Nine years and four pregnancies after our wedding, I was wondering if red hot romance was something reserved for vampire movies, people who have dated less than a month, or cologne ads. I found out the truth about a year ago. Romance is not an accident.
According to Dr. William F. Harley, Jr. in his book, His Needs, Her Needs for Parents, romance is not something cosmic or mysterious. In fact, after years of study, behavioral scientists have found that if four key needs are met in a relationship, romance will develop. It is possible to have passion in marriages of any length.
Conversely, if these elements exist in a relationship with someone who is not our spouse, it should be a warning that romantic feelings could easily develop. We can protect our marriages by making sure these four needs are a priority in our marital relationships.
Intimate Conversation. Couples who talk at length and openly about their dreams, hopes, and personal views become emotionally bound to one another. Women in particular rank intimate conversation as one of the most satisfying aspects of a romantic relationship and are more likely to become physically intimate when lots of conversation exists. Make time to talk without the kids and listen without judgement.
Recreational Activities. When couples get out and do things together that they love, romance develops. Men ranked this highest next to sexual intimacy in romance importance. Dating, particularly in mature marriages, should not be seen as a luxury. It is a need. If one spouse loves rock climbing, both could learn it. Love to go star gazing, cheese tasting or running? Do it together! Budget for dating and make it happen.
According to successful family therapists, couples need on average of 15 hours of alone time together a week to create and maintain romance. This may seem like a lot. However, when you were dating you spent hours together and you were also high on the romance meter. Romance takes a consistent time investment.
Intimate Touch. This refers to non-sexual touch. Couples who hug, hold hands, touch arms, give soft caresses and other forms of caring, physical attention create romance. Touch is a basic human need. It is common that one spouse might need touch more than the other. Both spouses should learn to ask for, give and receive physical touch. Touch will elevate your “married roommate” status to “married boyfriend and girlfriend!”
Kissy Stuff. If the previous three needs are met, then physical intimacy tends to come naturally in many relationships and be enjoyable for both partners. If this aspect of romance is a struggle, seriously examine if you have enough conversation, recreation and non-sexual touch. There are very instructive and tasteful intimacy books for couples (and not just for newlyweds). A particularly good one is And They Were Not Ashamed by therapist Laura Brotherson. Don’t be afraid to seek out help; many couples just need someone to talk to.
For my Rob and me, the common thread in each of these areas has been laughter. My husband and I were terrific friends. As time went on, I realized that the easiness, smiles and laughter we shared were a huge blessing. Trying new activities got exciting, sharing dreams wasn’t intimidating and even physical aspects of the marriage flowed because of laughter.
I know the lightness and happiness of our marriage wouldn’t happen without making a concerted effort at the weekly date. A good meal, a couple of hours playing together, and we are even in the zone to tackle tricky issues like our budget. When the sitter budget is low, we get the kids to bed early, play games, spend our $5 on Resse’s Puffs or watch a documentary. I can truly say that these simple dates have made Rob my boyfriend!
I also learned this truth when studying about romance: it is not a luxury. The quality of my marriage directly impacts the stability and happiness of my children. Those weekly bowls of breakfast cereal might save our marriages, personal happiness, and ensure that our children grow up securely. Dr. Harley mentions that marriage is the only ethical (and for many people, the only spiritual and religious place) that these essential human needs can be met. Conversation, recreation, touch and intimacy are true needs, not just nice ideas reserved for young couples dating.
To develop fierce loyalty in our marriages, we have to ensure that the four above needs are met. If they are not, we will either give up on that area of our marriage or seek the need elsewhere. Even small mental disloyalties destroy romance, damage trust and affect the happiness of spouses and children. We can not afford to let that happen. We must deliberately safe-guard and foster romance on purpose in our marriages.
QUESTION: Which of the four needs are you strongest in? Weakest? When you think of couples your admire, what do you notice that they do to fulfill the four needs? Which ones do you and your spouse need to dedicate time to? What do you think your spouse wants more of?
CHALLENGE: Make creating romance a priority in your life. Talk to your spouse about these four needs (after a good meal and some relaxing). Plan a date with your husband. Arrange a sitter well in advance. If sitters are scarce, talk to a friend or family member. Take a cat nap to have energy for the evening. Make efforts to share dreams. Touch your spouse on the shoulder or arm. Do an activity they enjoy. Repeat weekly. Surround yourself with other happy couples.