Ah, romance. That feeling of incredible attraction to the one you love. Where did it go, anyway?
For some of us, romance is buried under the ten loads of dirty laundry piled in the hall. Or it fizzled when he wore black dress socks with denim cut-offs around the house. Or when she met him at the door, handing off the baby and a shrieking toddler and said she was out of there.
The longer you're married, the more challenging it seems to keep romance sizzling. Yet we all know couples who do it.
"Romance is a journey, an adventure, a story you create from the time you get married to the time you go home to be with the Lord," says Gary Stewart, author of The Marriage Marathon (Kregel). But sometimes the journey hits a dead-end and neither of you has a road map back to the romance highway.
The Romance Killers
So just when you thought you were running at full tilt down the romance highway, you come to a screeching halt. What went wrong? In his book, Your Love and Marriage (Revell), Willard F. Harley, Jr., who has counseled more than 5,000 couples and hosts the Marriage Builders website (www.marriagebuilders.com) identifies five "Love Busters" that are guaranteed romance killers. Harley finds that angry outbursts, disrespectful judgments, selfish demands, and dishonesty can all kill a romantic moment quicker than a popsicle melts on the sidewalk in July.
Annoying behavior also rates as one of Harley's five Love Busters. Something as simple as not replacing the toilet paper on the roll or chewing ice in public can be a romance killer if it is a habit that really bugs your spouse. Joe Beam, author of Becoming One (Howard) agrees, saying, "It's amazing how little things can destroy a relationship. They may be minor things, but the other person feels disrespected."
Sarcasm or making your spouse the target of a joke will guarantee that things will be chilly around your house for a while. But hands down, words at the wrong moment are the worst culprit. Finances, bringing up past conflicts, talking about the kids—all rank high in topics that kill romance quicker than Road Runner sends Wile E. Coyote off a cliff.
You're snuggled up on the couch watching an old Clark Gable movie, and your husband wraps his arms around you and whispers in your ear. "Did you pay the gas bill?" Or, he's lined up a sitter and taken you to your favorite five-star restaurant, and you murmur, "I hope that apple juice helps Beth's diarrhea." Words can make or break a romantic moment.
Comparisons leave just as much roadkill on the shoulder of the romance highway. Men often find their wives comparing them to other husbands. "And guys hate to be compared with other men, because they are so competitive," explains Joey O'Connor.
Mayday! Mayday! Romance killer in progress. What do you do?
Some couples, like novelist Jane Kirkpatrick and her husband, Jerry, use visual cues to signal that a romance crusher has been sighted. When either of them raises a finger, the other takes a deep breath and redirects the conversation for the moment. Other couples have key phrases or words that serve as a signal to the spouse that a romance killer is on the way. A humorous word or phrase can keep things from disintegrating into an argument during a tense moment. For example, one couple uses the phrase land the plane whenever inappropriate topics come up during the wrong time. It breaks the ice, and they laugh and steer the conversation in a new direction.
Say It Loud, Say It Clear
One way to keep things romantic is to challenge yourself to find fresh, more meaningful ways to say "I love you."
"How many unique dozen roses can you give? How can you then top those dozen roses?" asks Joey O'Connor, author of Have Your Wedding Cake and Eat It Too (Word). "We have to envision and communicate what romance means to each of us. … Then we figure out how to realistically meet the needs of our spouse."
Finding out what spells R-O-M-A-N-C-E to your partner means understanding what really makes him or her tick. One of the most romantic moments in my marriage was when my husband had a truckload of topsoil delivered as an anniversary present. Gardening is a major passion of mine, and Jeff knew I was frustrated with the hardpan clay that I couldn't coax into proper condition for my veggies and flowers. He had also overheard me pricing a load of topsoil and sighing and discarding the estimate when I found out the cost.
Now, dirt is not a present you can brag about at the office. Other guys aren't going to slap you on the back and give you a high-five. And Jeff has about as much interest in gardening as I do in his ongoing collection of Neil Diamond CDs—that is to say, zero. But he guessed—correctly—that I would light up like a Christmas tree when the dumptruck pulled into the driveway.
