November 14, 2005 12:00 PM

Carlos Santana is the first to admit that staying married for three decades isn’t as easy as, say, winning eight Grammys in one year (as he did with his 1999 comeback album, Supernatural). So what’s the secret? “When you’re in love, you always have to ask questions,” he says. “You’ve got to keep your hands in the garden.” His wife has another tip: “I think you need to have your own life. You need to do what you love and have your own sense of fulfillment.”

For Deborah, 54, that means waking up early to write. (Her first book, the memoir Space Between the Stars: My Journey to an Open Heart, was published in March, and she’s currently working on a novel.) For Carlos, it’s staying up late working on his signature Afro-Latin-tinged guitar licks. At 58, he has just released his 38th album, All That I Am, which hopes to recapture the Supernatural magic by again pairing him with younger artists like Joss Stone and American Idol’s Bo Bice.

Whatever the couple’s secret is, they’ve impressed more than a few fans. “It’s unheard of to be married that long in this business,” says Michelle Branch, who collaborated with Santana on the hit “The Game of Love.” The parents of three children (Salvador, 22, who now fronts his own band; Stella, 20, a college student; and high schooler Angelica, 15) “are just a good yin and yang. They balance each other out.”

The couple have been a team since 1973, when Deborah put a spell on the man whom his longtime producer Clive Davis calls “a dazzling virtuoso guitarist” during a concert at the height of Carlos’s success. “He was following me around,” she says. “It’s in my book.”

“You were following me around!” Carlos replies with mock incredulity. “Wait until you read my book!”

They wed after just eight months, but five years into their marriage, Deborah found out that Carlos had been unfaithful to her and left him for three months. “Nobody gets through life without their heart being hurt,” Deborah says. “We just worked through it.” Adds Carlos: “It took a while to gain the wisdom to understand that that stuff is not worth losing her.” Such behavior, he says, was the result of anger he was holding on to from his childhood in Tijuana, Mexico. Beginning at age 9, Carlos says, he was molested by a friend’s father for two years. “We were really poor and he just started buying me all kinds of toys and clothes,” he says. “It stopped when I fell in love with a girl. He saw me looking at her and slapped me so hard my ears were ringing. That’s when I knew it was over.”

Silent about his ordeal until an interview with Rolling Stone in 2000, Carlos says he heard a voice tell him to go public with his experience. “It was scary, but I had to share the information from a point of healing,” he says. “You want to kick his ass for robbing you of your innocence, but you have to let it go.” He offers advice for others in his position: “If you’ve been molested or raped, go to the mirror, look yourself in the eye and say, ‘I am not what happened to me. I am still pure and beautiful.’ ”

Not surprisingly, helping children is a cause close to the Santanas’ hearts. Starting the Milagro Foundation in 1998 to help the underprivileged, the couple say they’re reaping much more than they’ve given away ($2 million plus so far) to the grassroots organizations they support. “It’s a wonderful job,” says Deborah. “One of our favorite programs we visit is a summer camp for kids with HIV and AIDS called Camp Sunburst. The kids just go and have fun all day.”

On top of their busy schedules, the couple are also involved in several Santana-branded enterprises, including a women’s shoe line and a new fragrance. The joint venture they’re most proud of, however, is their relationship. After three decades together, the reason is simple. “I think she’s crazy about me,” says Carlos, looking at his wife with a smile. “And I’m crazy about her.”

Jennifer Wulff. Tom Cunneff in Los Angeles

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