40 Marriage Mistakes No One Over 40 Should Make, According to Experts
Learn from your past to perfect your future with these expert-backed marriage tips.
Making a relationship last is no easy feat, even for folks who walk down the aisle prepared to do the hard work to have a happy and healthy marriage. However, it's not just major transgressions, like infidelity, that can chip away at what once seemed like a stable foundation. From invading one another's privacy to not setting clear expectations, these are the marriage mistakes that anyone over 40 should know to avoid, according to experts. And if you want to keep your marriage solid for years to come, discover these 50 Marriage Tips from Couples Who've Been Married for 50 Years.
Not making your partner feel special
While not every day can feel like your first date, forgetting to show your partner how special they are to you will eventually chip away at your marriage over time. No matter your age, "it is important to continue to do the things you did to catch your partner's interest if you want to keep your partner's interest," explains sex and relationship coach Lisa M. Rogers, RN, founder of GreenAura Wellness. This can mean dressing up, flirting with one another, or just making the time to be alone together on a regular basis. And if you want to strengthen your relationship, try the 40 Best Date Ideas If You're Over 40.
Neglecting your romantic side
It's easy to get bogged down by work, kids, or the myriad other stresses that come along with day-to-day adult life. That said, if you're not nurturing your romance, be prepared to watch it fade. "Setting aside time for date night and alone time helps couples stay connected and helps restore energy needed to keep a busy household running well—and keeps couples happy," says Rogers. And for more ways to show your partner you care, check out 21 Ways to Be a More Thoughtful Spouse, According to Experts.
Not talking about money
"Money issues are a leading cause for divorce," says Rogers. To keep your marriage on solid ground today, tomorrow, and 10 years from now, you should consult one another about large purchases and understand one another's financial goals for the future.
Or letting money affect your dynamic
Of course, when you're in a committed relationship, you and your partner should address money. But you shouldn't let finances dictate your dynamic. "When it comes to money, couples make the mistake of belittling or disempowering their partner because they make more money than the other," explains Rachel Moss, co-founder of the dating site A Good First Date. This is a toxic way to approach your marriage, and will likely lead to an emotional rift between the two of you.
Not respecting each other's communication styles
You've heard time and time again that the key to a happy relationship is communication, and yet so many couples still struggle to keep an open dialogue. 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. "In order for both people to feel happy and fulfilled and navigate challenges as they arise, there needs [to be] an environment where safe, open communication can occur," Moss says. And if you want to strengthen your union, start with the 50 Best Marriage Tips of All Time.
Snooping on one another
Looking through your partner's emails or texts is a huge invasion of privacy, as well as a violation of trust. "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 in the U.K., and founder of Genuinely You. You should trust your partner enough to not feel the need to go snooping—and if you don't, it's probably time to talk about why that is.
Not speaking up when you have a problem with your partner
It may not pay to bring up everything your partner does that annoys you, but when larger issues start to arise, keeping them bottled up will only cause your marriage harm. "Keeping quiet when you have an issue with your spouse builds anger and resentment and can lead to huge conflicts," says Rogers. Her suggestion? Talk about a serious issue as soon as it comes up and work through it while it's still fresh in your minds.
Trying to make your partner a different person
Expecting someone to radically transform in a marriage is simply 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 Kevin Darné, author of My Cat Won't Bark! (A Relationship Epiphany). Instead, make your significant other feel like a million bucks with these 23 Little Compliments You're Not Saying That Will Go a Long Way.
Feeding into drama
Arguments are bound to happen in a marriage, 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. "By age 40, one should be looking to cruise into their golden years rather than buying an e-ticket to ride an unpredictable roller coaster," says Darné.
Or avoiding conflict at all costs
A certain amount of conflict is healthy for a relationship to grow. And as an adult, you need to be able to handle confrontation, instead of trying to avoid it. "Show me a couple who does not fight and I will show you a couple with deep secrets," says Jessica Elizabeth Opert, a love and relationship expert in London. "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."
You and your partner are a team, but that doesn't mean each person should rely solely on the other for everything. It's essential to find a balance in which you and your partner are there for each other, but still function as independent people in the world. "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 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."
Or not relying on your partner at all
While codependency can sink any marriage, being so self-sufficient that your spouse feels like they're not needed can similarly wear on your marriage.
