I’ve been married 30 years as of last November. My husband and I were wildly in love and spent every possible minute together while dating and for the first two years of marriage. We were young, relaxed and happy. Our careers were busy, but satisfying. Then we started a family…which was amazing, but completely changed our relationship. Our careers were building and required more attention. We had many more expenses, and little time for sleep or each other, but worked hard to try to keep the romance alive in our marriage whenever possible. Now were are older, but with the kids grown we are once again relaxed and happy. Unfortunately, we seem to be the exception and not the rule.
Marriage is easy when life is easy.
However, life is not always easy as we all know- and keeping romance alive when exhausted and busy is hard. In our house, most of our disagreements were about parenting. Others say their arguments were primarily about money. People come into a marriage with different experiences and perspectives, so conflict is inevitable. Working through the tough times can lead to many happy later years together, but it does take effort and patience.
Here are some suggestions that helped my husband and I keep the romance alive in our marriage over the years:
1. Show your appreciation every day. Yes, every day. Not just on birthdays and Valentine’s Day. From morning until night, couples have the opportunity to offer words of affirmation, appreciation and adoration to one another. The cues can be anything from a wink to a kiss to a smile. Ask yourself every day, “What can I do to celebrate my partner today?”.
2. Surprise your partner. Small surprises can make an ordinary day seem special. It doesn’t need to be expensive or even cost anything. Leave a loving post-it note on the fridge or in your partner’s pocket or bring them coffee (or breakfast if you have time!) in bed.
3. Carve out time to be together. The excitement of a new relationship makes time together a top priority, but when we become comfortable, time to be together becomes a lower priority. It’s touch to find pockets of time when working and raising a family, but don’t underestimate the importance. My husband and I decided to hire a standing babysitter every Saturday night to force us to go out. Sometimes we were too busy during the week to make plans, and too exhausted to feel like going out, but when the babysitter showed up, out we went. Often we were out only an hour or two at a casual dinner, but always came back refreshed and feeling caught up with each other’s lives.
4. Don’t go to the movies. If you are fortunate enough to have some time out by yourselves, make sure you go somewhere where you can talk. Sitting next to someone in a theater is a waste of a good opportunity to reconnect.
5. Take turns planning dates. One partner should not shoulder all the planning and organizing, which can lead to resentment. Also, planning dates alternatively gives each person a chance to think about what the other might like to do.
6. Change your routine: Routines and schedules are important in life sometimes, but you can easily break them! Mix things up when you can. Doing new things together releases oxytocin in the brain, which is one of the chemicals that makes us feel tingly when a relationship is fresh.
7. Take a class together. Learning something new together will help you get out of a rut and make you both feel more connected. It might even help you discover parts of your relationship that you forgot about. Try a cooking class a tennis lesson or a stargazing event.
8. Don’t criticize your partner in public. Not when you are with him, which can be humiliating, or when you are not, which is disloyal. If you have a problem with your partner, talk it out together. You may work things out and forget about the issue after venting, but those listening may not. Actually, don’t criticize your partner in private either; communicating how you feel is not the same as criticism.
9. Spend 30 minutes a day just talking. There are probably hundreds of facts about your partner about which you don’t know, no matter how long you’ve known each other. Ask them questions like, “What was your nickname in high school” or “What’s on your bucket list for the next 5 years?”. Ask “How was your day?” every day. Conversation helps couples maintain deep connections. Try not to wait until ready to go to sleep when one or both of you might be too tired to talk.
10. Do chores. Many people feel loved and cared for when their partners help out around the house. I love when my husband helps out without being asked. He tends not to notice what needs to be done and I sometimes feel resentful. Once I communicated my feelings, he worked harder to notice and participate more in chores. The workload is still not equal, but that’s OK. The extra effort is appreciated very much.
11. Remember what first sparked your love. Doing so helps you appreciate where you are now as a couple. If possible, go back to the place you first met to reminisce.
12. Give up a grudge. Resentment kills romance and builds a wall between partners. Communicate often and make forgiveness a priority. Your partner may have no idea you are upset about something they do.
13. Have a lazy weekend together. Pick a day to just do nothing with your partner. These lazy days will bring you closer.
14. Do more things together. These don’t have to be grand gestures. Try to go to bed at the same time and eat a meal together every day. Play cards, a trivia game or backgammon once a week, just the two of you. Anything to stay connected.
15. Be intimate. Touch is essential in an intimate relationship. If you do not want your partner to touch you, try to figure out what’s going on and work on it. Intimacy is not negotiable in a healthy, long-term partnership;intimacy is about connection, openness and vulnerability, so fostering healthy and consistent communication is important.
Bottom line: Stay connected to your partner by staying present. Listen carefully to what they say and really “hear” what they are saying. Commit to regular communication and time to be together. These suggestions will help keep intimacy alive long-term. It doesn’t just happen – we all need to do the work!