March 25, 2023


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As she celebrates her golden wedding anniversary, our agony aunt reflects on what she has learned in her own relationship
Mary O'Conor. Picture by Hugh O'Conor.
Psychosexual therapist and relationship counsellor Mary O’Conor with her husband, concert pianist John, photographed in 2003. Picture By David Conachy.
Mary O'Conor

I am celebrating 50 years of marriage this year, and was asked to write an article on my tips for a happy marriage. My immediate response was ‘frequent absences’, as my husband John is often away from Ireland, sometimes for quite long stretches, and I often reflect that these absences do a lot for the relationship. Every couple has their ups and downs and we are no different, but the absences mean that when we see each other again after a long absence, we appreciate what we have.

Psychosexual therapist and relationship counsellor Mary O’Conor with her husband, concert pianist John, photographed in 2003. Picture By David Conachy.

However, not everybody has the possibility of frequent absences, so here are my tips for for sustaining a long-term relationship or marriage:
1. Sometimes it is better to say nothing than to be right — in other words, you don’t have to have the last word on absolutely everything. Save the arguments for when the subject matter is really important to you and don’t make such a big deal when it isn’t.
2. Keep up your friendships outside of your marriage. This is especially important as the years go by and children, if you have them, will be forging their own lives and will, very rightly, start to cut ties with their parents to a large degree. It is equally important that the parents let go of their children. Rather than having an ‘empty nest’ situation, it is a time to see more of your friends and enjoy their company.
3 It doesn’t have to cost a lot — a walk on the pier or in a local park can give a couple the opportunity to talk without the interruption of TV, or worse still, the mobile phone. People tend to get into routines and to stick to them, whereas something out of the ordinary is very refreshing.
4. If your partner is nagging you to see your doctor about something, then do it. A lot of us are very good at telling other people what to do about their health but forget about their own. So if your partner is on your case, you can be sure there is a good reason for it, so act now. There is no joy for them in being a nag.
5. Whether you are both working outside the home, or working in or from home, take some time to check in with each other at the end of the day. Tell each other about something good and something bad that happened in your day — that can often develop into a very interesting conversation.
6. Men are often black and white about things, whereas women have various shades of grey in their thinking. This makes for difficulties in that she says, ‘Well he should have known that I wanted him to do such and such’, whereas he will say, ‘Why didn’t she tell me what she wanted?’ So, particularly for women, be more direct in what you say. And men should listen closely to what she is saying.
7. Your sex life is as important as every other aspect of your life. Check on a weekly basis with each other if you are happy with how it is going. Also there is nothing wrong with planning to have sex — you plan everything else, such as evenings out, visits with friends or going to the hairdresser/barber. If you have it planned, be sure to go to bed earlier than you normally would so that it’s not just something that you fit in at the end of a busy day. It gives a whole new meaning to having an early night!
8. Have date nights. I know that the younger generation are very good at this, but if you don’t have them, you should. Just the two of you doing something together will remind you of when you were first dating and what (hopefully) was such a good time in your lives.
9. Try to show a united front when parenting. It is unfair to everybody if there is a ‘good cop, bad cop’ situation. So make major decisions concerning the children together prior to telling the children what has been decided.
10. Don’t criticise your in-laws. It is perfectly acceptable for your partner to complain about their family of origin, and for you to listen and support when necessary. But it is a step too far to criticise them.
11. Marriage is all about compromise. It is much better to agree to differ on something than to have a big row.
12. Whilst I believe it is almost impossible to forget, try to forgive. It will make you feel better.
13. Try to get arguments sorted before you go to bed at night. If you don’t, you will most likely wake up during the night worrying.
14. Above all, maintain a sense of humour. It will all be the same in a hundred years! 

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