Falling in Love, Staying in Love: How to Keep Romance Alive
Falling in Love, Staying in Love: How to Keep Romance Alive
Categories: RECENT RESEARCH
David Arp, M.S.W. and Claudia Arp, B.S.
This article was originally published in Christian Counseling Today, Volume 23-1
One of the most difficult parts of marriage is staying in love and keeping romance alive over the years. Having logged more than five decades together, we can tell you it is hard work, but not impossible—especially if you have the stubborn determination to stay romantically connected throughout the marriage. If you ignore your love life at any stage, your relationship can become stale, boring and anything but romantic. Before you know it, you may be thinking, “What happened? Where did the romance, fun and intimacy go?”
While most couples seeking help come to counselors for other reasons, researchers Scott Stanley and Howard Markman [PREP] found that fun and friendship are key indicators of how couples were doing across the board. If husbands and wives are not friends, their relationships are probably low on romance. Consider some of the common reasons couples lose their romantic connection.
The Marital Drift
We married while in college and knew zilch about marriage or how to build a creative love life. Soon we discovered that “romance, intimacy and great sex” did not come with our marriage license. About the time we were finally getting it all together, the children starting arriving. Like many new parents, we found the early parenting years challenging. Stress, lack of time (and effort), exhaustion, and unresolved conflict can all lead to the loss of emotional connectedness. The parenting role takes center stage. Couples stop touching. Life happens. Romance and intimacy fade.
The second and third decades of marriage bring even more challenges. In the middle of building careers and parenting kids—who now may be entering the adolescent years—the enemy, called boredom, creeps in. Couples need to guard against “adventure lust.” Affairs usually do not happen overnight, but spouses who are tired, isolated, and romantically starved can become vulnerable. You probably have clients knocking on your door in crisis asking, “Can we repair our marriage?” and, if so, “How can we get back intimacy and romance?” An important starting point as the counselor and/or coach might be to help couples understand what nurtures love and romance.
The Love Connection Checkup
Helping couples keep romance alive is about far more than sex. Consider the following necessary components for a long-term romantic love life. We suggest having couples rate themselves in these six areas on a scale of one to five: one being “we’re just hanging on” to five being “doing well here.” (The higher the number, the greater potential for romance.)
- Trust: Feeling safe with each other. Trust is essential for the health of any marriage. It is important to feel safe with your spouse. When trust is broken, a quick repair is critical. Keeping short accounts with one’s spouse, as with the Lord, will restore and rebuild trust. 1 Peter 4:8 reminds us to “… love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
- Mutuality: Freely choosing to love each other. In Genesis 2:24, we are to leave and cleave to each other. Choosing a soul mate above all others involves a mutual willingness to grow together and adapt to one another’s changing needs over the years.
- Honesty: Communicating your true feelings. Truthfully sharing your feelings, needs, and desires (without attempts to manipulate) will help your love grow and bloom. Remember to “… speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
- Intimacy: Knowing and being known. It is the intangible quality of unity, understanding, and synergy that moves two people from being acquaintances or friends to lovers and soul mates.
- Sensuality: Giving pleasure. Sensuality involves touching, holding hands, hugging and caressing in pleasurable ways. Touching is a major avenue of connection and bonding.
- Sex: joining together physically. Sex is a wonderful gift from God. Proverbs 5:18-19 encourages spouses to indulge in sexual pleasure: “As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love.” One of the most romantic books we have read is the Song of Solomon. This is a great assignment for romantically-challenged couples.
When couples are doing well in these six areas, romance, intimacy and fun should follow. A multi-faceted love life actually adds stability to a marriage. Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee emphasize the importance of sex in their book, The Good Marriage. “In a good marriage, sex and love are inseparable. Sex serves a very serious function in maintaining both the quality and stability of the relationship, replenishing emotional reserves, and strengthening the marital bond” (p. 192).
Here are some suggestions for helping couples jump-start romance:
- Work at overcoming obstacles. We asked a friend how she keeps romance alive and she immediately replied, “Live in two countries.” (She and her husband temporarily have jobs in two countries and are forever having to overcome obstacles to be together.) We are not suggesting something so drastic, but all couples—especially parents of young children—need to look for ways to overcome the obstacles life throws at them and spend quality time together. The harder you work at this, the more precious that time together will become.
- Step out of the comfort zone. Do the unexpected—be a bit more mysterious and add some intrigue. Do something totally out of character. Esther Perel, writes in her book, Dating in Captivity, about “erotic intelligence” and encourages couples to cultivate playfulness, curiosity, and even a bit of drama, which can lead to anticipation and being more erotic and romantic with each other.
- Work at being more sensual. Encourage couples to touch, but in ways that are not overtly connected with sex. Non-demand touching stirs up the oxytocin and dopamine, important hormones connected with the sex drive. Try a 10-second kiss and 20-second hug.
- Have great dates. Okay, we confess, we saved this for last, as it is our favorite way to jump-start romance. Dating can definitely add to the romance!
Have Great Dates!
For more than 30 years, we have utilized the dating concept to teach marriage skills and strengthen marital bonds (for a variety of dating resources, visit 10greatdates.org). Here is why we stress dating. Couples may be learning skills galore, but to make progress they need some air, fun, and romance. The following are a few of our favorite romance-enhancing dates you can use as assignments.
- Massage-for-two Date. Read a book together on how to give a massage and then practice on each other.
- Pick-up Date. Meet at a lovely hotel or favorite night spot. Flirt with each other and introduce yourselves all over again.
- Kidnap Date. Plan an overnight getaway, dinner out, or even a one or two-hour surprise date. Consider anything you think your partner would like and then surprise your spouse.
- Dream Vacation Date. Go online together and plan your ultimate romantic vacation.
- Proposal Date. Go to a public place and ask your mate to marry you all over again.
Romance is for a Lifetime!
When we are proactive, romance and passion can last through the years. Take it from our friends, Dave and Jeanne, who have been married for more than 60 years. “Romance doesn’t have to die out,” said Dave. “It can grow and blossom through all the years. God designed man and woman to enjoy each other in marriage, and we find that enjoyment still growing even after 60 years of marriage.”
Go Dave and Jeanne, you are our role models! Now, here is our challenge to you: As counselors, coaches and mentors, it is your time to model what a loving, fun and romantic relationship looks like. Ready? Set? Go fun! Go romance!
David Arp, MSW, and Claudia Arp, B.S., are the founders of Marriage Alive, best-selling authors, seminar leaders and creators of the popular 10 Great Dates® programs. Their numerous books include the Gold Medallion award-winning Second Half of Marriage, and their recently released, 10 Great Dates: Connecting Faith, Love and Marriage, co-authored with Peter and Heather Larson. Visit them at 10greatdates.org