What does it take to keep love alive?

Well, I guess I’m somewhat of an expert.

I’ve been married for almost 32 years. I dated my husband for 4 years before we married. I knew him in high school, 2 years before we started dating. Yep, I’ve known him most of my life.

This past weekend, we went out with a large group of people – some married, some not. But one guy looked at us at one point and told us we were his role models – he wants nothing more than to be a man married for over 30 years to a woman he still adores.

He’s only halfway there – 15 years is still a significant accomplishment. But still, a lot can happen in 15 years.

Relationships are never easy. They take work. I always laugh at books and movies that end when the ring is finally on the finger, and they’ve walked down the aisle. That’s the easy part! The most challenging part of the relationship is still to come!

Relationships take work. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a fun experience. Even after almost four decades together, I still adore my husband. And I’ve found some secrets to making sure this is so.

1. We’ve always put us first.

We do a lot together. We enjoy being together. So it’s never a question of what we’ll be doing in our spare time.

We try and take a walk at the end of the day, to share our problems, our dreams, and our goals.

We do something to celebrate every weekend. We love taking long drives. Or visiting wineries. Or going on a hike. Whatever the weather allows, we make sure we do something that will enable us to be together.

We don’t do things without checking in with the other. I’m not saying we don’t have our own lives too. But we’re very respectful about our time together. If I want to take a class, attend a seminar, or even spend some time alone, I make sure he knows my plans so he can make his own.

No matter what we do, we know we’re in this together. So we make sure the other is well informed about our direction.

2. We live for texting!

I hate to admit this, but I originally thought texting was stupid. I avoided it for years. But one day I discovered just how fun it could be. And the person I have the most fun with it is … yep, it’s my husband.

We have secret words for all kinds of things. Little emojis we’ve built meaning into. Little sayings only we understand.

I can type any of those at any point in the day and put a smile on his face. So I save them for when I think he needs it the most.

Texting is like our own secret language. And I love telling him I love him, or even putting him in the mood with just a few pictures or words that only he knows.

3. We dress for success.

You’ve heard the one that says you should dress for the job you want someday? Well, we both dress for the relationship we really want to have.

I work at home. I don’t have a reason to dress up most days.

But when we go out, just the two of us, I make sure I look the best I can be. I invest in clothes I enjoy and make me feel sexy. My lingerie drawer is equally as important; it’s filled with things we’ll both enjoy.

I want to look my best for him. But I also want to do it for me. Because when I’m feeling my best, I know I’ll be my best … for him. And he does the same for me.

4. We are continually trying new things.

What are you doing this weekend …

How many times have you heard that from friends and family? For most, it’s just an arbitrary question.

But when people ask us, they know they’re going to be surprised at the answer. Because we’re always finding new things to try. And we’re almost always on the road, going someplace new for a unique experience.

It might be a tour. Or a hike to a waterfall. It might be to take in a museum. Or a new restaurant everyone is raving about. How about a trip on a pirate ship? Or a journey to a new city to take in a play or a concert?

Newness gives us more to talk about. It also gives us memories we build on. Nothing is better than saying: You remember when we … Yep, we’re always building that “secret” language between us.

5. We plan our future. What do we both want in it?

It’s difficult enough for an individual to build plans for the future. When it’s two of you, it’s twice as hard.

I remember when I first went to Andrew with my wild idea of slow traveling the world. I wanted to sell off my forever home, and make travel a serious part of our lives.

It took a lot of talking and planning, but eventually, we aligned our goals.

Right now, we’re working on our 50 to 60 plan – we sat down as we were turning 50 and defined what we wanted this decade to look like. We’ve modified it. We’ve changed it as we’ve discovered new wants and desires. Of course, we’ve gone off track a time or two as well.

But because we have that plan in place, every time we’re talking about the future, we ask how it relates to our 50 to 60 goals. And in most cases, it helps us solidify our plans even more.

We see that common endpoint, and we keep each other on track to reach it.

6. We eliminate the problems.

Let’s face it, you can’t be married for as long as we have and not had a few rough patches. When you’re 24/7 with someone for as many years as we’ve been with each other, occasionally you’re going to ruffle a few feathers.

If I could go back and tell myself one thing on my wedding day, it would be to ignore the rule of not going to bed angry. That never worked for us.

But what did work is sitting down and seeing things from the other person’s standpoint. Listening instead of talking. Understanding rather than forcing your own points.

7. Give each other permission to have an “affair”

We are solid in our commitment to each other. But we’re both fully aware of this “midlife crisis” thing, and how we both have sudden desires for “something more.”

No – I’m not talking about an open marriage. Not happening. Uh uh.

But we have given each other permission to have “just-because-I-want-it-and-I’m-not-going-to-justify-it” things in life.

A year ago, after we made the final payment on our daughter’s college, my husband started looking around for … the car. He’s always been a car guy. Me? I don’t get it. I still describe our vehicles as “the white one” or the “four door”. Yep, literally, I have no clue about makes and models. But he does, and he’s always wanted his dream car.

Call it a midlife crisis. Call it finding the “love” of his life. But why not enjoy yourself a little while we have the time and resources?

We both know our goal isn’t to stay where we are. Chances are his dream car won’t be in our lives forever. But for now, he’s having fun with his red sports car (okay, we both are.)

Just like I’ll never understand his thing for cars, he’ll never understand my thing for shoes. And that’s okay.

8. Always be thankful for every day we have together, and celebrate what we have.

Years ago, I heard the “thousand marbles” story. It was about an older man giving advice to a younger man. The younger man was busy with work, trying to make waves with his company. He missed spending time with his family, so that he could look a little better at work. So the older man told him a story.

The average person lives for about 75 years. If you multiply 75 by 52, that gives you about 3900 Saturdays in a lifetime. When this older man figured this out, he had already reached his 55th birthday. So he figured he had about 1000 Saturdays left.

He went to the store and bought 1000 marbles, and put them into a clear plastic container. Then every Saturday after that, he took out a marble and threw it away.

He found by watching the marbles disappear, it put his life into perspective. It allowed him to focus on what really mattered. He got his priorities straight.

As he said goodbye to his new friend, he explained how he would be taking his very last marble out of the container that morning. Any additional Saturdays he had from that point forward, he considered they were a gift.

I have my own marble jar sitting on my nightstand. I don’t throw them away, but I do look at them often and realize the gift I have in each day.

I know life is short. When my dad died at 54, I learned that lesson well.

So why argue with the one I love most, when there are so many more important things to do?

Happy Valentines Day!