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Make no mistake about this, absence of marital intimacy is the one thing that often leads to broken marriages. When properly nurtured, marital intimacy strengthens the bond and lifts couples to heights of pleasure and friendship that lasts for the duration of the union, until death separates the couple.

On the contrary, where the couple fails to sustain the initial affection that brought them together, the bond begins to weaken and ultimately breaks before they reach age-50.

For this reason, Mrs. Nkiru Ifekwem, a marriage counselor and National Coordinator, Women for Gender Issues, Lagos State, believes that couples need to understand that marriage is divine, and a unique relationship that requires renewal through the daily input of the couple by way of attention and sexual intimacy particularly when they are over 50 and most of their children have grown up. For them, this phase of the marital union should be seen as another honeymoon. In this interview, she talks more about how couples can achieve such bliss after 50.

People say that champagne gets better with age. In your view, could this be applied to marital intimacy?

When marriage is new, you see the husband and wife staying alone, quite intimate, and the sky is the limit in their love affair. When the children start coming, you now find that the love is sort of divided, children take part of the love. The men say the women are sharing the love with the children. It is both ways, even the man is sharing the love he has for the wife with the children, too. They are taking part of it. Besides, there is a lot of stress involved in caring for the children - taking them to school, bringing them home, most times the concentration is on the upbringing of the children. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication and self-denials, because there are certain things parents deny themselves just to bring their children up.

These days, due to the way relationships are turning out, you find a man at the age of 40 and the woman in her 30's starting their marriage. At age 50, they still have children around them, but in those days when men got married at 28 or 29 and the woman were 20 or 21, by the time they are above 50, the children are all grown up and would have left the house. You find that the intimacy would now come back. Some couples regard this period as their second honeymoon.

Because the children have left home for boarding schools, universities or working somewhere else, the husband and wife are back again just as they started. If there was no love, that is when loneliness sets in. But, if they love each other, it is time for them to have a lot of discussion, perhaps, helping themselves in doing house chores and sometimes eating outside. Both of them are closer because the children are no longer around, they just visit. This time around, nothing is preventing them from doing whatever they want to do at any point in time.

The time they were taking care of the children there were denials, they didn't express so much intimacy in front of the children, but this time around they are alone, they are free, they can be going about in the house naked, just as free as air, they could kiss at any moment. It just depends on how the marriage had been sustained. If they have not been communicating right from time, the intimacy cannot be built when they are over 50. The intimacy has to be grown and nurtured to that level - that is when they get intimate and enjoy themselves.

When a couple is over 50 that is when they are closer. Check out some men over 50, who get somebody much younger, sometimes they regret it, because that younger person is not their match: their reasoning and everything about them is not the same. He is under intense stress to bring himself to the level of that younger lady, but with his wife, it is mature love and there is no pretense. At that level, they know each other so well; they know how to control their affairs. At that particular point in time the love matures; instead of decreasing, it increases.

Are you saying that intimacy actually gets better at 50?

At that age, they need understanding, wisdom, and most times the woman ages faster than the husband. The wife above 50 is getting into menopause, most times the men are stronger than the wife, so the husband has to carry the woman along at that time, and most women feel rejected. This is why the man should make the woman more comfortable.

There was a seminar we had sometime ago called 'Renewing the Marriage'. Women should not say they are over 50 or in menopause and therefore not make use of their lives again. Life is supposed to start at 50 because this is the time - if one is lucky - so much stress about children is no more there. Most times, when the couple abandon themselves like that, certain health issues come up. Intimacy and love both have soothing therapy that could heal. At above 50, when the couples are not happy with each other, ill-health starts coming up.

Some women feel they can do without a man, and develop that 'I don't care' attitude. When one gets over 50 or 60, there's a lot of regret because at that particular time, you need a companion. A companion is not just anybody, but someone you have lived with all along. Intimacy has a medical therapy on the person. This is the time they explore common interests among them. Going to church together, having a holiday, reading together, there must be an area of interest.

