How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship, Even During Menopause

2013-12-27-Ellen_Dolgen_Menopause_Monday.jpgMy husband, David, and I have been married 37 years. What's the secret to the longevity of our relationship? I'm no expert, but I know I have never stopped dating David! We are still in love and enjoy being with each other.

Naomi Gauthier Berry, however, is an expert. This past summer I chatted with Berry, a dear friend who's an individual and couples counselor, to get some tips on how to maintain the spark in your relationship.

No matter what stage of life you're in (including perimenopause and menopause!), what type of relationship you're in or how long you've been with your partner, your relationship is certain to have its ups and downs.

Show gratitude

So how do you balance the teeter-totter of your relationship? One way is to be grateful for each other. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that couples enjoy higher relationship satisfaction when they feel thankful for their partners. Some claim that this simple practice of gratitude helps remind couples what it is that they love about their partner. I asked Berry to share her perspective on this and other issues regarding relationships.

"Developing an attitude of gratitude is one of the most effective ways to cultivate and maintain a healthy relationship," she said. "For most couples, this is easy to do in the beginning stages of a relationship. All relationships progress through stages. For the first six months and up to two years, couples are in the infatuation stage."

During this stage, Berry said that hormones are surging (oh joy!). She added that couples tend to idealize their partners, focusing on their partner’s good qualities.

Friendship is important

Drs. John and Julie Gottman have done extensive research on what makes marriages thrive. The relationship experts found that the most significant factor that determines whether couples stay together is the quality of the couple’s friendship.

Negativity is a no-no

The trick to maintaining a healthy relationship, Berry said, is to keep negativity at bay. This can be done by avoiding what Dr. William Glasser, father of Choice Theory, coined as “Deadly Relationship Habits.” These include:

  • Criticism
  • Complaining
  • Nagging
  • Blaming
  • Threatening
  • Punishing

Happy couples habitually and consciously practice “Caring Habits.”  These include:

  • Listening
  • Accepting
  • Supporting
  • Encouraging
  • Respecting
  • Trusting
  • Negotiating differences

If you feel you're guilty of engaging in “Deadly Relationship Habits” (and we've all done so), don’t worry. Berry said that it's probably something you've been doing unconsciously.  Recognizing your tendency to use deadly habits is the first step toward changing your behavior. 

The lowdown on low libido

I had to ask the next question, since many menopausal women suffer from a lack of libido: Do you find that intimacy wanes as couples get older, especially as women enter menopause? What kind of "homework" do you recommend?

Sexual intimacy can change for a couple as women enter menopause. Both men and women experience changes in libido and sexual functioning as they age. Berry reminds us, however, that intimacy is so much more than sex. Intimacy does not have to wane as couples grow older. It is not uncommon for couples to become so connected to their significant other that they often forget there are differences between them and their partner.

“For example, you may have a stronger need for freedom than your husband and therefore; need more alone time than he does. People are naturally inclined to give their partner what they themselves want instead of what their partner may prefer. Gaining an understanding of your partner’s needs and making a concerted, meaningful, and long term effort to meet your partner’s needs is critical for nurturing and growing a healthy relationship,” said Berry.    

While my husband and I enjoy each other's company, we are, however, two different people. I think if I were married to myself, I would be bored to tears! We have the same character, but we come to the table from a different perspective and work together with mutual respect. David does not complete me. I do not complete him. I asked Berry: How can two people maintain their own identity and still function as a healthy couple? Can you love your partner without losing yourself?

True love

Berry commented on my long marriage to David: “37 years - Congrats! Over those 37 years, you and David have changed significantly and at different stages of your relationship. The one constant for a healthy relationship is to love yourself unconditionally. The question is not, ‘Can you love your partner without losing yourself?’ but rather, ‘Can you love yourself and not lose your partner?'”

Why the breakup?

If a relationship does deteriorate, as many do, I asked Berry if she could point to one reason that could be the single most contributing factor that breaks apart relationships. As I expected, she said there are many theories as to why couples tend to drift apart over time including things such as a lack of common interests or frequent conflict.

For the widowed: Loneliness vs. being alone

Some relationships end when one partner passes away. Many people find it extremely difficult to move on. Berry explained that the long-term widowed partner will likely go through a grieving process, which can take time. "One way that I help individuals process the loss of a partner is to help them reframe their feelings of 'loneliness' into 'being alone.' I do not recommend moving on to another relationship until you are comfortable being alone. Once you are, you're much less likely to attract the wrong person into your life."

Berry’s tips for a long-lasting relationship:

  • Be present when you're with your partner.
  • Treat your partner like you would treat your best friend.
  • Remember you can only control your half of the relationship.
  • Practice the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.”
  • Love yourself unconditionally.
  • Create quality time and make your relationship a priority. 
  • Make a conscious effort not to focus on your partner's imperfections and instead choose to notice and celebrate your partner's positive qualities.
  • Create quality time and make your relationship a priority.

The cure for a stale marriage? Take two tips, and call me in the morning. 

Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!

For more by Ellen Dolgen, click here.

For more on women's health, click here.

Ellen Dolgen is an outspoken women's health and wellness advocate, menopause awareness expert, author, and speaker.

After struggling with her own severe menopause symptoms and doing years of research, Ellen resolved to share what she learned from experts and her own trial and error. Her goal was to replace the confusion, embarrassment, and symptoms millions of women go through-before, during, and after menopause-with the medically sound solutions she discovered. Her passion to become a "sister" and confidant to all women fueled Ellen's first book, Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness. As a result of the overwhelming response from her burgeoning audiences and followers' requests for empowering information they could trust, Ellen's weekly blog, Menopause MondaysTM, was born.

Menopause MondaysTM is a platform from which Ellen reaches the true needs of her readers through varied and substantive discussions of menopause, women's health, and the modern woman's life today as a menopausal woman. Her weekly newsletter provides readers the most current menopause news and research. With her updates, women gain access and the knowledge needed to take charge of their health and happiness. Her motto is: Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!

In addition to Ellen's ever-growing social media presence, has fast become "the place" on the web for informative and entertaining women's menopause and wellness engagement. Ellen is #1 on Dr. Oz Top 10 Social HealthMakers on Menopause. In 2012, 2013 and 2014, / Menopause Mondays was named first on the list of the "Best Menopause Blogs" by Healthline. Ellen is also a regular contributor to over a dozen leading women's health blogs.

Like Ellen Dolgen on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and Pinterest, connect with her on LinkedIn, Google+, and Klout, watch her videos on YouTube, and subscribe to her newsletter.

testPromoTitleReplace testPromoDekReplace Join HuffPost Today! No thanks.