"When you do this, you essentially rob your partner of a chance to achieve a sense of value—that is, how valuable they and their contributions are to you, to your overall sense of well-being, happiness, and satisfaction," explains Mark Borg Jr., PhD, a psychologist and psychoanalyst in New York. Whether you need them to help you install a new light fixture or teach you a recipe, it's imperative that you make your partner feel needed, even if it's just for their sake.
Refusing to compromise
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. And that takes practice, though unfortunately many couples don't rise to the occasion. When asked what general mistakes most people make in relationships, even after they've reached 40, Moss says it's "an unwillingness to compromise."
Not working on yourself
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. "Some people are fearful to look at themselves and their actions in their relationships," Moss says. "Once someone is over 40, it becomes increasingly important to self-reflect, grow with your partner, and show up [for your] partner in a different, more self-aware manner."
Not knowing what's important to you
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 feel fulfilled in your marriage. "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.
Not asking for what you want in the bedroom
Expressing yourself sexually doesn't come easily to everyone, but engaging in an open dialogue about your desires will ensure your satisfaction in the bedroom. Your partner won't know how to make your fantasies come to life unless you tell them what those fantasies are. "Communicating openly about each other's fantasies and desires allows a couple the easiest access to spicing things up," says Opert.
Assuming 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. "Sex is an important part in every relationship and a way to connect in a different and meaningful way with your partner," says Moss. But keeping that same passion alive can be a challenge, and naturally there will be ebbs and flows when it comes to your sex life. So it's important that you're open with your partner about your sexual desires and needs, whether they're waxing or waning.
And ignoring non-sexual touch
While sex is an important part of any marriage, other forms of physical touch are, too. In fact, according to a 2011 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, physical affection was significantly linked to relationship satisfaction in middle-aged and older married couples, meaning that keeping PDA on the menu might just keep you and your spouse happier in the long run.
Having a fixed timeline for your marriage
One of life's hardest lessons is that things don't always work out exactly the way you planned. When examining your marriage, you shouldn't be thinking about it in terms of a set timeline. ("I'm going to buy a house at 27, have my first kid by 30, my second by 33…") Deciding that your marriage has to progress at a certain speed is setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration. If you and your partner are on the same page about your big-picture goals, like your careers or having children in general, you can relax about the exact timeline for those milestones. Doing so will make you and your partner happier in the long run.
Comparing yourself to others
You're certainly allowed to have goals for your relationship, but it's also important to have some flexibility—and to not use other people's partnerships as standards for your own. Comparing yourself to others is essentially setting yourself up for failure. "Every couple is different," says Noelle Cordeaux, sexologist and CEO of JRNI Coaching in Los Angeles. "Humans have different needs that vary greatly on several separate continuums."
Acting on jealousy
Lashing out at your partner when you felt insecure may have been your modus operandi in high school and college, but this kind of behavior is simply unacceptable later in life. 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 judgments. "Unchecked jealous tendencies can become destructive in a relationship," says Cordeaux.
Falling into a convenient routine
One of the many benefits of being in a committed 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 completely relax with, you have to be careful not to let things get too predictable. Having fun is a big part of a happy marriage, and it does require a bit of effort. "Find activities you both enjoy to share special time in your relationship," suggests Rosalind Sedacca, a certified divorce coach and relationship expert based in Florida.
Taking your partner for granted
As you and your partner grow together, those small things they do for you may start to feel less special, making it easy to take those home-cooked meals or "just because" presents for granted. Sedacca points out that even tiny gestures, like saying "please" and "thank you," are important in preventing this from happening. "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."
Losing touch with your social circle
"A balance of friends, family, coworkers, and social circles helps sustain a healthy relationship," says Tammy Shaklee, founder of H4M Matchmakers. Nobody wants to be the person who stops hanging out with their friends when they're partnered up. Plus, it's pivotal to have a life outside of your marriage.
Leaving fights unresolved
After arguing with your partner, it's tempting to act like nothing happened the next morning, but bottling up resentment never does anyone any favors. Disagreements need to be resolved, and approaching them in a non-hostile manner is essential for a healthy relationship.
However, it's OK to take a second if things are really heated, and come back to the conversation once you're feeling calmer. "If you're in a bad space, step away, walk the dog, run an errand, and come back home with a better intention," says Shaklee. "Framing your words to be positive, even when pointing out something you wish could be corrected, has more power when spoken with positivity."
