The secret to a happy marriage Know when to shut up!… and never be shy of sending flirty texts. Linda Kelsey on the lessons of her two divorces
00:18 GMT, 23 July 2012
What do you do if you still believe in love at 60 but all the statistics stack up against it Not only do 45 per cent of all UK marriages end in divorce, but a whopping 67 per cent of second marriages do, too, and 73 per cent of third marriages.
I have two ex-husbands and am now in a new relationship of three years — I’m starting to worry.
Whichever way I look at it, it seems my lovely new relationship is almost sure to go the way of my previous ones.
Relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam says there are several reasons why second and third-time relationships fail. ‘If you or your partner have the experience of leaving a previous marriage, it becomes easier to leave the next one,’ she says. ‘Another possibility is that one of you is so scarred by the previous break-up, that you are less able to make a subsequent relationship work.’
Secrets to marriage success: Don't nag, lock the bathroom door and always be your own person
Then there’s the issue of whether you took enough time to recover from the break-up. ‘If you didn’t,’ says Quilliam, ‘you will almost inevitably make a wrong choice.’ And, finally, she suggests: ‘Even if you don’t conform to any of the first three patterns, your new partner may.’
Help! Luckily I am not a statistic and neither am I a cynic. I believe I can make this one work. I’ve been analysing my past mistakes, trying to work out the secrets of the couples who are happily married decades down the line, and observing the fault lines in couples who seem to be forever on the brink.
I’ve distilled what I’ve learned into a handy checklist of seven lessons for compatible coupledom, which, whenever I find myself slipping, I refer back to. Here are my lessons for love the second, third or even fourth time round. . .
IT’S NOT ALL ME, ME, ME
There was a lengthy period, when my son was young, when my ex had to work away from home all week, in a job he didn’t much like, in an area where he had no friends, living in soulless rented accommodation. I was a frantic working mum trying to hold it together at home.
The ex factor!
Just five per cent of divorces happen among the over-60s
But I was the lucky one. I had a great job, a lovely son and a beautiful garden flat to come back to at night. My little boy, wrapped up in his own world, could barely be bothered to speak to his dad when he rang, and I didn’t pressurise him. I was too tired to give much time to my husband when he called — it could wait until the weekend.
My husband was stressed, lonely and desperately missing his son, but I was too busy to listen. Those were some of the first cracks in our relationship. Now, I allow for the fact that my partner may have issues that sometimes need to take priority over mine.
LOCK THE BATHROOM DOOR
When you were first dating your partner, didn’t you always make sure you looked your best, and keep your personal grooming rituals hidden
My new rule is that the bathroom is a no-go zone unless an invitation has been issued, whereas in my marriage it was a free-for-all — husband, child, dog, you name it. Everyone has to go to the loo, pluck the odd chin hair (you), nostril hair (him) and floss away bits from our teeth, but I have concluded that public ablutions are a sure-fire passion killer.
SEX IS VITAL
I allowed things to go downhill with my ex by putting sex at the bottom of my to-do list. Eventually, neither of us could be bothered, even though the loss of intimacy was a source of great sadness to us both.
Sex is no guarantee of a lasting relationship, but lack of sex is a poor prescription for a long-term marriage. My life-enhancing discovery is that sex as you age can be just as much fun as when you were younger.
More so in fact because, finally, you know how your (creaking) body works, aren’t afraid to say what pleases you, and — those dreading the empty nest, take note — you have the place to yourselves.
What’s important is to remain sexually alert. Flirty texts have worked wonders for my sex life, exchanging looks across a dinner table always does the trick and dancing round the living room is a good preamble. Is it unseemly at 60 I really don’t give a damn. I also know that cuddling is sometimes enough.
NAGGING IS DANGEROUS
Pick your battles: Try to let the less important issues go and focus on what really matters
I used to get so annoyed when my ex came home and had bought the wrong size of tomatoes. Now, I realise it’s not about having everything done my way. My world won’t fall apart because I have to substitute beef tomatoes for cherry.
And when my partner buys earrings for my birthday that would have suited me better in silver than gold, or cooks scrambled eggs that aren’t quite as creamy as mine, I just remember to be thankful for the cooking or the gift and leave it at that.
The next time I cook eggs and he happens to ask, ‘Why do your eggs taste better than mine’ then I might offer up my secret of a knob of butter in the raw egg mix.
That way at least he won’t be so deflated by my criticism that he never again offers to make breakfast.
BE YOUR OWN PERSON
'I’ve always valued my independence and I enjoy my own company. I also have lots of girlfriends, love my book club, my women-only nights, and my get-togethers with men friends.
So when my partner asked whether I’d mind if he went on a walking holiday on his own, I was surprised that it had even crossed his mind that I would.
I’ve always believed maintaining your individuality will keep things fresh. I’d run a mile from someone who was overly dependent. But when things started to go wrong in my marriage I went too far — we barely saw one another, when what we should have been doing was sorting out our problems.
We spent less and less time together with the excuse of giving one another space, but there’s a difference between a little space and a gaping hole.
MONEY DOES MATTER
I never wanted to be financially dependent on a man, and never have been. I regard myself as savvy in so far as I avoid debt and know roughly my outgoings. But my ex was incredibly extravagant and generous to a fault. He would hand over his credit card in restaurants without bothering to examine the bill.
When things got tight, money became a big, unresolved issue and, for a while, when I was the main breadwinner, I think my husband saw it as a power struggle. In my new relationship, I’m the extravagant one and we are trying to understand and respect our differences.
TALK TO EACH OTHER
As Oscar Wilde said: ‘Ultimately, the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation.’
My new partner is a master of chat, whereas I can easily retreat into silence. He’s slowly helping me to recognise the pleasures of sitting and talking rather than doing things all the time.
On holiday, I’ve always tended to rush around visiting sites and monuments, feeling edgy if I linger for more than ten minutes chatting over a cappuccino in an exquisite piazza. But I’ve come to see that people-watching is just as stimulating as visiting ancient ruins.
These past few years I’ve opened up so much, confronting things I’m unhappy about, sharing my anxieties. And I’ve become a bit of a chatterbox, something I never was before. I hope we never stop talking and never stop being interested in one another’s opinions, even when we disagree.
I’ve learned that it’s never too late to change yourself — but if you think you can change your partner, you’re heading for trouble (which is not to say he can’t change himself if he so chooses).
I know that respect, courtesy and kindness are vital ingredients for a successful relationship. And I know how easy it is to lose sight of these things amid the stresses and strains of everyday living.
Given that it takes two to make a relationship, I thought I’d give my partner a chance to have his say. ‘For me,’ he says, ‘it’s about waking up each morning and seeing that the woman in my life is in my bed and if I turn and cuddle up to her she will welcome my caress. It’s about knowing that when she is happy, distressed or bored, she turns to me, and that I can do the same.'
‘A new relationship is a new chance to have a proper, adult connection and invite a fully formed person into your life in order to grow and learn.’
He makes it sound so simple. Just as there is nothing more soul-sapping than living unhappily with someone you used to love, there is nothing more life-enhancing than being in a committed, loving relationship.
I don’t want to smother my partner with love, but I think it’s important that — every day — he is aware I love him, and that I am grateful for being loved back.That’s why I’ve written my lessons, and that’s why I’m hoping — this time — that I can make them stick.