We do nothing in life well, and that includes intimacy, unless we have a schooled imagination for it.--Thomas Moore
What one thing do you most want to know about love and relationship?
Recently we surveyed approximately 10,000 men and women asking that question. Ninety-five percent of those responding wanted to know how to keep romance alive throughout a relationship and marriage. No surprise. During our fifteen years working with singles and couples it's been romance that has been the most desired as well as the most illusive of all relationship experiences. More than sex. More than good communication. More than family.
But what is romance?
That's not a question with an easy answer. It's the kind of thing that you know when you see it, and certainly yearn for it when it's absent, but putting it into words leaves most people tongue-tied. So, before we can know how to keep it alive in our relationships, we need to identify just what it is we are after.
When we experience romance we experience a quality of being transported, of being moved by an extraordinary moment of feeling, almost another dimension of feeling. And it is not by thought but by feeling that we can confidently say, "This is romance." Through this special feeling we are extended beyond our everyday sense of self into an experience of unity and wholeness, a deep, spiritually rich connectedness with another person, and through that person to the wonder that is the whole of life. The separateness that is so much a part of most people's daily life vanishes, even if only for a moment. And that is what is so extra-ordinary about romance. It may be fleeting but it leaves a mark on our senses and in our memory and it can stay with us for days if not years. No wonder romance is so desired.
Also, in the romantic moment we feel connected with another person without ever losing our sense of self. There is a profound oneness but not sameness, as the unique differences that two people bring to the moment are embraced. We remain ourselves, with an intense sense of our self, while in sweet and satisfying connection with another. And that allows us to feel truly loved. That allows the romance to be appreciated by each person in their own way.
As the poet Rumi says, "If I love myself, I love you. If I love you, I love myself." By contrast, when we are steeped in a fantasy of romance, in the idea instead of the reality of romance, there is no connection and, as a result, no satisfaction. Why? Because we are fused with a ghost, a mere image that we are more loyal to than the flesh and blood reality. We are trapped in a dreamy castle of our own making, unconsciously insisting that our make-believe world will bring us what we want. Ironically, the person making-believe and the ghostly product of that make-believe are one and the same. The person is bound within their own spell, enclosed within their own expectations, ultimately unable to let anyone in.
Romance thrives only in that which is real and in the very distinct reality of two different people.
Imagination is at the heart of romance, but not when it serves the concoction of mere fantasy.
The best way to distinguish between these divergent paths is to identify fantasy as those envisionings which may even be pleasant and sometimes erotic, but that are never challenged. In fantasy everything goes the way we want it to. Even if we inject a little opposition to add drama, we still get everything we want, and more importantly, in just exactly the way we want.
On the other hand, imagination is that soul-filled experience wherein we apply the power of our creative imaging to manifest what we want in the world. With regard to romance, that involves another person who cannot help but impact our expectations differently than we anticipated. This is unavoidable because s/he is different, with a mind of their own, but more to the point, with an experience and expression of romance that will be uniquely their own.
So imagination is not about dreaming up clever lines or surprise moments but transforming mundane events into delight by infusing them with appreciation and affection. This is not false affection because, if we truly appreciate the other person for some quality or behavior, the affection we feel follows naturally. It is an expression of the value we have bestowed. Romantic imagination tenderizes the moment, stripping us of our defenses, baring our need for connection, exposing us emotionally, drawing from the moment its sweetest meaning. When that happens both people are expanded emotionally, intellectually, sexually, and spiritually. We are enchanted by the experience and call that enchantment romance.
As part of romance we have the sense that we have been released from limitation and introduced to a sense of the divine. That sense of divinity is the depth, meaning, and esoteric secret that gives romance its true richness. It is nondenominational, not associated with any prescribed form or protocol. Instead it brings into the foreground a feeling of truth that, when we experience it, it's as though we've known it all along and somehow lost sight of it. Suddenly, there it is--truth, beauty, wonder, and grace. And it is real. Very, very real. We go beyond our ideas of it into the actual lifeblood of romance and it is satisfying. Very satisfying. Complete. Wanting for nothing more than simply what is. And out of that release there is a joining, a communication, a communing. Soul to soul. Equals. Resonant. Intimate. Transcendent.
What Not To Do
The death knell of romance rings when two people begin to take each other for granted.
Far too many couples respond to the stress of everyday life by abandoning their wedding vows to "cherish and adore." They assume and judge and develop prejudices about one another that draw the life out of what they once had. Yes, the bills have to be paid, the kids need their love and attention, and life hurls other demands their way. But that is life. If we are to treat life maturely, we have to expect that.