Or holding grudges
Holding on to animosity toward your significant other will eventually wreak havoc on your relationship. "Forgiveness sets you free. It opens your heart, lightens your load, and replaces grudges with compassion," says Treva Brandon Scharf, a life coach and dating coach in Los Angeles.
Not trusting your partner
A partnership 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.
Or depending on your partner for validation
While having a partner who makes you feel good about yourself is important, if your partner is your sole source of self-worth, you'll be unhappy in the long run.
"These are the years to really hone your character, find your purpose, get clarity, and become who you really want to be," says Scharf. "Don't depend on someone else to make you happy. Be the source of your own validations."
It's best to leave the games in the schoolyard. One of the best parts of getting older is that you no longer have 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.
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 Daniella Bloom, MA, LMFT, a psychotherapist and dating expert in Los Angeles. Being vulnerable with your spouse may be difficult, but allowing yourself to do so will pay off ultimately.
Spending too much time as a caregiver
Whether you're caring for your kids or for your infirm or elderly parents, assuming the role of caregiver for everyone around you with few outlets for your frustrations can irreparably damage your marriage. "Too much time in this role can lead to resentments," says Adam Maurer, a Texas-based marriage and couples therapist. Maurer explains that being the sole caregiver with little relief can lead to explosive outbursts when "the only adult interaction [with your partner] makes for a place to pour out difficult feelings."
Not making boundaries clear
Just because you're married to someone doesn't mean you have to accept everything your partner does. But not making boundaries clear—whether that means being explicit about your expectations of their fidelity, or just letting your partner know that you don't like being tickled—can wear on your marriage.
"It is imperative that people know what firm, healthy boundaries are—boundaries that are not too permeable nor rigid but are informed by the nature of the relationship and the age and role of the other person," says Joanne Ketch, LPC, LMFT, a Texas-based psychotherapist.
Not engaging in loving rituals
If you're not showing your love for your partner in little ways, don't be surprised if your marriage doesn't stand on strong legs for long. "It might seem minor, but the routines of hugs, kisses, 'I love you's' or other couple-specific routines are important to the health of a relationship," says Ketch.
Not considering your partner's feelings
Taking your partner's feelings and desires into account is something you have to do if you want things to work out in a marriage, even when it's hard to understand their perspective.
"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 Wyatt Fisher, PsyD, a marriage counselor in Boulder, Colorado. You have to pay close attention to figure out what your partner wants and needs from you—and realize that it might not be the same thing you want and need from them.
Falling into old patterns
You may have heard about the theory that you end up marrying someone like your mother or father, but you may not know that there is psychological legitimacy to this phenomenon. Referred to as a fantasy bond, this occurs when 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's fueling your marriage. Understand how your childhood has impacted your adult functioning when it comes to your attachment style, conflict style, and love style, advises Fisher.
Failing to respect your partner's differences
Though you may like the same things, have the same friends, or even start dressing the same after tying the knot, failing to recognize your partner as an individual can put your marriage on shaky ground.
"The biggest challenge of marriage is to recognize and accept that you are two different people with different experiences and feelings about all kinds of things," says Lesli Doares, author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage. By acknowledging and respecting the fact that you won't always see eye-to-eye, you can help keep your marriage strong, even when you don't agree with your spouse.
Getting married too quickly
"One common mistake older couples make is that they get too serious too fast," says Fisher. "Perhaps because they're recently divorced and on [the] rebound, or perhaps because they feel the pressure of getting older, they tend to plunge into relationships."
Thinking of the wedding as the biggest event in your marriage
Thinking of your wedding as the single biggest day in your marriage will only lead to problems down the line. When couples do this, "they stop putting the same kind of effort into the marriage that they did in getting engaged," says Doares. Instead, "they start focusing on other things and the marriage dies the death of a thousand cuts."
Skipping premarital counseling
Even if you think you and your partner are made for each other, not getting premarital counseling can derail a good thing before it even gets off the ground. Ketch notes that good premarital counseling will cover everything from money to sex to decisions about caring for one another if you're sick—topics that are unlikely to be part of your usual conversations otherwise. "Often in the 'honeymoon' stage of a new relationship, I see couples who don't acknowledge the inevitable challenges," she says. But premarital counseling is the best way to make sure your bases are covered.
Waiting too long before getting professional help
While it can be uncomfortable for some people to call a therapist when their marriage needs help, avoiding doing so will only make things worse. "It's much easier to correct course before unhelpful habits get established," says Ketch.