“And they lived happily ever after” is a nice ending to a fairy tale, but in real life tying the knot is just the beginning of what will hopefully be a very long story. While the following decades may be filled with love and laughter, chances are you’ll also experience some bumps and boredom along the way.
Couples counselors, sex therapists, and matchmakers have the same ups and downs in their relationships as the rest of us—but they’ve also acquired training and expertise that most regular folks haven’t. So how do they make sure their own marriages thrive? We asked 5 pros to share their personal tactics for keeping their partners (and themselves) happy through the years. (Nothing makes you feel more loving toward others than feeling wonderful in your own skin first. Check out this younger-in-8-weeks plan from Prevention and see how to be your best self at any age.)
Keep it fresh.
- “Every year, we try to find an activity that we can do together that is new to incorporate into our lives. Over the years we’ve taken a 4-week cooking class, wine appreciation workshops, and salsa dancing classes. These activities strengthen our relationship by adding excitement and newness, and allow us to have a shared experience together.
- “My husband and I have been married for 24 years, and we spend at least 10 minutes every single day talking about something other than work, family, or who is going to do what around the house. We chat about music, movies, sports, life goals, what we are most proud of, what we regret not doing in the past, dreams, goals, aspirations, funny stories, or volunteering experiences. This allows us to continue to get to know one another.
My husband and I also take a trip together at least once a year, just the two of us. We go for at least 2 nights and 2 days and do something that we both enjoy, such as wine tasting or biking. This summer we went away for 6 days—we continue to increase the number of days the older our children are. This allows us to get out of the routine and daily hassles of our fast-paced and busy lives.”
Mix things up.
- “Plan an unexpected date night, sleep in another room together, or have a carpet picnic for dinner. It doesn’t take much effort, but research shows that spontaneity keeps couples engaged. I also urge people to limit screen time—the concept isn’t just for kids. Research shows that having digital devices in the bedroom can negatively affect your sex life and ability to sleep. [Couples have been having all kinds of fun with this 50 shades of foreplay pleasure set from Rodale’s…]
Express your gratitude.
- “In a long-term relationship, it’s easy to take one another for granted and focus on what isn’t working. On Sunday afternoons, I take out my journal and write down all of the wonderful qualities that my husband possesses and how my life is better as a result. I then tell him how grateful I am. Instantly, he’s transformed and melts like a marshmallow, and I receive more love, hugs, and kisses in return. Everyone wins! Marriage is about proactively falling in love with your mate. It doesn’t last if you don’t put effort into it and remind yourself and your partner what is so wonderful about them.”
Put each other first—even before the kids.
- “Remember that your partner is the most important person. Do not make your life all about your children, though they are very precious and important. Your kids will eventually appreciate this, because they will have happy parents who are together. It’s about making the other person a priority. We all want that.”
Take eye contact to the next level.
- “Hand-to-heart eye gazing is an exercise derived from Tantra that allows partners to reconnect in a deep emotional way while also calming themselves down. I find people are so stressed or continually pulled by their electronic devices that it’s very challenging to unplug and transition into a more intimate experience with their partner. I invite partners to take long, deeper-than-normal breaths that begin from their lower belly and end as far up their torso as possible. To literally sync up, they can time their breathing rhythm to each other’s. Try doing this every day for 5 to 10 minutes.”
- Meanwhile, make time to decompress with your own set of friends or to pursue your individual interests. Everyone needs to have a support system and some fun outside of their relationship. That way you both maintain your own identity, and no one has to feel boxed into who they are within the couple or family.”