Romance also means finding the spectacular in the simple. Holding hands and taking a long walk together may say "I love you" more than any words you could mouth. Knowing that your husband loves Heavenly Hash ice cream and stashing some in the freezer as a surprise may speak volumes. A love letter faxed to the office where your wife works will cause her to blush—and be the envy of her co-workers.
Little romantic gestures can evolve into marriage-long traditions. Every time Jane Kirkpatrick's husband goes out on a two-week hunting trip, she hides a stuffed puppy somewhere in his camping gear, along with a love note that says "I hope this little dog keeps you warm when I can't." When he pulls out his sleeping bag or rummages through his rucksack, he finds it and feels her love for him.
"It's those little traditions couples create that keep romance alive in relationships," Kirkpatrick says. "We often forget the joy—and the romance—in the little moments."
There is also romance in unexpectedly lightening the mundane tasks of everyday life for your spouse. One of the dark secrets of my marriage is that I don't iron. So Jeff found it very romantic when he came home from a short business trip and found all his shirts immaculately pressed, lightly starched and hanging in the closet. The next two weeks, he thought of me lovingly every morning when he pulled out a shirt that was ready to wear that he didn't have to iron. (Okay, so I sent them out to the dry cleaners. My heart was in the right place, and he was thrilled).
Lay the Foundation
There is no single recipe for good romance—what's romantic is different for every couple. But there are basic principles that help it grow and flourish.
Healthy communication lays the foundation for great romance. This means you give your mate a safe place to be heard and understood. When you feel confident enough to be vulnerable with your spouse, the stage is set for romance.
Good romance also happens when you are sensitive to the needs of others. It might be something as simple as fixing the leak in the faucet that is bugging her or making sure the phone bill gets paid on time.
"If I take my wife out on the most wonderful, planned, extravagant date, and come home, and still haven't taken out the trash when she's asked four times, the date is all for nothing," O'Connor says.
Unselfishness becomes a catalyst for romance to grow between you. When Kirkpatrick went to an antique gun show with her husband, it was something she did out of love—and a desire to share his enthusiasm.
"For me, guns all look alike," Jane says. "But it was great to go to the show together. I think it keeps our relationship interesting."
Love in the Daily Grind
Schedule romance? Won't that just send it into a death spiral? Nope, says O'Connor. In fact, it's important to be intentional. With four small children and a busy writing and speaking schedule, O'Connor finds he has to plan romantic interludes with his wife, Krista, or they just don't happen. The two of them pick an activity, he calls a sitter and they put the date on the calendar.
"Our time can easily get sucked up by the vacuum of other things," he says. "And most spouses don't want an explanation of how busy we are, they just want our presence."
Spontaneity can also play its role. When Krista worked at the drive-through window at a bank, Joey would come by and drop a rose in the tube and send it to her. Unexpected, and a big deposit in her love bank.
Still, the unplanned romantic moments can often be the most memorable. Kirkpatrick remembers a time when both she and Jerry were hobbling around with broken bones after an airplane accident. As she was trying to dust, a Linda Ronstadt song began playing and Jerry hobbled over and took the dust rag from her hands. He propelled her in a lopsided slow dance around the living room, navigating around the dog sprawled on the carpet while sunshine drifted through the open windows.
"I realized I could never be happier than I was at that moment," says Jane.
Sometimes romance will mean flowers, candlelit dinners, and thoughtful presents. Often, however, romance will happen spontaneously when you are sensitive to each other's needs, quick to seize the opportunity to say "I love you" in fresh ways, or by lightening each other's load. Romance looks for ways to tell your spouse that if you had to say "I do" all over again, you'd do it in a heartbeat.
Cindy Crosby is a writer, wife, and born romantic living in the Chicago area. Her idea of a good time is coffee with friends and a Bruce Cockburn concert, not necessarily in that order.
NOTE: For your convenience, the following products, which were mentioned above, are available for purchase from the ChristianityToday.com Shopping Channel:
- The Marriage Marathon: How to Go the Distance as Man and Wife, by Gary Stewart
- Your Love and Marriage, by Willard F. Harley
- Becoming One: Emotionally, Spiritually, Sexually, by Joe Beam
- Have Your Wedding Cake and Eat It Too, by Joey O'Connor
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