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