When they married 18 months ago, Kim would've never dreamed that her husband, Steve, wouldn't show her enough affection.
"He used to be so attentive that he'd notice if I changed my hair or bought a new dress," she told us. But Steve's loving words and compliments were coming less often, and Kim felt ignored. Steve was feeling confused. He couldn't figure out why Kim had lost interest in sex.
Kim and Steve aren't alone. The frequent expressions of affection and approval that couples give each other during courtship and the honeymoon stage can dwindle in the first years of marriage. You may still love each other just as much, but you talk about it less. The early emotional intimacy that was so exciting peaks, then "I love you" dwindles and the romance tapers off. You fear that things have gone terribly wrong. But have they?
Contrary to the fairy tales we were weaned on, romance always fades. We just aren't built to maintain the high levels of feverish passion and romance experienced during the days of engagement and the honeymoon. And yet that's what most couples, like Kim and Steve, expect.
Consider the most popular story of doomed love—Romeo and Juliet. Their overpowering love was snuffed out in the heat of passion. But can you imagine Romeo and Juliet as a married couple—rushing to leave for work, worrying over unpaid bills, pushing a cart through a crowded grocery store? Would their passion have survived the mundane tasks of daily life? The truth is that the romancing and wooing that led up to your marriage are not what will sustain it in real life.
Couples who expect their marriage to be a long-running cinematic fairy tale end up drinking the poison of untold heartache. But don't despair. The good news is that you can keep romantic love alive long after the honeymoon has ended. And the secret is quite simple: do everything you can in the early years of marriage to establish habits of loving behavior.
Habits can lead to actions that nurture lasting love, or they can lead to behaviors that will sabotage your love. And once a habit is set, it's next to impossible to break.
The habits you establish in the first few months of marriage will determine many of the practices you will naturally fall into for the rest of your marriage. The little things you do now—without thinking—will cut a groove in your relationship that will likely last a lifetime. That's why "honeymoon habits" are so important.
When we moved from Chicago to Los Angeles after returning home from our honeymoon, we moved into a tiny, one-bedroom apartment. All of our earthly belongings were squeezed into a moving van and put at the bottom of the company's priority list. We spent the first couple of weeks in our new home without a stick of furniture—not even a TV. As a result, we spent nearly every evening taking long walks around town discovering hidden treasures. And we did a lot of talking.
We didn't know it then, but we were connecting our spirits and paving a path in our relationship. Today, 14 years later, going for a walk is almost second nature. Rain or shine, we take a long walk. It's one honeymoon habit that we don't plan on breaking.
A Lifelong Honeymoon
No matter how wonderful your honeymoon was, the years that follow won't be filled with harmony and love unless you take the initiative to cultivate romantic habits. Here's a two-step plan that will help you keep romance, passion and intimacy alive.
1. Pay attention to the little things. Chances are good that you've never been bitten by an elephant. But you've probably been bitten by a mosquito. Too often, we concentrate on the elephant and overlook the mosquito, not realizing that the little things matter the most. We think on a grand scale about romance—creating the perfect once-a-year getaway—and neglect the little opportunities that present themselves every day.
Consider how you greet one another after work. If you make a consistent effort to reconnect with a tender touch or embrace, you will establish one of the most important patterns for setting a positive tone. "Well, of course we'll do that," you may be thinking. Don't be so sure. The vast majority of couples end up with what researchers call the "grocery list" connection: "Did you pick up my dry cleaning?"; "I'll need the car tomorrow"; "What's for dinner?" But if you start with a tender touch before you get to the nitty-gritty, you will create an aura of love that leads to a level of fulfillment most married couples only dream about. Sure, it's a little thing, but a tender reconnection at the end of the day makes a huge difference when it becomes a habit.
Other "little things" to consider include common courtesies like saying "please" and "thank you." One of the first things to go in a new marriage is politeness. In some ways this reflects increasing levels of comfort. But if left unchecked, it can lead to rudeness. One study revealed that when paired with a stranger, even newlyweds were more polite to the person they didn't know than they were to each other. If you establish a pattern of politeness now, you'll likely be even more polite on your 50th wedding anniversary.
2. Develop a dating habit. Many couples claim they spend time together, but they typically spend that time running errands or meeting with other friends. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but to keep romance alive you need to spend quality time together. That means it's just the two of you, with no agenda other than to connect. Some couples call this a "date night"—a good term when you consider that dating is as important as ever after you've said your vows and settled into being a permanent couple. Whatever you call it, this time needs to be scheduled—routinely and consistently.
Every Thursday evening, for example, you need to be able to count on having a date. It can be as simple as window shopping downtown or as elaborate as dressing up for a special event. Do whatever you enjoyed doing before you were married. The point of making dating a habit is to keep your marriage from falling into the doldrums of working all week and collapsing on the weekends. Don't let it happen to you.
In addition to scheduling a weekly time for just the two of you to spend together, consider one overnight stay at a hotel every four months and a one-week vacation every year. By the way, once kids enter the picture these romantic interludes become even more essential.
Many couples return to the location of their first wedding trip for a second, third or fourth honeymoon to recapture the bliss of their first few days as a married couple. But you don't have to wait for an anniversary to recreate that special time. Keep love alive—starting now—by establishing daily habits of romance, passion and intimacy. If you do, your honeymoon will become more than just a memory. It will become a way of life.
Leslie Parrott, Ed.D., and Les Parrott, Ph.D., are co-directors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University. They are co-authors of Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, Becoming Soul Mates and their new book, Love Is … (all published by Zondervan). Visit Les and Leslie atwww.realrelationships.com.
We'll Never Do That Again!
You thought it was going to be fun, bonding even, to tackle that big project together, as a team. But things just didn't turn out like you had hoped. No sooner had you started scraping the kitchen cabinets than the tensions mounted. Your methods differed and collided, your backs started to hurt, you got tired and crabby.
Sure the kitchen looks better since you repainted the cabinets. But was doing it together worth all those cold stares and snippy remarks?
For the sake of your friendship—and your marriage—maybe there are some things you and your spouse shouldn't do together. And Marriage Partnership wants to know what these are for you. Send your stories of less-than-successful team projects to:
465 Gundersen Drive
Carol Stream, IL 60188
1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.