7 Surprising Ways Happy Couples Stay Close

By Charlotte Latvala, REDBOOK
When I was single, I thought marriage was like that Beatles song: "All You Need Is Love." Of course, I still think love is an important part of the mix, but now that I'm a little older and wiser -- and a veteran of 12 years of wedded bliss -- I know that you need a lot of other things, too.

My husband, Tony, and I, for instance, couldn't survive without central air-conditioning (when I'm hot, I'm horribly cranky), his and hers bookshelves (sorry, my precious set of Jane Austen hardbacks can't be defiled by his swaggering Robert Ludlums) and a phrase we both use to stop the drama when we're arguing and frustrated ("Let's cut to the chase here").
Our "can't live without" list has changed over the years (the water bed is long gone; comfortable dining room chairs are in), but certain essentials are here to stay. Read on for a surprising list of what every couple must have -- besides that beguiling basic, love -- to keep their bond going strong.

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1. A beautifully framed picture from your falling-in-love days.
Of course you need some wedding photos around the house, but those shots are often about so much more than just the two of you, such as your families, the fabulous dress and the dizzying, hectic stress of it all. So display -- prominently -- a snapshot from your dating days, too, says psychologist Diana Kirschner, Ph.D., author of Opening Love's Door. "Looking at a photo of the two of you sitting in a canoe, or wherever, all gaga over each other, is an instant way of returning to that state when you were falling in love," she says. "You always want to stay in touch with that magic chemistry you first had and strive to go back to those days in some way."

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2. A movie you both love.
For many years of dating and marriage, Tony and I had opposite tastes in movies (me: historical, character-based films; Tony: big-bang action movies and complicated thrillers). I was always a little sad that we rarely snuggled up on the couch to ooh and ahh over the same flicks. Then, The Lord of the Rings movies came along. We were both captivated (sword fighting and manly allegiances for Tony, complex characters and moral dilemmas for me -- and Sean Bean and Viggo Mortensen didn't hurt, either). We've finally found a flick -- well, three -- that we're equally passionate about. And we get a "this is our thing" glow whenever one of us throws out a LOTR-ism, such as calling the space between my son's bed and the wall (where all the Lego pieces and Matchbox cars disappear) the Crack of Doom or quoting Gandalf ("Keep it secret, keep it safe") when one of us entrusts the other to make a bank deposit.

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3. A unique anniversary to celebrate.
Your wedding anniversary is a lovely date to remember, but it's not the only milestone that matters. It's even more intimate to celebrate less public moments, such as your first kiss, first vacation together or -- hey -- even the first time the pregnancy test turned blue.

Lisa Woods, 42, and her husband, Larry, take an evening car ride every year on August 17 -- the anniversary of their first date. "That night, 20 years ago, we drove around and listened to Dr. Ruth on the radio and laughed so hard," says the New Castle, PA, woman. "Now, we can't find Dr. Ruth on the dial, but we still listen to talk radio and laugh about life." The annual drive always ends at the same place -- McDonald's. "We split the two-cheeseburger meal," she says. "Silly but true -- because that's all we could afford on our first date."

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4. An empty-nest dream.
Sometimes late at night, Tony and I talk about how our lives will be when our three children are grown up and out of the house. We'll travel. I'll write novels; he'll make cabinetry in his neglected basement workshop -- we'll have a new and exciting life together. I'm not sure how much of this will happen, but talking about it makes us feel close.

Tom Lee, Ph.D., a professor of marriage and family studies at Utah State University, recently completed a survey of 1,400 married people. One of the findings was that couples who regularly discuss their long-range plans are more likely to stay happily married. "If you have a long-term view, you realize that the daily ups and downs don't mean as much," he says. "Talking about your shared future communicates, 'I plan on being here.' The message is that there are plenty of good times yet to come."

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5. A fight that never ends.
Every couple has areas where they'll never see eye-to-eye. For Alison Delsite Everett, 38, of Steelton, PA, that meant accepting her husband's love of deer hunting. "I'm an animal lover, so I hate it when Chris hunts," she says. "But he understands how much it bothers me, so he'll pack up his gear the night before a hunt; that way I don't have to see him carrying a gun. He even stores his game at his parents' house." In turn, Alison doesn't make snide comments or try to make Chris feel guilty about his pastime. "We've learned to respect each other's opinions, and that's made our marriage stronger," she says.

Of course, every marriage has its own uniquely prickly issue -- maybe for you it's time spent with your in-laws, conflicting attitudes about money or differing styles of disciplining the kids. The point is, you can agree to disagree and still have a happy, healthy relationship -- if you both accept your differences with grace and good humor.

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6. Mad money.
Sure, you have funds earmarked for bills and savings, but every couple also needs a just-for-fun account, says Brown University psychiatry professor Scott Haltzman, M.D., author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men. "You need to put some money aside that won't destroy your budget when you use it," he says. Spend it on a spur-of-the-moment weekend trip, a pricey bottle of champagne or front-row tickets to a concert you're dying to see.

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7. An oversize beach blanket.
Forget about taking it to the shore with the kids; this one is for lovemaking anywhere in the house, says Haltzman.

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