Relationship friends and foes

Jane Garton

How to strengthen bonds between family and partners in later life. And what can go wrong!

Relationship friends


Talking to each other and not being afraid to express feelings helps keep your relationship vibrant and your energy levels high. ‘Introducing some debate into your lives can also help,’ says Denise Knowles, relationship counsellor with Relate. Asking each other what you think about the daily news, for example, can lead to lively discussion. ‘And don’t be frightened to disagree,’ she adds.

Helping other people

‘As well as helping others, regular voluntary work in the local community can help you and your relationship,’ says psychotherapist Christine Webber. ‘It will make you feel useful, give structure to your day and give you something interesting to talk about to each other in the evening.’


‘Making love may not arouse the same passion as it once did but you are likely to have more time for quality loving which can help keep the spark alive,’ says Christine. It can also bring you closer together as well as boosting endorphins, the body’s own feel-good hormones. And don’t forget stroking and touching can be very energising.

Planning ahead

Why ‘Planning something that you have always wanted to do together can bring you closer and has the bonus of keeping energy levels high,’ says Christine. Plan regular outings and the occasional treat so you always have something to look forward to. Even looking at travel brochures and websites can be very uplifting.

Quick fix tips

  • Watch a funny film together, play a game of snap – just have fun and do something that helps you connect with each other
  • Don’t keep presents just for special occasions. Unexpected gifts are uplifting for giver and receiver alike
  • Give each other hugs. Touch triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s own happy hormones, and makes you and others feel loved
  • Rekindle romance. Remember your courting days then start to relive some of the memories

Relationship foes

Growing apart

Leading separate lives is not unusual after years of being together - you may have slowly drifted apart or, now the children have flown the nest, suddenly realised you have little in common. 'Ask yourselves what you used to enjoy doing together then try doing it again,' suggests Christine Webber. 'It could be something as simple as monthly visits to the theatre, or taking up a hobby together,' she adds. If these don't help the problem may be deeper seated and you may need professional help.

Different goals

‘Having different expectations from retirement can quickly drain a relationship,’ says Denise Knowles. Make sure you and your partner know what the other wants and be prepared to compromise. ‘Give each other space and try not to take your partner for granted,’ adds Denise. That way you are more likely to be able to support each other.

Having no boundaries

'Grandparents should take care not to let their kids assume that they will always be there to do the babysitting, the shopping and so on,’ says Denise. Now is the time to maintain what Denise calls ‘the couple’ and to make sure you don’t put your children’s needs before your partner’s.


Life-changing event, such as the death of a friend or a family member or caring for a parent with dementia, can trigger depression, which in turn can lead to a breakdown in communication between you and your partner. ‘If this happens it can help to look outside your immediate family or circle of friends for support,’ says Christine. ‘It is very important to ask for help and not to struggle on alone,’ she adds. Your GP should be able to advise on local support groups.


‘If you have recently retired you may find yourselves bickering over the smallest things,’ says Christine. This is quite common in couples as they start to spend more time together without the outside stimulus of work. ‘But it is important to nip petty quibbles in the bud before they evolve into real resentment,’ says Christine. She also suggests you make a rule that there are no arguments after 6pm.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.