Having a healthy relationship isn’t easy. Having a healthy marriage is even harder. As years go by your marriage will be mine-fielded with lots of potential relationship wreckers. Each and every decade will have its own crisis, be it parenting, layoffs, 2nd work opportunities, and middle-aged stress, along health related stuff.
Here are 9 tips to keep your relationship healthy:
#1 Watch your waistline
A 2007 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that your chances of becoming obese increase by 37% if your spouse becomes obese. So unless you want “till death do us part” to include chronic health issues like heart disease and diabetes, it’s important to establish healthy eating habits early on.
Being aware of the potential fatty pitfalls of marital bliss may be enough to keep your portion sizes in check. Spend couple time checking out local farmers’ markets on the weekends in an effort to consumer fresher, low-calorie fare. Or schedule an exercise date to work off some of your hearty, homemade dinners.
#2 Have a financial plan
Nearly 40% of married people admit to lying to their spouse about a purchase, according to a 2004 poll, and money woes can quickly send your marriage south. In fact, money is the number-one reason couples fight, and relationships tend to suffer during poor economies. You should discuss and agree upon some hard financial ground rules, preferably before you tie the knot.
#3 Figure out your family rules
Couples spend the first 5 to 10 years of their marriage butting heads over how their family should work, says Dr. Robbins. “People often don’t realize that they come into a marriage with an idea of how a family works based on their own family—whether they liked them or not,” he adds. You can end up fighting over something as trivial as how you should hang your toilet paper, but those little issues can add up to big problems, particularly if children enter the picture. A 2004 study found that how a couple manages parenting responsibilities when the child is an infant is associated with the quality of their marriage two-and-a-half years later.
#4 Make sex a priority—but not a chore
While you should make sex a priority, you shouldn’t pencil it in on your planner. If you schedule sex, it becomes a responsibility—just like taking out the trash, says Andrew Goldstein, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in Baltimore, and the coauthor of Reclaiming Desire: 4 Keys to Finding Your Lost Libido. The average married couple has sex 58 times per year, or slightly more than once a week. And a recent eight-year study found that 90% of couples experienced a decrease in marital satisfaction after the birth of their first child. Yikes!
#5 Be flexible
Whatever financial and household arrangements you agreed to in your 20s or 30s, chances are they’re going to change at some point in your marriage. Men account for 82% of recent job losses during this recession, meaning couples are making some hard choices when it comes to both their careers and their checking accounts.
Having an open discussion of how household duties need to change can help couples weather some tough transitions. “Everyone has a role within the relationship and as long as there’s a greater good, it’s not a question about whether it’s his money or her money,” says Dr. Goldstein. “It’s their money. Your paycheck and your career are not the value of your worth.”
#6 Stay active as you age
If you’re like most American couples, you don’t exercise or you stopped regularly exercising when you had children. Try to find new ways to stay active as a couple, whether it’s hitting the tennis courts or hiking trails. A 1995 study found that couples who work out together are more likely to stick with an exercise program. And some experts suggest that couples who exercise more frequently tend to have better sex lives.
#7 Gab (a little) to your friend
In the last decade, researchers have noted a rise in “gray divorce,” or couples over 50 who are calling it quits. While it’s tempting—and often prudent—to keep couple conversations behind closed doors, you may actually benefit from blabbing to a close friend.
#8 Rediscover each other as a couple, sans kids
Forget empty nest syndrome—a 2008 study found that marital satisfaction actually improves once children leave home. Female participants reported spending equal amounts of time with their partners both while their children lived at home and after, but they noted that the quality of that together time was better once the kids were out of the picture. “Suddenly the tyranny of the children controlling the household is relieved,” says Dr. Robbins. “You don’t have to have dinner at 6, you don’t have to spend Saturdays at the soccer field, and you don’t have to be so responsible all the time.” Use this newfound freedom to bend the rules a bit and rediscover what you love about each other.
#9 Be a conscious caregiver
In the event of a serious illness, spouses who assume the role of caregiver often develop a sense of “caregiver burden” and may become ill themselves. So it’s vital that both spouses ask for help when they need it. Getting out to see friends and socialize is particularly important for caregivers. And realize that you both have limitations.