An older couple hugging each other

Keeping the Romance Alive After Decades Of Marriage

How to Make a Relationship Last

What is romance? How do people who have been together for decades define it? Better yet, how do they live it? Many people ask these questions when they want to know how to make a relationship last.

There are tons of articles suggesting ways you can go about keeping romance alive in a relationship, but most of what I have read revolves around scheduling. And that’s okay, if that’s what you want to do. But that’s not for me, nor is it for most of the people I spoke with for this article.

I invited some of my married friends to come over for a round table discussion. They thought the topic was going to be politics; if I had said romance, I was pretty sure I’d have lost most of the men, and a few of the women, too!

After a few cocktails and lots of hors d’oeuvres, I posed this question:

What do you do to keep romance alive in your marriage?

Scheduling Time for Each Other

Most of these couples have been married upwards of 35 years, which, in this day and age, is a feat in and of itself! I figured if anyone could answer this question, they could.

The majority agreed that their working adult lives were based around schedules: work, kids, play, etc. They had no choice. And more than 90% said that now their kids are grown and gone and they’re either retired, or close to it, they don’t want to live by schedules anymore.

When they were young, with young kids, they had to schedule date nights. “With five kids under the age of 9 running around, we had to schedule alone time… and it was rare,” said Mike S. “Now that the kids are gone and we’re both retired, we can do things on a more spur of the moment basis.”

Alice A. told me, “Romance now is definitely not the same as it was when we were in our 20s and 30s. In many ways, it’s much more comfortable and natural. For us, it’s something as simple as watching TV together, holding hands and being under the same throw.”

The Small Things Matter

What Tammy S. has realized is that as she’s gotten older (and as she says, better!) is that romance doesn’t need to be staged. “It’s more the thought behind the action that counts,” she said. I know exactly what she means.

Anytime my fiance Karl does something for me that’s practical, like doing the grocery shopping or laundry without my asking.

I find that very romantic, because it’s taken something off my “to do” list.

Most people probably wouldn’t classify this under the “romantic” category, but I do. He’s made the effort to show me that he knows how to make my life easier. It isn’t sexy, but it is romantic.

Spending Time Together

Terry Z. said she and her husband keep their romance alive by cooking together. “I love to cook and experiment with recipes. Jerry indulges me by helping – chopping onions, slicing and dicing, even though cooking definitely isn’t his favorite thing to do.”

“Side by side in the kitchen, with a good bottle of wine, small talk and fantastic smells emanating… now that’s romantic. It’s also romantic when he happily eats something that’s not all that good!”

And what does she do to reciprocate? “I watch golf with him. Not my favorite thing to do, but I know he likes it when I keep him company.”

Having Alone Time is Important, Too

I asked these couples what happens when one or the other is not in a romantic mood. Does it affect their relationship?

“Romance is like the ebb and flow of the tide. It comes and goes,” said Tammy S., who’s been married for 52+ years. She said there are days when she wants to be alone, and on those days she hibernates in her studio and paints.

Her husband Arnold understands. On those days, he says, “I do something I know Tammy wouldn’t enjoy, but which I like.”

They both agreed that when they “come together again, it’s spectacular!”

And no, it doesn’t appear to have affected their relationship negatively. As a matter of fact, all of my married friends said that their spouse understanding the need to have time to themselves was romantic. And they all feel it’s made them better partners.

They each expressed the need for honesty in the relationship and admitted that there are days when one or the other just doesn’t want to make the effort to be romantic. That was totally okay; there were no recriminations, and they felt that was loving in and of itself.

As Ellen M. said, “After 48 years of marriage, if Allen makes me a cup of tea in the evening, without my asking, that’s romantic to me.”

Where People Find Romance

I asked each person to write down what the most romantic thing was that their spouse had done for them in the past five years. Here are some of the things they wrote:

  1. She surprised me by packing a picnic lunch, blindfolding me and driving to where we had our first date. We laid out a blanket, ate a delicious lunch, and then she read me some poetry she had written over the years about our marriage.
  2. My wife does romantic things all the time, so I can’t pinpoint one particular thing. For example, she’ll write funny notes for me and put them in my shorts. Or she takes my car to be washed while I’m out on the golf course. She makes my favorite dish for dinner once a week, even though she hates it.
  3. My husband, bless his soul, lets me take over the remote. If that isn’t romantic, I don’t know what is!
  4. My husband gives me an “IOU” book every few months filled with things I love and appreciate… a one-hour backrub, a bubble bath with candlelight and wine, dinner he makes any two nights of my choosing… just to name a few.
  5. We make it a point never to go to sleep without holding hands and kissing goodnight.
  6. When we’re not together, my husband will text me funny messages that absolutely make me laugh out loud.
  7. We make it a point to always kiss hello and goodbye… and I don’t mean a peck on the cheek either!

What it boils down to is that for my friends, years of being together has brought them an easy intimacy that comes without effort. They said they couldn’t imagine being as intimate with anyone else as they are with their spouse.

That’s not to say that they haven’t experienced ups and downs – of course they have. It wouldn’t be normal if they hadn’t. But like Tammy said, romance ebbs and flows.