How to put romance back into marriage

Reader's Digest Editors

Keeping romance alive takes a little planning and a lot of ingenuity. Kids, work, community activities, and the temptation to take your spouse for granted after all these years together work against the sense of excitement you both need. Here's how to keep the flame alive:

A funny thing happened when Kimberly and Gary Jordan made a conscious effort to put their marriage first. They felt happier. And their sons, Isaiah and Zachary, loved it.

“I really had to get my bearings with this,” says Kimberly. “I wasn’t quite sure we’d gotten the balance of romance and family right until I saw our boys respond so well. It brings a sense of stability and joy. They’re very interested in where we go for our dates and what we do together. When we haven’t gone out for a while, they tell us it’s time for a date! They love it when we kiss and hug too. And my youngest son says he cannot wait to get married! I think we’ve shown them a very positive view of marriage!”

The Jordans have regular dates several times each month. They take turns setting up their outings, often surprising each other with trips to unexpected restaurants. “We don’t want to grow apart and then have to rediscover each other during the empty-nest years,” notes Gary. “If we continue to nurture our marriage along the way, we’ll be stronger for it and so will our children. They’ll grow up seeing what a loving, committed, secure marriage looks like." 

 

1. Schedule regular date nights

schedule in date night

In the first year after their son Zachary was born, the Jordans went out just twice. “I was more vocal about wanting us to spend time alone together, but Kimberly couldn’t seem to leave her little bitty baby,” says Gary.

Agrees Kimberly: “I was very focused on Zach the first year. He went everywhere with us. But by the time our second son, Isaiah came along 20 months later, I was more relaxed. And I realised my husband was still there—and he needed my attention. I needed his too.”

Now the Jordans date several times a month, even if it’s just a trip to a local bookstore for a cup of coffee, a chat, and time to browse the shelves.

“We need our time alone,” Kimberly says. “It’s a gift to be able to let my husband know he’s still so special to me!”

Read more: How to reinvigorate date night

 

2. Ask early and often: Do you feel loved?

Don Howard and his wife, Teresa Titus-Howard, randomly ask each other, “How’s your love tank?” throughout the week. “We want to know if each other’s love tank—how loved we feel—is full, half-full, or getting near empty,” says Teresa. “And we do things for each other to keep our tanks filled up. It could be a card or an e-mail, a hug or a kiss. It’s a quick, simple way to feel close and very, very happy with each other.”

The Howards aren’t shy about sharing when their tanks are dangerously low, either. “One day Teresa left me a voice mail at work, saying her love tank was pretty low. I got her a dozen roses and a card,” Don says.

“It’s good that we do this—I could go on thinking things are just fine when my partner needs something. And I don’t take it personally. Other things in her life could be draining her sense of being loved, such as the stresses of work."

 

3. Do that thing you used to do

Revive the pastimes the two of you loved best during your courtship days or early marriage.

Pull out the music you enjoyed together and dance in the dining room. Go canoeing. Play Scrabble. Wear your sexiest lingerie under a dress when you go out to dinner—and let him know. Eat Chinese food in bed. Have bread, cheese, wine, and kisses by the fire.

 

4. Got kids? Get a babysitter

keep romance alive

A calm, mature, trustworthy babysitter is worth her—or his—weight in gold. And finding one can be as challenging as prospecting for that precious metal. Ask neighbours, friends, and relatives for leads. Nervous? Test-drive a new sitter by letting her or him care for your child for an hour or two while you’re nearby in the house or the yard. Branch out the next time to a short foray away from home.

Find out what the local pay rate is; once you’ve got a solid relationship with a great sitter, reward them and cement your relationship by paying a bit more than the going rate.

Even better than one babysitter: Develop a stable of two or three to boost your odds that one will be available when you need a date night.

 

5. Get away for the night, or the weekend, or the whole week…

Quiet sex is okay. So is afternoon sex or sex when the kids are out for the evening. But nothing beats unhurried, loud, whenever-you-want-it sex, followed by a cuddle, a nap, a shower, more lovemaking, a wonderful walk.

