Shared interests and values often bring couples together, and some things-like the need for romance and communication-remain the same no matter how long you're hitched. But many others don't-and shouldn't. Encouraging changes in your marriage helps you adapt to each life stage with your spouse; ignore your relationship's ebbs and flows and you risk breaking apart. Here, experts share how to conquer them as a couple. Photo by Getty Images
In Your 20s
1. Be More Open and Specific About Your Future
Before you get married, you may talk generally about where you'll live, when you'll have kids and how you'll spend your money-and avoid bringing up goals on which your partner may not agree. But once you truly combine lives, you need to make more concrete plans. Don't hold back about long-term hopes for fear he won't be on board. For example, if you'd like to go back to school, and find yourself worrying about whether he'd support it, ask his opinion right away. If you don't speak up, "the resentments will start," says Lisa Bahar, a marriage and family therapist in Newport Beach, CA.
2. Address Conflicts Head On
Issues may arise early on, as you're both used to doing things your way as singles. "Problems don't self-correct; it takes discussing to get back on track," explains relationship expert Charles J. Orlando, author of The Problem with Women... Is Men. When you start each talk, "say, 'I think we're having this issue. Do you see it this way?'" suggests sex and relationship expert Gail Saltz, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine in New York City and author of Becoming Real. It allows him to share his side so you can work on solutions together.
In Your 30s
3. Focus on Enjoying Sex
By the time you reach your 30s, you finally know what you want in bed, so increase intimacy. "Kiss him passionately, like it's the last time you will, and make love as if to say, 'Without you, I may never be complete,'" suggests Orlando. Yes, you may need to carve out time for sex, but this shouldn't be a burden. "Effort is what you put into things that you care about personally," he explains.
4. Become Flexible with Your Plan
As kids enter the picture and careers change, you may find your and your spouse's old dreams aren't as important as they once seemed. "There's no quick fix for dealing with changes" to your current course, says Dr. Saltz. If you want to make a major adjustment, sit down and reevaluate with your husband. "Say, 'I know we had this plan, but I feel this way now,'" Dr. Saltz recommends. "Figure out what's most crucial to each of you at this stage."
In Your 40s
5. Team Up with Parenting
According to relationship expert Pepper Schwartz, PhD, professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle, adolescent children can make marriage difficult for many twosomes. Tweens and teens can perceive where you differ on parenting, "and those children may pit one parent against the other" to get what they want, Dr. Schwartz says. That can become a source of marriage problems. The best thing to do: Join forces with your partner. "Make efforts not to get divided. Before making a major decision or allowance with your child, go to your spouse first," she recommends.
6. Protect Your Marriage
Watching your kids spread their wings as teens may remind you what's "no longer available to you with dating, sex and career options," says Dr. Saltz. She says this is a time when spouses may stray; as you see your child embrace independence, you feel tied down in your marriage. "Mix things up so you don't get complacent," she advises, which may mean scheduling a quick getaway. And avoid situations better suited for singles. "If that means not going to happy hour with a male co-worker, don't go," she adds.
In Your 50s
7. Consider Therapy
You may find communicating with your spouse tougher than ever-especially if having kids stalled your growth as husband and wife. "It's not that couples stop talking; it's that they stop listening," says Orlando. "Listening with empathy and without judgment eliminates most obstacles." If being more conscious of hearing each other out isn't enough, a third party may help. "Be willing to attend therapy," says Bahar, especially if arguments include threats to leave, accusations of infidelity or a preoccupation with staying young. You are not who you were when you were newlyweds; a therapist can help you find common ground again.
8. Establish a New Normal
Your new, quiet empty nest can feel jarring. "This stage is a divorce peak," says Dr. Saltz. "Often, parents have been so focused on their kids that they look at their spouse and think, 'Who is he?'" Talk through the feelings you're experiencing, and what you need to move forward as a couple. Dr. Saltz suggests connecting with your partner in ways not associated with your kids, whether it's taking a cooking class or spending more time with your friends.
In Your 60s and 70s
9. Participate in PDA Again
Dr. Schwartz says that many couples cease romantic behavior after multiple decades of marriage, but the happy pairs? "They don't stop holding hands or spontaneously kissing." Be one of those duos! Remain touchy-feely at every age, but if the loving gestures stopped long ago, bring them back.
10. Reconsider Retirement
While you may have imagined older age and retiring going hand-in-hand, ask yourself, "Is my marriage happy now? Am I happy at work?" If both are still fulfilling, "talk about whether retirement is a good idea. Being in each other's domain all the time doesn't work well for all couples," points out Dr. Saltz. If either of you does want a change of pace, consider mentally stimulating part-time options or volunteer work. Coming home after a day away to talk about what happened remains valuable, says Dr. Saltz.