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Long-Term Marriage: The Survey, Part 2

by Mary McHugh

<< Part One

     Another wise woman who opened her heart to me in response to the questions I asked for the survey is 60 years old and has been married for 37 years. She told me about the experience that changed her marriage: 
          During the first 12 to 15 years of our marriage, she says, the biggest issue in our relationship on my part was probably my insecurity. Part of this came from the knowledge I had that my father told my mother every day they were married that he loved her. Both my parents were verbally and physically affectionate with me. The other part was that I always wore my emotions on my sleeve. When I was happy, sad, upset, frustrated, depressed, angry, you knew it. My husband, being a very different type of personality was very reserved and restrained. He was not demonstrative even in private with affection. When I would ask if he loved me, he said, I married you, didnt I? What more do you need? That sounds rather harsh, but truly, demonstrative he wasnt. 
      She and her husband went to a Marriage Encounter, a weekend designed to enhance good marriages: 
          What an amazing experience this was, she says. The communication problems we had were just what the weekend addressed. We were given questions to which we would write extensively and then share out thoughts with our partner. This made a huge difference in our relationship. It was the best thing wed ever done together. For me it was almost a spiritual awakening. I had not been particularly close to the church other than for the usual life events. Spirituality was not a term I understood at the time. But on the way home from the Encounter weekend, I had the overwhelming sensation of God placing his hand on my shoulder and expressing the thought, I love you this much that I give you the gift of this weekend. I have rarely felt such a closeness to Gods love on a personal level." 
           After the weekend I rarely questioned my husbands commitment to me and our relationship and the family again. We really needed that intense communication of our feelings and our love to bring a deeper stability to our marriage, and it was very successful. 
     A preachers daughter, a professors wife, and the mother of four children, celebrating her 52nd anniversary, wrote to me about the advice her own mother gave her during the early days of her marriage when the main problems were just keeping food on the table and clothes on their backs. 
          My mother came one time and I mentioned I was worried about making it, and she asked, Do you have enough to eat today? Of course I said Yes , and she mentioned that I must not worry about tomorrow. That has been my greatest blessing. When things get tough, I just let tomorrow take care of itself. When we were first married, I would take anything, being the baby of the family. But resentments built up and I would explode over something small. My husband taught me to let off steam in little explosions, and I found that to be very helpful. Just articulating the thing helped me so that I didnt resent it anymore. We have had our bad moments, but they were just moments and not weeks or months. 
     One woman, married for 56 years, and now in her 80s, raised her children for the first 25 years, went back to work, and thats when the trouble started. 
           We kind of drifted away from each other. I think he was a little jealous of my job. I climbed the ladder real fast. After he retired, he ran everything, so when I retired he didnt seem happy with it, like I was interfering in his life. Yes, he became nasty to me, and sex was gone. I was ready to leave, but I still loved him, so I thought of Ann Landers who always said [in her syndicated daily column]:  Figure out if you are better off without him or with him. I didnt want to hurt my children, so I stayed. It meant I had to change because I could see that he wasnt going to. I swallowed my pride and stayed. That was 12 years ago, and I am glad I stayed. Things are better. With Gods help it worked out. 

      Do you get the feeling that women invented the word compromise?  When someone in a marriage has to bend, be flexible, change her schedule around six times a day, write a thesis while nursing her third child, women just do it. No wonder women connect so quickly when they meet. Weve all been there. Theres no need to spell out the times we wanted to leave, the days we took care of a whole household of needy people, the months we spent waiting for our turn, the years we toughened and softened all at the same time. One look into another womans eyes, and we know. 
     I learned a lot of reassuring things about sex in long-term marriages. Even those women who have learned to settle for cuddling and kissing arent unhappy about it. There are a lot of us who know exactly what we need and what our husbands need to have good sex. After 30 or 40 years, there are still a few surprises and good loving when you least expect it. The women who wrote to me covered the range. One of my favorite correspondents, married for 33 years, 60 years old, articulate and savvy and wise, wrote this: 
           My initial impulse was to say our sex life is better now, but thats simplistic. Its more accurate to say that its richer. It has always been loving and tender and gratifying but when the children were small, there was too much bone tired and too little free time when we could plan to be unhurried and adventurous. The physical side of our marriage has always been important to both of us, and we have always talked about this and consciously nurtured it. We are actually more physically alone now and have the privacy that begets spontaneity and we now have the luxury of time to plan romantic interludes. Simple things like being able to make love in the morning are not easy to pull off when you are a parent in an active household of three young boys but are a lovely option now.

      We do rather instinctive things to keep our love life fresh and new. My husband is very attracted to femininity and I come from a family where my Mom always taught us that my Dad wanted each of his daughters to be a lady, so I have always taken care to continue to be a lady in my marriage. I always wear elegant lingerie (I spend as much money on what I wear next to my skin as on what I wear to the office) even if I am only wearing jeans or working in the garden. I pay a lot of attention to my physical health and am as careful about my appearance now as when I was first married. I have wrinkles, age spots, ten extra pounds, and under my frosting, my hair is graying, but I am still slender and since I am one of those females who must watch everything she eats, I do. Its a major pain in the butt but its the only way. If I ate what I wanted, Id be very, very rotund. I was amusingly enormous through three pregnancies and it took me 18 months after each baby to get slender again, but you have to pick your poison. 

          I hope I would do these things for myself but I know I do them because I want to be physically desirable to my husband. He is still very handsome, but his hair is now completely gray and hes cultivating a good wrinkle crop of his own. He watches his weight, is always well groomed, and is more than careful about his health. He persuaded me to stop smoking with him when he quit. He took up running when the children were young and persuaded me to get into a physical fitness routine when my hours at the office were running me ragged. We have different fitness schedules and routines, but we exercise together often. 
      Another woman in her 70s says her sex life improved over the years (she started off a virgin) until her husbands health problems in the last few years interfered: 
           It was harder on me than him, she says, And I suffered withdrawal, but the closeness has not lessened. We hug and kiss a lot. 
     Another woman, 64, says, Its hard after age 65 for a man to keep up the same performance as he did at 36, and Id be a fool to expect it. After all, he was patient after my hysterectomy.  Theres a lot of hugging and kissing in her life too. 

Next time we'll conclude with a question of a marriage surviving an affair and the concerns about managing financial issues with the marriage.

Part Three >>


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