Adventures in Marriage

Add in the unexpected to keep your marriage fresh and fun.

You don’t want to be that couple. You know the one. They sit across from each other at the restaurant and don’t talk. Maybe a murmur about what they’ve ordered, but otherwise silence. They don’t seem mad or upset, just bored. Nothing to talk about since they come to this restaurant all the time, and they’ve covered the usual topics: kids, jobs, weather.

The solution isn’t going to more movies.

It’s imbuing your marriage with a sense of adventure and fun.

Simona Cirio, marital and family therapist for the Family Institute at Northwestern University, says that a sense of fun can be lost over time if couples don’t make their relationship a priority.

“During courtship, couples make time for each other,” she says. “But after they’re married, other things become important. It takes work and awareness to create and maintain a loving bond.”

Neither Chris nor Roger Castino would describe what they do for each other as work; more like fun. This long-married couple, who live in Northbrook, enjoy planning small surprises that keep things interesting.

Like the night that Roger went to an empty house to look it over for a painting estimate; he owns Castino Painting and Home Services. But much to his delight and surprise, instead of measuring walls, he found Chris waiting for him with a sleeping bag and Chinese food. The owners were friends, and Chris had arranged the faux estimate as a treat—a little excitement on a Tuesday night.

Don’t know any friends who are moving? If not, don’t despair.

A sexy note in his briefcase. A lunch “meeting” while the kids are at school. Champagne and chocolates next to a bubble bath drawn for two. Anything a little out of the ordinary will do as long as your spouse knows that you’re thinking about him.

Novelty is what our brains need to ignite romantic sparks.

A recent experiment conducted by Arthur Aron, professor of social psychology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, found that by reinventing date night, couples can rekindle romance. His research found that when long-married couples spent 90 minutes a week on new and different activities that they both enjoyed, their marital satisfaction increased significantly when compared with couples that did familiar activities.

So his prescription for revitalizing your marriage: Find new adventures that you’re both going to enjoy. For one couple, it might be square dancing; for another, a tandem paraglide. Mix it up and have some fun.

Mary Kay Conlon and Chip Plumb devised a tradition that ensures an ongoing supply of new, shared experiences. Each year on their anniversary, one spouse plans the celebration—without letting the other know what’s in store. Their surprises have been as simple as an overnight at a downtown hotel and as elaborate as four days in Paris. For 25 years they’ve traded off who does the legwork and who gets to be surprised.

“We might never get around to celebrating if we didn’t make this a priority,” says Mary Kay. “It’s so easy for an anniversary to slip by unnoticed, but knowing that we have a surprise coming makes it very exciting.”

But what about the day to day? The 364 days in between an anniversary? According to Cirio, making time to connect each day is crucial, but she admits it can be hard to just sit together without distractions and talk.

“Couples need to find a way to enjoy being together,” she counsels. “Some couples are doers, so they should plan shared activities. For others, their daily routine might be as simple as making a cup of tea together.”

Think of it as the glue that cements the high points and adventures. We show our partner that we love him or her by turning off the computer and our phone and focusing just on that person for at least a few minutes every day.

For the Castinos, their daily connection is over a game.

“We play backgammon every night,” says Chris, talking about how she and Roger make time for each other. “We always play for something—who’s going to make dinner or maybe something a little racier—but that’s our thing.”

These are the couples we do want to be like—laughing at a shared memory, plotting their next adventure—talking, connecting and loving. They have that spark that snaps between happy partners. Grab a sleeping bag and some Chinese food and plan a rendezvous. It might be all you need to reignite the adventure.