Val Baldwin, CPC
Live Your Ultimate Life

Any relationship expert will tell you that the key to staying in love is being willing to work at it, which can make it sound like it's no fun at all. But the "work" of a relationship shouldn't be dull and something you hate to do. It should be the kind of fun "work" you put into anything you love like cooking, jogging, fixing cars or gardening. The challenge is finding the time to do that work.

I like to compare relationships to gardens. Think what a garden would look like in 2 years with no maintenance or upkeep. It would be a disaster! It’s the same with your relationship. It’s critical to put the time and effort along the way to keep it healthy and growing. Couples expect that they’ll get to a place where things are predictable and stable. But things will always change, and that’s what also makes the relationship exciting and alive.

So how much quality time do you and your partner need? It's a tricky question, as almost everyone’s needs are different. One person always wants more time alone, while the other wants to spend more time together. It's key that you honor each other's needs and come to a compromise that will work for both of you. If each partner is willing to give a bit, and agree that you need some quiet time with each other each day, you've got a good start.

I know how fortunate I am to say that my husband and I have been married for over 25 years and the guy can still take my breath away. Has it always been easy? NO. Does it take continual effort? YES. Is it worth it? ABSOLUTELY!

To help you create your own formula for relationship success, here are 6 tried and true secrets for staying in love, including one favorite secret of my own.

1. Humor is Priceless. Val and Matt – married 25 years.

Our Secret to Staying in Love: Couples who laugh a lot together build up a “love reserve” of happy times that carry them through the rough times. When your partner does something irritating you find yourself saying “what the heck, I’m just going to let it go. It’s not worth it. He/she might be acting pretty lame right now but I know they’re really a good person.” You remember the funny remark you laughed at together earlier in the day and you can let the annoying things go much easier.

Advice to Other Couples: Create funny times together. To build that “love reserve” through humor, you need to consciously develop your sense of humor so you can look to the funny side of life when things get tough. Go see funny movies together, go to a comedy club, learn some jokes and learn to laugh at yourself. If you can recall those funny times together, it keeps a smile on your face and good thoughts about your partner.

2. Show and Tell. Greg and Aliza - married 2 ½ years.

Our Secret to Staying in Love: Aliza and her man find small but meaningful ways to stay connected, like giving each other foot rubs and taking a quiet walk each morning. "We hold hands in bed when we wake up and at night before falling asleep. Just that small gesture of connection really keeps us feeling close," says Aliza.

Advice to Other Couples: Say, "I love you." Aliza says you can never say this too much. "We were both in previous relationships where we never said 'I love you' to our partners. Now we can't get enough or give enough of those three words," she says.

3. Develop an Attitude of Gratitude. Kevin and Joy – married 9 years.

Our Secret to Staying in Love: Kevin and Joy make sure to kiss for 10 full seconds. "It's amazing how this little tip has made our relationship closer," says Kevin.

Advice to Other Couples: Let your spouse know that they're appreciated. "When I take actions that say, 'Thank you,' it strengthens our romance," says Kevin, explaining that small gifts like flowers or a surprise day at the spa make Joy feel his gratitude.

4. Adults Only Time. Katie and Eric - married 7 years.

Our Secret to Staying in Love: Not making it all about the kids. "We're consumed and smitten with our two daughters, but we know that they will grow up and it will just be us two again,” says Katie, who says that having children has actually improved their sex life, as it makes their time alone together more precious.

Advice to Other Couples: Have a standing date night, and take vacations without the kids. " Even if it’s just a long weekend together without children, it gives you the love boost to remember why you married that person in the first place.”

5. Hello E-Mail! Amanda and Justin – married 4 years.

Our Secret to Staying in Love: Because Justin is in his medical residency, Justin and Amanda have to deal with being apart for long stretches of time, even living in separate cities for a while. To bridge the gulf, they started e-mailing each other lists of all the times that they missed each other, that is, times when they've been apart and realized how much they longed to hear the other's laugh, or see their smile. "We keep many of them now, and can reference them if we ever get into a big fight," says Amanda.

Advice to Other Couples: Don't be joined at the hip. "Too many couples get into this weird dynamic where they let their friends or interests they had pre-marriage simply disintegrate when they get married," says Amanda, who says the ample time they each get with their friends keeps them fresh for each other.

6. How Do You Feel Loved? Diane and Aaron – married 25 years.

Our Secret to Staying in Love: Understanding what he/she needs to feel loved. "My husband prefers that we do activities together. Even if it's just watching a movie, he prefers to watch it lying on the couch with his head in my lap. I express my love for my family by doing things for them -- making dinner, folding their clothes unexpectedly," says Dianne, who feels loved when her husband does these thing for her, too.

Advice to Other Couples: Study your partner, and see what he or she responds to. "A man who responds well to compliments will also visibly shrink from a harsh word, so he needs extra care when his spouse speaks to him," says Dianne.

Of course, all couples must find their own "secret" and what works best for them. And that's the fun of it. Marriages will always have their highs and lows times, but that’s what makes it an adventure. Invest the time, keep an open attitude, keep a sense of humor, look for win-win compromises and never forget what made you fall in love with your partner in the first place. Do this and you’ll be building a healthy foundation for staying in love forever..

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