After decades of marriage, how do you keep the romance alive? Here are some tips.

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After 37 years of a great marriage between two very imperfect people, Don and I are sometimes asked what makes our relationship successful. Occasionally, we’re even invited to lead couples retreats and to teach marriage workshops, so we’ve given some thought to that question ourselves.

With Valentine’s Day upon us, now’s a good time to reveal one of our relationship “secrets” although it’s really not that mysterious. I call it “romantic friendship.” Combining romance with friendship is one of the keys to an adventurous marriage in the middle of real-world living.

Romance can seem so “other,” so separated from normal existence. We’re often handcuffed to daily life in a way that doesn’t allow us to get away to that “otherness” very often.

Let’s face it. The constraints of heavy job demands, parenting responsibilities and financial limitations may keep us from scheduling many dream date nights or exotic vacations, even if we had the energy to enjoy ourselves when we got there!

And sadly, I’ve watched too many couples who pinned their hopes for a better marriage on the big second-honeymoon return in bitter disappointment when all their issues weren’t resolved on some tropical beach.

The real question is, how do we treat each other on all the other ordinary days which so outnumber our big trips and date nights? Romantic friendship combines the familiarity and ease of longtime camaraderie with a sense of sexual flirtation and fun. The result is a remix of the chemistry that brought a couple together in the first place.

Romance in the middle years is not a given, not always the self-igniting, impulsive thing that it often was in the more carefree days of courtship and early marriage. Everyday problems and responsibilities get in the way of real, heartfelt, passionate living. Romance is something that has to be planned and gently coaxed out of hiding in the middle years of marriage.

If this sounds too calculating to be real romance, then consider the way we plan and arrange for other pleasures of life. I’ve never sat down to a gourmet meal produced by the spontaneous combustion of random ingredients (but wouldn’t that be lovely!).

I’ve never enjoyed a soul-rapturing symphony concert that just “happened” when random musicians walked off the street, spur of the moment, with no plan and no practice. In the same way, planned romance can be the most masterful romance.

Planning for romantic friendship takes a little thought but the freshness it can bring to a marriage relationship is undeniable. In most cases, despite the busyness and stress of daily living, the people you once were are still there, just waiting to be called out to play.

Here are some starters:

• Flirt. The dictionary says to flirt is “to behave in a playful and alluring way.” You don’t need a sandy beach or a fancy restaurant to flirt. Just make sure you’re flirting with the right person! Do you still “light up” when your marriage partner walks into the room? Do you still hold hands and say tender words of affection on a daily basis?

• Laugh — together and often. A longtime union provides an invaluable archive of inside jokes, the “you-had-to-be-there” kind no one else in the world would understand. It’s hard to overestimate the value of mirth in giving us the ability to not only sustain, but to enjoy, our marriage.

• Make room for commonplace adventure. Hurrah for the grand journeys — that amazing tour of London, or the time Don and I sat side-by-side near the Sea of Galilee, tearfully rereading the words of Jesus in the place where he first spoke them.

I’ll admit, taking a trip to Costco may not rate very high beside a tour of Windsor Castle. But often, even this little outing is an enjoyable quest as we stroll the aisles to see what new treasures have been planted there for us to find. A trip to Barnes & Noble, with a side stop at Starbucks, can feel like a mini-expedition that leaves us refreshed.

I realize that many marriages are in need of major repair. Thankfully, we have a God who likes to fix broken things. But for many of us whose marriages are not so much broken as they are dulled and scratched by the wear and tear of daily living, it’s often just a few simple things, consistently lived out, that can make the greatest difference.

By practicing romantic friendship, even faded marriages can shine and sparkle again. Costco, here we come!

Jodi Detrick is a minister with the Northwest Ministry Network (Assemblies of God). She is also a public speaker, an author and a life coach. Readers may send feedback to faithcolumns@seattletimes.com