When two people are caught up in preconceived and privately held fantasies of romance the basics of life become overwhelming. Rather than having their love support their efforts to thrive, they wither, clinging to images and notions of how things are supposed to be, and denying how things actually are. They cease being co-creators and become further and further distanced, clutching their supposed-to/should-be versions, mystified by why they feel so lonely. But that sense of bewildering isolation is symptomatic of how our culture views romance. We see it from a Cinderella point of view. Everything romantic is supposed to be, how shall we say, la-de-da. Effortless. Redemptive. Out-of-the-blue. That is a child's view, which, sad so to say, is what most people have been taught.
What To Do
In romance, awareness and effort and a sense of reality are not mutually exclusive. Quite the contrary, they are mutually supportive. They weave together a creative flow of romance that can be trusted.
For example, romance is very often assumed to be sexual. This is not to say that sex is not romantic. But it is not the only path by which love and romance come alive.
Most people think of making love as exclusively and solely a sexual experience. So sex is expected to carry the whole load of affection, passion, tenderness, intimacy, and closeness. And often it's expected to do so on Saturday night after a week in which there has been little or no affection, connection, romance, few if any expressions of love and care. Put yourself in the shoes of such a demand. Might you not want to say, "Hey, wait a minute. Who do think I am?"
So what about all the time you spend out of bed? Can you make love then? Can you nourish an atmosphere of romance so that when you are in bed sex can deliver what is has to offer? The answer is, yes, yes, and yes again. And here's the good news. It's not even difficult.
Our suggestions, which follow, are meant merely as a guide to prompt your thinking about romance and relationship in a new, more creative way. They are intended to help you develop the romantic habit of using every opportunity possible to express and receive love.
Don't be afraid to open your vision to new possibilities, into the mysterious unknown that is always available when any two people join their lives together. After all, it was the mystery of not knowing one another that was exciting in the beginning. Now we invite you to enjoy and explore that mystery on even deeper levels every remaining day of your life together.
Go Ahead, Succeed at Love
First you have to give yourself permission to be a lover. If that sounds strange then we'll do it for you. You have permission. Go ahead, succeed at love. Are you muttering, "That's easier said than done?" Well here's what you can do, and you can do them everyday, establishing rituals that weave the joy of romance into your daily life.
Every one of us wants to be known and valued for who we truly are. Having someone we love be curious about us is genuinely flattering.
To be curious is to pay careful and care-filled attention to details.
When you say - "How was your day?"- actually mean it.
Find our what your partner is thinking or feeling. If he or she will not let you in, tell them that you really want to know and that by keeping closed they are shutting down the relationship.
After almost sixteen years together (fifteen married) we are:
Still curious about one another's childhoods and past life experiences.
We ask about differences of opinion re: movies, news stories, people we meet, politics and social issues.
Remember curiosity is the least known and often most powerful aphrodisiac everyone has available with merely a sincere question.
Affection is the expression of tender attachment. You can express affection anytime, anywhere.
Touching one another in the kitchen, passing in the hall, watching television. It doesn't take much.
Kissing just for fun. This is not about sex but about love.
Saying "I love you because . . . and then describing why.
Buying the other's favorite foods, showing how you keep your partner's preferences in your consciousness.
Making the morning a special time of closeness before you get out of bed. Even with children, you can set aside that time just for the two of you.
We often tell each other how much we enjoy living with one another.
We hold hands almost all the time when we're walking.- We kiss in the kitchen while making dinner.
We hug a lot and leave special notes around the house from time-to-time.
Humor is about the peculiarities, the whimsy, the quirks and eccentricities that make each of you unique. It's not necessarily about laughing out loud. More often, it's about appreciation and attachment.
It's fine if you have the gift for passing on good jokes, love to pun, and/or get a great laugh out of gags and comedy routines, but that's not the kind of humor that breeds romance. The kind of humor that is romantic occurs as the result of your being together over time. As you keep getting to know one another, put more humor into your connection by expressing your affection and enjoyment through wacky, clever, and endearing responses to one another. When you take delight in each other's ways, you deepen your enjoyment of one another.
Jim's the "Towel Thief" because he leaves the kitchen towel in the TV room after his snacks. And Judith is the "Oat Muffin" because she tries to avoid wheat.
We joke with each other about Jim being a "ditz" because his memory is lousy and Judith being "the princess" because she's very sensitive to noise and discomfort of any kind.
We give funny little gifts with special meaning (dog pencils for Jim who was a dog in another life) teddy bears for Judith (who never got to be a kid when she was little) and wind-up, mechanical walking hearts for Valentine's Day or just whenever.
To receive is to take in and be moved by. That means to be changed. Receiving seems easy but few people do it well.
You've heard the injunction, "Tis better to give than receive." Well, think about it. If everyone is giving and no one is receiving, then the giving ceases to be meaningful. By all means give openly. But receive with equal generosity, because when you do you take in and are touched by the other's gift and that completes the exchange.
