Love: What Makes It Last
BY LOUISE JARVIS
How a child hitting puberty can rock a marriage. "People react differently to losing some control over their children's lives," explains Philip Cowan. "Many couples blame each other for their teenager's behavior." Blowing off steam at the gym or through creative pursuits can help you keep your cool and perspective, so you don't take that parenting stress out on your partner. And that's good for your kids, too. "In our studies we found that teens and preteens really watch their parents' interactions for cues on how to behave in a relationship," says Philip Cowan. In other words, now's your chance to model the kind of marriage you would wish for your child.
What to Expect
Congratulations, you've made it through the toughest years of marriage. Your bond has been tested by highs and lows, and you've found ways to navigate those tricky waters with good communication, mutual respect and, let's hope, some humor. "The first 10 years of marriage are punctuated by a series of shocks - the shock of romance tapering off, the shock of children, the shock of work and family pressures," says Whitehead. So it's no wonder the divorce rate starts declining sharply after this point.
In fact, by 15 years of marriage, only 2 percent of couples will divorce in any given year. Still, this midpoint in marriage may usher in another period of transition, say the Cowans, albeit a more individual, soul-seeking one. "I like to remember that the Chinese character for 'crisis' combines the characters for 'danger' and 'opportunity,' " says Philip Cowan. "Some transitional moments may seem like danger zones, but they can really become positive opportunities." Now that children are approaching their teenage Garbo years - "I want to be alone..." - you each may have more time to pursue new interests. Concerns about paying for college or retirement may spark you to set off on a new career path. (This is a great time to go back to school: The National Center for Education Statistics reports that part-time-student enrollment for women over the age of 35 has increased more than 10 percent in the past decade.) "Replenishing your personal satisfaction can replenish your marital satisfaction," says Carolyn Cowan. "The important thing to remember is that if you live fully you will have new challenges to grapple with, and that's very healthy for a marriage."
One small caveat: Throwing yourself into new passions may cause you to neglect your original one - your husband. "Loss of affection is a sleeper issue at this stage of marriage," says Huston. "We've found that it's the drop-off of hugging and sweet gestures - much more than a decline in frequency of sex - that affects the happiness and stability of long-term marriages." Keep looking for tiny ways to stay connected: Give him a bear hug before breakfast, send an ego-boosting email during the day, curl up on the sofa with him during TV veg time. Mmm, now that's more like it.
Year 14: Biggest Reward
Helping each other live your best life, says Tessina. "It's a common time for soul-searching - Should I switch careers? Is this really how I want my life to be?" she notes. "It feels great when you realize that you have a true partner by your side to help you assess your dreams and put some of them into action."
Jen and Pete Singer
"When our kids were young, we lost each other in the blur," admits Jen, of Kinnelon, NJ. "Now we're sharing everything. It's like our marriage is emerging from a hibernation."
20 Years and Beyond
The happiest time in marriage may be after the kids leave home, says Robert W. Levenson, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Personality and Social Research at the University of California at Berkeley. "We found that couples experienced a jump in satisfaction and affection in the five years after the youngest child left home," notes Levenson. Why? "Early in marriage, raising kids is one of the largest sources of stress," he says. "But later, friendships with adult children are couples' greatest source of pleasure."
But not all empty nesters will make it to their golden anniversary. To predict which ones will, just watch them argue, says Levenson. According to his research, the most successful pairs bring up problems in a constructive way, keep strong emotions in check and avoid disgust and contempt. "Those behaviors are more damaging than anger because anger is situational, while disgust and contempt are about the low worth of the person in general," he says.
What else distinguishes golden-oldie pairs? According to a report from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, they accept what can't be changed about their partners.