Q&A: Keeping Romance Alive

Romance is not just about feelings. Healthy romance is a balance of both feelings and thoughts. It is not adolescent infatuation, but a general feeling of comfort, pleasure and delight. Romance is an indispensable emotional component of marital love. This emotional connection can be experienced in simple uneventful ways, such as a tender look, as well as in moments of intense passion, or candles and soft music, as popularly portrayed.

All marriages go through ups and downs. Feelings may wax and wane. There are times when a couple needs to deliberately rekindle the flame of romantic love to bring the zest and excitement to their relationship. But make no mistake, romance alone cannot sustain a marriage. When a couple goes through the downs in their marriage, it is their commitment to the marriage that motivates them to work on bringing the romance back.

Marriage should be viewed as a continually growing, continually changing interaction between a man and a woman in a special, exclusive relationship. As the relationship develops and matures, the romantic love which brought the couple together will evolve into something with less ecstasy but greater depth. If a couple is unprepared for this change, confusion and disappointment will set in and they may even begin to question whether or not they are really in love in the first place.

Question 1:

Tell me why it is inevitable for couples with good marriages to go through “flat spots” or “the blahs,” and can you offer more advice about what to do when those times come?

Answer: Romantic love is an emotion, and as such, it has a way of coming and going. Emotions tend to oscillate from high to low to high, etc. One of the best ways to regenerate “that loving’ feeling” in the down times is to talk about the time and place when passion ran high. Do you recall those days when you just couldn’t wait to see each other, and how each minute away seemed like an eternity? Recalling those moments together is one way to regenerate what you felt before.

Even better than talking about them is re-experiencing them. My wife and I celebrated a recent wedding anniversary by exploring what we called our “old haunts.” On a single evening, we went to the Pasadena Playhouse, where we had our second date; we ate at the same restaurant for dinner, and the next week we visited the Farmer’s Market where we used to stroll on lazy summer evenings. We talked about warm memories and relived the excitement of those days. It was a wonderful reprise.

Another suggestion is to return regularly to the kinds of romantic activities that drew you together in the first place. You need to put some fun and laughter into your lives, which otherwise can get dreary and oppressive.

A few years ago, Shirley and I found ourselves in that kind of situation where we had almost forgotten how to play. We finally got fed up and decided to do something about it. We loaded the car and headed for a winter wonderland in Mammoth, California. There we spent the weekend skiing and eating and laughing together. One night we built a fire in the fireplace and talked for hours while our favourite music played on the stereo. We felt like children again.

The next time you feel that you’re losing that closeness you once shared, try talking about your memories of earlier days and revisit the old haunts, sing the old songs, tell the old stories. It’s the best bet to rekindle the sparks of romance that first drew you together. To keep a marriage vibrant and healthy, you simply have to give it some attention. Water the plant, place it in the sunlight, and it will grow. If you put it in a cold dark corner, however, it is likely to die.

With a little effort and creativity, you can keep the fireworks in your marriage…even when the Fourth of July has come and gone.

Question 2:

You described the “trapped” feeling that causes some people to withdraw from their spouses. I think that applies to my wife, who has been strangely distant from me in recent years. Can you tell me more about what such a person might be thinking?

Answer: The feeling of entrapment begins with disrespect for a partner. For example, a man may think these kinds of thoughts about his wife:

Look at Joan. She used to be rather pretty. Now with those fifteen extra pounds she doesn’t even attract me anymore. Her lacks of discipline bother me in other areas, too – the house is always a mess and she seems totally disorganised. I made an enormous mistake back there in my youth when I decided to marry her. Now I have to spend the rest of my life – can you believe it? – all the years I have left – tied up with someone I’m disinterested in. Oh, I know Joanie is a good woman, and I wouldn’t hurt her for anything, but man! Is this what they call living?

Or Joanie may be doing some thinking of her own:

Michael, Michael, how different you are than I first thought you to be. You seemed so exciting and energetic in those early days. How did you get to be such a bore? You work far too much and are so tired when you come home. I can’t even get you to talk to me, much less sweep me into ecstasy.

Look at him, sleeping on the couch with his mouth hanging open. I wish his hair wasn’t falling out. Am I really going to invest my entire lifetime in this ageing man? Our friends don’t respect him anymore, and he hasn’t received a promotion at the plant for more than five years. He’s going nowhere, and he’s taking me with him!

If Joanie and Michael are both thinking these entrapment thoughts, it is obvious that their future together is in serious jeopardy. But the typical situation is unilateral, as in your marriage. One partner (of either gender) begins to chafe at the bit without revealing to the other how his or her attitude has changed. A reasonably compassionate person simply does not disclose these disturbing rumblings to someone who loves him or her. Instead, a person’s behaviour begins to evolve in inexplicable ways.

He may increase the frequency of his evening business meetings – anything to be away from home more often. He may become irritable or “deep in thought” or otherwise non-communicative. He may retreat into televised sports or fishing trips or poker with the boys. He may provoke continuous fights over insignificant issues. And of course, he may move out or find someone younger to play with. A woman who feels trapped will reveal her disenchantment in similar indirect ways.

To summarise, the trapped feeling is a consequence of two factors: Disrespect for the spouse and the wish for an excuse to get away.

Question 3:

Does the feeling of entrapment only happen late in life, or does it sometimes occur earlier?

Answer: Trapped reactions can occur among teenagers during courtship or anytime within a marriage – from the first day of the honeymoon to fifty years thereafter. They happen anytime one partner devalues the worth of the other and feels stuck in the relationship. They form the cornerstone of midlife crises among men and are typical of women who feel their husbands are wimpy and lacking in confidence. I believe the majority of divorces can be traced to the twin reactions of disrespect and marital claustrophobia.

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