How well do you accept compliments? Tell your partner not to let you get away with brushing compliments aside. They are little packets of love. If you reject them you not only reject love but you teach your partner that you are not lovable and worthy of being given his/her care and attention.
Also, make a commitment to do the same when you give a compliment and the other person does not take it in. Stop them and let them know that you consider your gift important and don't want it devalued. That way you help them to receive better while maintaining your own sense of worth.
When you appreciate someone you acknowledge their value . You are saying "I treasure you and I want you to know it." Think about how you would feel if someone said that to you. Well, that's how your partner feels when you say it to him/her.
And the simplest form of appreciation is to say "Thank you."
JIM: When we were first together, Judith used to thank me for washing the dishes.
JUDITH: "Why?" he'd say. "After all, I live here too."
JIM: But she wanted me to know that she appreciated what I was doing and she taught me a deeper way to receive, which means a deeper way to love and be loved.
In any intimate relationship, no matter how wonderful, conflict is unavoidable. Two unique people cannot live together over a long period without clashing from time to time. They might quarrel about each other's ways of disciplining the children, or how to spend money. They might argue when one feels neglected or the other feels invaded. Conflict is like a flare, shot up from the depths. It warns both partners that something needs attention. Something in their relationship is calling out for care and healing.
Throughout history, our foremost spiritual teachers have understood that to expand consciousness, we have to go through some kind of personal ordeal. An awakened vision comes only after we squarely face into a demanding challenge, release and let go of whatever limiting beliefs stand in our way, even if they are those we treasure, and open ourselves to the new and different awareness that awaits on the other side of the trial. And each conflict offers precisely that possibility.
When you do that, you move into a larger and more encompassing consciousness, one that inspires more empathy, more compassion, more of a sense of unity with the diversity of life. You grow as you are able to embrace that which is different from how you have been.
We're not suggesting that you have to become a mystic or a religious leader to experience the spiritual dimensions of your relationship. We are saying that when you embrace the challenge of differences--which is at the core of spiritual awakening--you have the opportunity to grow each time you and your partner find yourselves in a conflict.
Here are the six lessons of anger.
Lesson 1: Anger is necessary to protect yourself from
When you celebrate something you treat it as special. A birthday is more than just another day. To celebrate your partner is to announce just how out of the ordinary he or she is for you. Grab every opportunity to celebrate. Doing so will elevate the value of your relationship and keep it fresh and alive.
Be sure to celebrate a promotion, the new house, a new dog, a debt paid off, anything you care about.
We celebrate the day we met as being as important as our wedding day.
Rather than exchange gifts for our birthdays and Christmas we take ourselves on a romantic trip around that time (our birthdays are in December too).
We keep a Memory Book with photos and memorabilia that celebrates our life together (now 13 volumes full, working on the 14th.).
For centuries humans have created rituals to commemorate special meanings. These special rites weave a tapestry of comfort and predictability along with acknowledging the mysterious connection we call romance when we routinely honor what we value.
Anything meaningful that you enjoy doing together can become a ritual.
We hold hands on take-off whenever we fly.
We add Christmas tree ornaments with photos of us to our tree each year.
We play aunt and uncle to three sets of children in our town and shop together for the gifts we give them for the holidays.
And we collect heart shaped things.
Romantic rituals can be enjoyed and created out of even the smallest and most mundane of daily events.
So keeping romance alive is not only possible, it is necessary if a relationship and marriage is to thrive. And it is not difficult.
You must want it. And then you must commit to making it happen. That's why rituals are so important. They are regular observances that become part of your life. They assist in helping you to remember, to focus, and to enjoy.
Romance is an art. It must be lived. When you commit to a more romantic life, you will experience emotional and spiritual vistas far beyond what you now think possible. And they will be unique to the two of you. While you will find more closeness, more delight, and deeper intimacy, the particular form your experiences will take cannot be predicted because it comes from your joining, from your very specific and one-of-kind relationship.
And that spiritual magic, that very romantic magic that is yours alone will always be heightened through the experience of rituals that you develop to honor, express, and receive the love that lives between you.
We wish you a wonderfully romantic understanding and experience of love and intimacy every day, all year long for the rest of your life.
© 2010, Judith & Jim
I have always made a distinction between my friends and my confidants. I enjoy the conversation of the former; from the latter I hide nothing. - Edith Piaf
Judith Sherven and
Jim Sniechowski are husband and wife and the best-selling
authors of four books: "The
to Love 365 Days a Year" and
Loved for Who You Really Are: How the differences
between men and women can be turned into the source of the
very best romance you'll ever
know. Their fourth is
Smart Couple's Guide to the Wedding of Your
Dreams, an important book for
anyone who cares that weddings support the couple and the
marriage they are creating. And their latest book,
Heart of Marketing: Love your customers and they will
love you back. Claim your free
relationship tips at www.makingtheordinaryextraordinary.com
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