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5 Relationship-Savers

Secrets for a healthy, long-term relationship, from country music star Naomi Judd, author of Naomi’s Guide to Aging Gratefully: Facts, Myths, and Good News for Boomers

Being in a healthy long-term relationship is definitely one of the biggest delights of getting older. Robert Browning rhapsodized:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made.

Doesn’t it make you ooh and ahh when you see little old couples holding hands? After many years with another person, you don’t have to work so hard at your relationship. It’s not like the morning after you have sex for the first time, when you’re still on trial. You’ve learned after being through situations together that you can relax. Larry is the best bargain I ever got. To the world you’re just one person. But to that one person you are the whole world.

Because Larry and I have been together twenty-six years, we have all kinds of memories that connect us. We’re human time machines. We sometimes drive by the little white frame country house where we kissed for the first time in the front yard. We raised Wy and Ashley there under rough conditions and seeing it always brings back bittersweet thoughts. Memories also keep us aware of what’s right. It once bugged me the way Larry clanged his spoon against the cereal bowl. When his dad, the Reverend Ralph Strickland, died last year, his family was reminiscing about little things after the funeral. His sister Carole made the noise on her plate and smiled, remembering how their dad always clanged his cereal bowl. Now when Larry clangs, I smile. It’s a sweet reminder of a dear man who even performed our marriage ceremony.

The marriage commitment means we continue to grow together. Larry and I have learned to create “sacred space” — a safe atmosphere where we know how to honor, appreciate, and encourage each other. Now intimacy also stands for “into me you see.”

A good relationship is like a work of art. And I do mean work! Over the years, we’ve learned a lot from a relationship therapist. Here are five things that have helped us:

Keeping Love Alive and the Relationship Working

  1. Men and women are wired differently. As John Gray taught, men are from Mars and women from Venus. You must accept the differences rather than being constantly frustrated by them. Understanding the plain facts allows us to give up trying to change them. Information is power and leads to understanding and harmony. I recommend Harville Hendrix’s Getting the Love You Want. Now if I announce, “Larry, we need to talk,” he doesn’t automatically want to run into the woods. I’ll also ask, “Is this a good time? If not, when?”
  2. As Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote, “The seeds of love must be eternally re-sown.” That means we need to appreciate our partner every day. Don’t take him or her for granted. Say “I love you.” “Thank you.” “Would you please…?” Pay attention when he or she does something well. We need to be the most considerate and grateful to the person who is the closest to us.
  3. Dr. Phil McGraw himself shared this advice with me. According to him, there’s one mistake you can make that’s the worst. If you want your relationship to last, don’t end an argument by making the other person feel small. If you end a fight with something like “You are so dumb. What was I thinking when I married you?” your relationship is in big trouble. Leave him or her with some semblance of dignity. You don’t rupture the possibility for reconnection.
  4. Men do want to put their woman up on a pedestal, so keep separate bathrooms if possible, ladies. Just don’t be seen grooming. We don’t need to be with each other all the time. I’ve never farted in front of Larry. (I can’t say the same for him.)
  5. Larry and I have fun together. Sometimes all you can do is laugh — at yourself, your mate, and the places you get stuck. Here are a few chuckles for inspiration:

Errol Flynn died on a seventy-foot boat with a seventeen-year old girl. Walter has always wanted to go that way, but he’s going to settle for a seventeen-footer with a seventy-year-old.
–Betsy Cronkite, wife of Walter

When he’s late for dinner, I know he’s either having an affair or lying dead in the street. I always hope it’s the street.
–Jessica Tandy about her longtime mate, Hume Cronyn

I told my wife that a husband is like a fine wine; he gets better with age. The next day, she locked me in the cellar.
–Anonymous

Tim [Robbins] and I just celebrated seventeen years together, which in Hollywood I think is forty-five.
–Susan Sarandon

Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah . . . now that’s a real treat!
–Joanne Woodward

An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have; the older she gets, the more interested he is in her.
–Agatha Christie, whose husband was an archaeologist

Husbands are like fires. They tend to go out if not taken care of.
–Zsa Zsa Gabor

The best way to get husbands to do something is to suggest that perhaps they are too old to do it.
–Shirley MacLaine

If my husband ever leaves me, I’m going with him.
–Naomi Judd

Long-term relationships absolutely take work, but they offer such great payoffs when it comes to aging well. Married people live eight years longer on average than those who are single, widowed, or divorced. Part of the reason is that we take better care of ourselves when there is someone around. In studying 27,000 cancer patients, scientists found that single folks died more often because they waited longer to get treated in the first place.

But it’s more than that. When they factored in cancer stage and treatment options, married folks still did better. Having a partner to talk to, to be supported by, and to care about what happens helps us feel better emotionally. And that translates into positive health benefits by reducing stress hormones and boosting natural killer cells in our immune system. Marriage also decreases depression. Although we sometimes groan, “You’re going to drive me crazy,” good marriages actually improve mental health. Fortunately, single people can reap the same benefits by creating strong friendships and support groups.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Naomi Judd, a country music superstar as well as one of the most admired women in the entertainment industry, has sold more than twenty million albums and won six Grammys and American Music Awards. She’s received three honorary doctorates in the arts and nursing and is a highly sought after speaker. As a humanitarian and social advocate, she is the spokesperson for the American Liver Foundation. The author of Naomi’s Guide to Aging Gratefully (Copyright © 2007 by Naomi Judd) and Naomi’s Breakthrough Guide, she has also written three children’s books and Naomi’s Home Companion, a collection of recipes and kitchen-table wisdom.

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