Marriage on the rocks? Go back to the start and remember why you first fell in love
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Christine Webber says its best go back to basics and the start of your relationship if your marriage has gone a tad stale
A few weeks ago, I was chatting to someone when she suddenly asked: 'What should you do if you're getting on in years, but your relationship has become seriously dull? Can it ever recover?'
As you may know, after I left my presenting job at Anglia TV, I became an agony aunt for a national newspaper, and then trained as a psychotherapist.
Over the 20 years or so that followed, the vast majority of people who consulted me - around 90% - wanted help with their love lives. So, I'm aware just how vital it is for most individuals to be with someone special they can love, laugh with, talk to and care for - and I've also seen hundreds of adults in total meltdown when their relationships went wrong.
In the UK, divorce rates have dropped in recent years, but older people are bucking that trend and deciding in greater numbers than ever before to leave marriages that seem to have passed their sell-by date.
Obviously, the fact that so many female pensioners have had careers, and are more independent and confident than their mothers and grandmothers were, has had an impact. Also, we're living longer and so at - say - age 65, many adults believe they still have a good few years ahead of them and feel they'd like to spend them with someone new. Mind you, not everybody wants another partner. Colour supplements and magazines are full of stories of single-again women who claim to love being alone, and have taken up horse riding, travelled the world, or started successful businesses.
But there's a flip side. A sizeable number of women who walk out on their flagging romances come to realise that the grass isn't always greener, and also that they're much worse off financially.
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They also learn that an older man need only have a pulse and his own teeth in order to be snapped up the moment he re-enters the dating arena. The same is definitely not true for women. This is profoundly unfair, I know, but it's how it is. Of course, many of the fair sex do find love - often with younger partners - but certainly not all.
So why do people leave a relationship in later life, knowing that they may be on their own forever?
Often, it's because they've lost the habit of communicating with each other about anything other than their children - and they feel lonely.
Sometimes it's because sex has become predictable rather than passionate and they don't talk about that either.
Boredom is another factor. Though it has to be said, many older individuals think they're bored with their partners, when actually they're bored with themselves.
And very frequently, troubles in the relationship which began with harsh words years previously, have never been resolved.
A psychiatrist who specialised in marriage and the family once told me that the most dangerous time for any couple is after the first baby is born. He said people anticipate it as a period of great joy, but that all too often it's a battlefield with both partners feeling exhausted and misunderstood. His theory was that when adults divorce in later life, it's frequently because of the memory of those early problems.
Certainly one of my patients, who was going through a divorce in his 50s, told me that when his children were small, and he was working crazy hours running his own company and struggling with all the bills that he had to pay, he was constantly tired and felt massively unappreciated. He remembered how at the end of one particularly gruelling week he had said to his wife: 'I'm absolutely flaked.' And she had snapped back: 'You flake rather easily.'
The seeds of his eventual divorce were sown on that day.
But let's come back to the woman who asked me about her long-term relationship.
I suggested that she and her partner look at photographs of the two of them in their early days before they had their family. Often when people take that trip down memory lane, it puts them in touch with their feelings before life got in the way of the relationship, and they are often then able to negotiate their way back to a sense of the couple they once were.
I also gave her a series of questions to ask herself:
Do I still love him?
Do I like him?
Do I respect him?
What would I miss if we weren't together?
These sorts of questions are useful in clearing the mind and focusing on the value of what we have.
I don't know if her relationship will survive, but she rang me yesterday to say that she and her partner have started talking to each other in a way they haven't for years - and that they're about to go on an exotic holiday. I think that's a good sign.