When you don't have anything in common that would interest both of you that is when life becomes boring. The topic of discussion should be an area of interest. That area of interest should be developed; you should try to show interest in what interests the other person. At this particular time it's a blessing for a couple to pray together and go for worship together and read newspapers together, there shouldn't be conflict of interest in order to make life after 50 interesting.

If their life is not interesting, they go to the grave earlier than they should. The couple at age 60, 70, even 80 should still be intimate with each other. Both my parents are still alive, they are aging and in my place people talk about them. They are so much together, my father still drives at the age of 80 and you must see his wife beside him. They are still together. I can tell you it removes a lot of illnesses from them because they are not sick. They are supposed to be sickly, but they are still having good time together, everywhere they go they go together, but if they don't have anything in common to talk about, you see them bitter and angry, and bitterness and anger brings lack of interest and early deaths.

Men often tend to look outside their home for fun. What advice can you give to woman to enable them sustain and strengthen marital intimacy?

I tell women most of the time that it is a competitive world, and you are competing to retain your man with somebody outside. When the man goes out he sees other women. So, it is your duty to compete with the other woman. How does the woman do that? She should try to make the home conducive. There should be a good communication channel.

You see, a lot of women don't communicate with their husbands. There should be a communication channel in the home. I'm a busy person, but everyday my husband knows where I am at any particular point in time because all through the night or in the morning, we discuss. In the African culture, you find that women rarely talk about sex with their husbands, unlike the Western women. But the fact is that two basic things keep a man at home: sex and good food. These are the two basic things that men normally go out to look for.

Most times after marriage, women begin to think like this - he is now my husband. During courtship they try to do anything to keep the man, but after marriage they believe they now own the man. Because they married in the church and did traditional wedding, they believe they can never derail. Most of the women I counsel say that in their home they are not comfortable, they don't enjoy their husbands. I tell them to be open to their spouses. The husband and wife should be open to each other concerning the issue of sex.

Women should be brave to discuss sex with their husbands. After all, he is your husband, if it is an issue that requires seeing a medical doctor you two can go. For example, if a man goes on a trip maybe, one week or two. When that man is coming back from that trip, two things are uppermost in his mind, to eat home-cooked food and have good sex with his wife. But you find that some women do not get this message. When the man comes in to find food on his table, after eating, he goes straight to the bedroom, waiting for the woman to come. But that is the time the woman would remember to do all the washings in the house, clean the kitchen, etc. and the man is there waiting.

After sometime he sleeps off. The very next morning he is going to his girlfriend's house, if he has one. She should know that this man has just come back from his trip; all she needs to do is give him good food, and lie with him and talk about his trip, discuss what he went through, everything and laugh over it. You should have done those house chores before he came back, take a good bath and wear your nice, sexy lingerie, dab good perfume on your body and wait for him. But in this part of the world, it is not discussed because of our culture.

The way we are brought up, sex is never discussed and there is a lot of damage to marriages due to this. In my NGO, we talk to women about this and make them realize that sex is breaking most homes. That boyfriend you had that later married you, let him continue to be your boyfriend. My husband and I have been married for 30 years. In fact, if he goes out on a trip or I go out, I would be jotting some things in my diary. If he comes back or I come back we are going to talk all through the night. We will talk and talk and talk - this is what marriage is supposed to be.

No matter how busy you are, you must try as much as possible to take care of your husband and prepare his meal. I try to prepare my husband's meals myself. I have people that can do it, but the things I do for him make him feel happier, and he loves me more. I put wifely hands on those things. Make the home and environment neat and conducive.

Make yourself beautiful. People always tell me my husband is fashionable, that is what my husband wants, he's proud of me anywhere we go because he knows his wife must look special, fine and neat. Keep to shape; it takes me a lot of exercise to keep to shape. Because if I become obese and fat, he may not like that and he could stray. These are the things that sustain marital intimacy through the years, especially after menopause.