Prioritizing Passion: How To Stay Stoked

Couples can keep their relationship fires burning, even after years of marriage. But they have to consciously and deliberately make it happen. It doesn't happen by default, no matter how much in love you were in the beginning.
11/06/2012 11:26 am ET Updated Jan 06, 2013

My husband and I were out to dinner the other night, and as usual we were having a great time people-watching. We became enthralled with observing how different couples interacted with each other (or didn't) and trying to guess who was dating or newly-married, who had been married a long time, and who might be on the cusp of moving from "married awhile" to "married a long time." Although technology has made our little game harder than ever because so many people are on their smartphones or tablets while they sit at dinner, I do think our speculations were still pretty accurate.

As we started discussing what happens to the "couple" part of a relationship as it develops, we realized that the couples we saw having dinner out together were at least making some effort. I mean, what about all those couples who go from that can't-breathe-without-you stage of love to not even bothering to go out together at all? (And then there are those poor souls as I mentioned who go out but can't seem to look up from their smartphones, which seems worse than staying home!) Is there any hope for them? Spending time together as a couple is clearly a critical issue these days, for all sorts of reasons. So let me share with you where we went with our discussion -- starting with falling in love.

Remember the excitement of new love? The thrill of knowing tonight's the night, and you can't stop thinking about seeing him again? You've planned exactly what you're going to wear, all the way down to your nail polish, because everything has to be just right. While you may try to stay focused at work, you keep daydreaming about your date. I wonder where we're going? you ponder. What will we talk about? You think about his kisses and find yourself smiling. You start tingling all over just remembering his touch, his caress. It just doesn't get better than this, does it? Falling in love with that one special person is absolutely electrifying.

OK, I can hear all you cynics out there telling me that yes, while new love is grand, maintaining that smoking-hot passion is impossible over the long term. And I also hear all you newlyweds or soon-to-be newlyweds who are insisting, "We'll be the exception. We'll make a point of keeping the excitement alive -- no matter what!" Believe it or not, you both can be right -- or very wrong. It all depends on you and your spouse. Couples can keep their relationship fires burning, even after years of marriage. But they have to consciously and deliberately make it happen. It doesn't happen by default, no matter how much in love you were in the beginning.

The reality is that the magic you experienced in those early days of dating fades when, like most couples, you get caught up in day-to-day life, doing what you need to do to just survive the day -- grocery shopping, cooking dinner, doing housework, getting children to gynamstics or soccer...the list seems endless. And of course, all those duties are necessary and important, but unfortunately they take up more of our time and energy than we'd like them to. Sound familiar?

So your ability to focus on just you and your spouse as a couple often gets lost. It falls between the cracks. And what you find instead are all the excuses that allow you to justify putting the "couple" part of you on the back burner. You've probably caught yourself saying, "We'll skip going out just this once and do it later in the month" (and then it never happens). Or maybe you say, "I'll be there in a minute. I just need to finish this one thing..." And then you tell yourself, "Well, I'm sure he understands. After all, he's just as busy as I am!" The excuses can go on and on. But no matter how justified you think you are, you simpy have to make keeping the magic alive a priority. You have to plan and follow through. Because if you don't, well...enough said.

Three simple steps can help you make that happen. They're simple, but they're not necessarily easy. They take commitment from both you and your spouse. But they're well worth the effort. Here goes:

1. Schedule at least two date nights a month. Once a week would be better, but start with two times a month and work your way up to once a week. Insist on two important ground rules for date night: No smartphones or tablets and no conversations about kids or work (unless work is part of your goal setting, which we'll get to in a moment). Find other things to talk about -- get to know each other all over again. Neither of you are exactly the same person the other first fell in love with. You've both grown and matured. So allow your partner to be part of your personal evolution and allow yourself to be part of his.

2. Discuss your deepest desires by establishing short-term and long-range goals as individuals, as a couple, and as a family. Once a year, take some time away from all your other responsibilities so you and your spouse can talk about these different goals, the steps you'll need to take to make them happen, and how you can help each other achieve them. Afterall, it's easier to reach your goals if you support each other -- and if you make sure you're not unwittingly working against each other, as well. But more importantly, opening up to one another about what you most want in life can be a very emotionally intimate experience. So go for it! Don't hold back.

3. Establish a monthly desire debriefing. Sit down together (maybe over a nice dinner out) and talk about the headway you're making toward achieving all these goals. Is there something your spouse could help you with that would make reaching your goals easier? Is there something you could help him with? Do you need to re-evaluate your goals? What are each of you feeling good about in this process? Checking in once a month increases the likelihood that you'll reach your goals, and it ensures you'll be regularly connecting at a deep and meaningful level. It certainly trumps talking about your toddler's penchant for putting peas up his nose. Trust me on this.

By following these three simple steps, you will not only re-define yourself as a couple, but you'll also help ensure that as you grow and evolve, you'll keep traveling in the same direction instead of growing apart. Chances are, you'll also end up re-establishing why you're together, and why you still want to be together, year after year. It's like falling in love with the same person all over again. Now that's sexy!