Wise words on long relationships

By Ginger Manley | Posted: Tuesday September 8, 2015

February 2015
Dear Readers:
    Again, I have received no questions, so I am going to cover several recent news stories about sexuality and aging.
    Reporting on the research of Dr. Peggy Kleinplatz,  medical faculty professor at the University of Ottawa, Don Butler says there is "terrific news for aging baby boomers: Extraordinary sex is possible as you get older. Just don't expect it to be easy." Kleinplatz and her colleagues conducted in-depth interviews with people ages 60-82 who had been in relationships for at least 25 years and reported having great sex. Her team wanted to learn their secrets, and they found half the group was monogamous but the other half were in open relationships, a finding that surprised the research team because they had tried to recruit "the most traditional of traditional individuals."
    The research found that it took quite a bit of work for the subjects to achieve the deep erotic intimacy described, the first step of which was to shed the negative attitudes created earlier in life. Once that happened, partners opted to try harder to achieve a degree of sexual experience they had never before achieved. The crucial piece was communication ("true oral sex" I call it) in which anything deeply personal could be shared and the trust developed from such vulnerability paved the way to greater and deeper sexual satisfaction. These three key components were critical: Being in the moment; being in synch with each other; authenticity. All of these require a level of maturity not found among younger people, says Kleinplatz.
    Both the Huffington Post and USA Today reported on research done by Dr. Karl Pillemer, Professor of Human Development at Cornell University. Pillemer interviewed over 700 retirees ages 65 and older in his Legacy Project and has recently published 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships and Marriage (Hudson Street Press/Penguin, 2015).
    The Huffington Post story described four warning signs for people seeking a partner to date--things to avoid. Pillemer's subjects speak from lifetimes of experience and show a wisdom not found in the young, who are often quick to be in and out relationships. While the signs are very applicable to relationships in the beginning, he says the tools are also "a diagnostic tool for deciding whether your marriage needs a fix (or an exit strategy)"
First sign: Violence toward you of any kind
    A person who hits on a first date or after forty years is probably not going to quit hitting and the best thing a person can do is get as far away as possible from a violent partner.
Second sign: Explosive and unexplained anger while dating
    Sometimes this kind of anger is contained during courtship but then reveals itself after a marriage, but there are probably subtle signs all along, like unreasonable irritability in the face of frustration.
Third sign: Dishonesty--in things large and small.
    Little white lies often pave the way for larger untruths. In therapy terms we call these slippery slope behaviors. Tolerating and ignoring these seemingly minor misdeeds, like failing to pay a bill or taking home from work things that belong to the employer all can lead to bigger fallout.
Fourth sign: Sarcasm and teasing
    There is a difference between good-natured teasing and mean-spirited teasing and most everyone can tell the difference. Being on the receiving end of sarcasm and criticism, along with mean-spirited teasing, erodes one's sense of self and eats away at confidence and the ability to set limits. Over time the degree of dangerous teasing can completely overshadow any positive experience in a relationship.
Pillemer advises old and young alike to avoid these four dangerous types to increase one's chances of living happily ever after.
Nanci Hemlich, writing in USA Today about Pillemer's research, focused on 11 positive steps leading towards long-time marital happiness for older adults, identified by people in the Cornell study.   
    1. Follow your heart when choosing a spouse: You can't make a fire without a spark.
    2. Use your head: Consider values like fidelity and humor.
    3. Look for someone with similar values: Opposites may attract but they don't stick together in             the long run.
    4. Talk, talk, talk: Communication is key.
    5. Tread carefully when discussing difficult topics: When things are not going well, back off and             maybe get something to eat or drink.
    6. Put your relationship first: In the face of all the competing activities, always make the                 relationship number one.
    7. Lighten up on in-law relationships: Find compromises, withhold opinions, and look for points             in common.
    8. Stay out of debt: Live within your means.
    9. Focus on small things to keep the spark alive: Give and receive compliments and do                 unexpected little things for each other.
    10. Enjoy intimacy: Focus on the recreation--the fun of having sex.
    11. Respect each other: Protect against hurting the vulnerable side of one's partner, something             so easy to do in a relationship where each knows the other so well.
So there you have it--wise words for people at all stages of relationship, gleaned from the wisdom of older adults who have been there and done that.

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