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Married couples, don't forget to date

By Jill Martin Wrenn, CNN
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Tue September 3, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Time, talk and tenacity -- tips experts say can keep couples together longer
  • "You just don't realize how much time you give up when you have kids," says Jenny Triplett, married 24 years
  • Couples can have "money dates" to talk about finances before they encounter a crisis
  • Kayla DeLano helped her husband lose 70 pounds over two years

Atlanta (CNN) -- Some jump on trampolines together. Others dine out at Red Lobster. Many take cooking classes. Married couples are connecting in any way they can.

Busy couples don't always get to do what their single counterparts can take for granted -- date. And when children come along, carving out couple time can be tough.

"You just don't realize how much time you give up when you have kids," says Jenny Triplett, 45. While their three boys lived at home, the entrepreneur and her husband would make sure to head out for date nights at local restaurants -- just the two of them. And they always have time for pillow talk.

Here's what experts say all couples need to keep the spark alive. Whether you're facing an emptier nest once the kids go back to school, or even if you don't have children, you can take tips from the three "T's".

1) Time

Seth Meyers, relationship expert
Seth Meyers, relationship expert

Finding time together is key to making a marriage work. That becomes especially important when couples become parents.

Too many think having kids is all about sacrifice. "The happiest parents are those who are disciplined about integrating their old life with their new life," says relationship expert and psychologist Seth Meyers.

That means booking a babysitter, or enlisting family members to watch the kids, while you and your spouse go out.

"Be disciplined about getting a sitter on a regular basis and taking time for just the two of you outside the home," says Dr. Seth, "and don't be shy about returning to some of the favorite places you used to go as a couple before kids."

Finding a shared hobby can also help couples connect.

Charly Rok and her husband Jason take a cooking class together, because they share a love of food, as well as cooking. The New York-based couple has been married for 14 years.

"I married him, and he married me, because we actually like each other, and we like spending time with each other," Charly says.

Cooking is a hobby that's allowed them to focus on each other, rather than other distractions, when they're together. Charly commutes to her job in public relations near Philadelphia, where she lives five days a week. Her husband works in New York City. So they cherish the time they spend together on weekends.

"When you go into a kitchen on a Saturday, and you're spending the day cooking, you really tend to let go of a lot of other things," Jason Rok says. "The phone isn't ringing for you. You're not off running errands. You're not paying bills. You let go of a lot of things, so you're very focused on what's at hand."

But spending time together is only part of the process. Experts say what you do with that time is key.

2) Talk

Communicate about everything -- even the stressful stuff.

"You have to communicate," says Jenny Triplett, the author of "Surviving Marriage In the 21st Century: 13 Easy Tips That Can Help You Get To 20 Years and Beyond." "You have to carve out that time."

Her husband of 24 years points out that learning to communicate when the kids live at home paves the way for a harmonious empty nest.

"Once the kids go ... it's going to be you and her," Rufus Triplett says. "If you don't learn how to communicate then (when the kids live at home), it's going to be challenging when they go."

Experts say that talking about potential causes of conflict -- like money -- is especially important. And don't wait until you're about to miss a mortgage payment.

Getting together with a partner once a week to talk about financial decisions, big and small, can help keep couples calm.

Relationship author Jacquette M. Timmons
Relationship author Jacquette M. Timmons

Jacquette M. Timmons, author of "Financial Intimacy: How to Create a Healthy Relationship with Your Money and Your Mate," suggests what she calls "money dates."

"That gets people out of the pattern of only talking about money when there is a crisis," she says.

Money is often a cause of friction. "The reality is that most of us will attract someone who is financially opposite," Timmons says. Spenders often attract savers; the thrifty tend to attract to the lavish. So to make sure you and your spouse are one the same page, experts advise -- keep talking.

3) Tenacity

"Marriage is not a sprint," says Jenny Triplett. "It's a marathon." She says that couples need to realize that they'll be in their relationship for the long haul.

Kayla DeLano got married when she was 19. She is now 34 years old, and still married to Michael, 38. They live in Long Beach, California, with their 11-year-old son.

In addition to honesty, communication and kindness, she says spending time with her husband, despite work demands, is their key to longevity. So is understanding that partners evolve during the course of a marriage.

"I think you need to be realistic about the fact that you and your spouse will both change," she says. "You can't say that the person you are right now is going to be the same person that you're going to be in five years."

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She says their secret is learning to ebb and flow together, rather than apart. When her husband wanted to shed some weight he had gained, he turned to Kayla. A personal trainer, she helped him lose 70 pounds over two years. "It's pretty awesome," she says.

They started biking together. Now, they play a range of sports, from running relays, to trampoline jumping. They stay active, and above all, have fun.

"When we are together, we're really together," she says. "We really focus on each other, and try to tune everything else out."

How do you carve out time to solidify your relationship? Share ideas in the comments section below.

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