For this luxury of uninterrupted time, you need to get away—or find a trusted friend, relative, or overnight camp so that the kids can get away.

“We went to Florida last December for a running and walking marathon event,” Don Howard says. “It was exciting and really helped our marriage. I was amazed by how that weekend, just two nights alone together, really recharged us.”

 

5. Date at home

Don’t overlook pockets of child-free time at home. Instead of watching TV, doing the dishes, or catching up on e-mail, use the hour or two while your baby naps or your older child is at school or an after-school event to get together with your spouse. Or take advantage of the natural shift in your teenager’s sleep pattern (they go to bed later and wake up later). Enjoy a Saturday morning date while your teen snoozes.

What to do on your time together? Make love. Have lunch together and ban talk about the kids, the house, and the finances. After your kids go to sleep, slip out to the deck or patio for a glass of wine and a little stargazing.

“One of the best things we devised when our children were at home was the home date,” says Susan Vogt. “We’d strategise ways to be really awake after they all went to bed. Sometimes we’d take turns taking naps during the day so we wouldn’t be too exhausted to make love. As our children grew older, the trick was figuring out how to have the whole date before they got home from their activities in the evening!”

Read more: How to make perfect breakfast in bed

 

6. Date on the cheap

keep romance alive

Paying a babysitter can turn any date into a major financial outlay. Consider it a fixed expense and cut costs elsewhere by making the date inexpensive or even free.

The Vogts took picnics to a local park and enjoyed the view of the city lights coming on at dusk. They’d also surprise each other with romantic, offbeat dates; one of their most memorable involved driving to the local airport for an hour of people-watching.

You could hike; bike; window-shop; swim at the local pool, lake, or beach; or even go sledging or skating in winter.

 

7. Expand your definition of a date

Dressing up for a candlelit dinner is just one option. The true criterion for a date? Anything that lets you focus on each other. That could be weeding the garden while you chat amiably, a weeklong trip to Bermuda, or 10 minutes over morning coffee.

Research shows that while women tend to want more conversation with their mates, men would like to do something together. Find the happy medium: Combine the two in a fun activity that allows you the freedom to talk at the same time.

 

8. Keep it romantic and fun

Resist the urge to settle relationship issues or hash out problems with finances, kids, the house, or the cars. For busy couples, it’s tempting to use any scrap of free time together to tick something else off your endless to-do list. Don’t do it!

Remind yourself that this is sacred couple time. Laugh. Play. Find out how each of you is really doing emotionally. Connect. The to-do list can wait.

 

Four perfect date ideas:

1. The 15-minute outing for new parents

While one parent gets baby settled for a nap or bed, the other makes tea or pours wine and puts together a plate of little snacks. Pick the most pleasant, straightened-up spot in your home or retreat to the deck or backyard with the baby monitor. Sip, munch, cuddle, converse. You get bonus points for not talking about the baby.

 

2. The exhausted-on-Friday-night date

Take turns napping after dinner. Once the kids are in bed, pop in a video or DVD and snuggle together for a late night on the couch. Don’t answer the phone or check e-mail.

 

keep romance alive

 

3. The early-morning date for busy spouses

Buy frozen waffles or any other easy-to-prepare yet special breakfast food, such as frozen berries, heat-and-serve bacon, or your favourite sticky buns and special dark-roast coffee beans.

Set the table the night before, then set your alarm clock for 45 minutes earlier than usual. Get up together and sneak downstairs for an early-morning tête-à-tête before the day gets away from you.

 

4. The blast-from-the-past anniversary date

Revive passion and romance with a return to an old courtship haunt. Have pizza in the park where you planned your wedding one hot summer day.

Go back to the place where you got engaged—whether it was a beautiful, windswept beach or the fanciest restaurant in town. Take along a tape of the songs you listened to at that time and play it in the car.