Everyone wants to keep the spark alive in their relationship. But as time goes on, couples can get stuck in a rut.  Perhaps that’s why we look to Valentine’s Day with excitement and hope – it’s a special time when we can inject something fresh into our relationships.

We look to Valentine’s Day with excitement and hope – it’s a special time when we can inject something fresh into our relationships.

I wanted to know how people can do that throughout the years, and not just on a special day. So I went to the real “experts,” interviewing hundreds of people who had been married 40, 50, 60 years and more. Here are their secrets for keeping the spark alive – whether you’ve been together for seven years or seventy.

We look to Valentine’s Day with excitement and hope – it’s a special time when we can inject something fresh into our relationships.

1. Do the Unusual

People get in to fixed leisure habits – they go dancing or to the movies, watch TV at home, and maybe spend the occasional week or two away at a resort. And that’s not enough, according to the elders. They want you to have experiences together that are outside your normal routine, and preferably with a challenge involved. Thru an outdoor adventure where you are forced to step out of your comfort zone. 

Robert, age 68, suggests a service project: “Go on a work camp together or something like that, where you see each other all muddy and dirty doing stuff. Do some things that are out of your normal routine and put it to the test.”

2. Do Your Partner’s Chore

The elders say that if you want to put some relationship credit “in the bank,” try spontaneously taking over a chore for your mate (especially if it’s an odious one). He usually cleans out the garage? Do it for him as a surprise. She takes the dog out in the morning? When Fido is scratching at the door and there’s a blizzard outside, you get up and take him. Small and positive things like this, the elders say, make a huge difference over the years.

3. Give Compliments

Showing admiration and appreciation for your partner is, according to the elders, one of the best actions you should take. In fact, one of the most the most common regrets about marriage was not complimenting one’s partner enough. 

As Janice, 83, put it “One thing that I would do differently is I would try to be more affectionate and demonstrative.” So try simply upping the number of nice things you say about your partner. According to the elders, it can create a cascade of positive interactions that will improve and enliven your marriage.

4. Remember How to Have Fun

From hundreds of interviews, I learned that one of the worst things is when a couple forgets how to have fun. You probably had fun when you were dating; the elders want you to remember what that was like – and start doing it again. 

As one elder told me: “Try to think of your relationship as a lifetime date!” One tip: Have a “date night” once a week where you get back into the habit of having fun.

5. Forgive Something

Long and happily married couples often made forgiving one another a top lesson for marriage. In their view, forgiveness does not happen just once or twice in a long relationship, but it should become a regular practice. Because over and over, they told me that no one is perfect. It is impossible to live together for decades and not aggravate, hurt, or upset your spouse. As Cyril, 70, put it: “Be quick to apologize and quick to forgive.”

6. Reach Out

Many long-married couples told me that a secret to maintaining the love in their relationship is sharing it with others. Engaging together in volunteer service activities greatly enhanced their marriages, providing them not only with shared experiences but also with a common sense of purpose and meaning. They frequently described such service as a natural extension of their affection and commitment to one another – a desire to share with others the joy they find with one another.

7. Disconnect from Your Electronic Devices

According to the elders, staying connected 24/7 to your laptop, tablet, or Smartphone is hard on your relationship. As Darren, 77, told me: “I see so many people today, they come home after working all day and then they get on the computer and work half the night. It is really hurting marriages badly.” 

According to the elders, when you look back from the end of the journey that is marriage, you’re not likely to say: “If only I’d spent more time online…” Try a weekend, a day, or even just an evening with your only connection to one another.

8. Do the Unexpected

One reason the spark can die, the elders say, is predictability. So to keep a relationship interesting over 60 or 70 years, the experts offer this tip: Every once in a while, do the unexpected. That’s what Larry, 86, told me: “I think you’re missing something if you don’t do something different every now and then. You know, don’t make it same old same old!”  Plan surprises – from a spontaneous trip to an unexpected gift.

A sense of adventurous play characterized the marriages of elders who successfully maintained passionate relationships into the later years. A good lesson for Valentine’s Day!