Romancing the Marriage
Romance has gotten a bad rap. As the opening chapter of this book stated, falling in love is not a good enough foundation for marriage. The problem is that couples and therapists alike may have thrown the baby out with the bath water, leaving an insufficient role for romance in marriage. A little romantic feeling goes a long way when communication falters and hearts shut down. Said another way, giving and receiving expressions of love and adoration is an effective antidote to the tendency in long-term relationship to take each other for granted. One antidote for relationship boredom is to bring back some old-time romance.
Part of the problem for many couples for whom romance feels like ancient history is the crass commercialization of its rituals.
A man dreads Valentine's Day in inverse proportion to the degree a woman loves it. The problem with hearts and flowers from a male perspective is the typical man's resistance and (for some) hostility at being told exactly when and how he's supposed to show his adoration for the woman in his life.
It's not that deep down men don't like to be romantic; in fact, men do. He just hates being told to show up with flowers or jewelry in lockstep with the rest of his gender. It generally works better for a man when he can individually decide how to reclaim romance in his own way, and then act with authenticity from his heart. What's in romance for a man? He gets an emotionally and sexually vulnerable partner who's ready to receive his love and return it in kind. From a male perspective, this can be plenty reward for such a small effort in the romance department.
Really, What Is Romance?
In medieval times, a love of God and of the beloved woman was combined in the chivalric tradition of romantic poetry. At their essence the songs of these troubadours were expressions of a man's adoration for the woman he loved from afar, the distance being due to the fact that she was often married or otherwise unavailable to him. He loved her for her purity, her beauty, and for the devotional feelings she inspired in him even if he couldn't have her to himself, and this represented an ideal of love, which in many ways was closer to a spiritual love than romantic love as we think of it today.
While chaste love is not the goal of modern marital love, this idealized romantic tradition in Western civilization can serve to make modern love a fuller, more integrated experience of heart, spirit, and flesh. The declarations of love and adoration made by these medieval knights were nonmaterial gifts to the beloved, whether displays of words or actions. This is the chivalric tradition encapsulated by the image of a knight laying down his life for the fair lady who inspired all that was good in him. In Eastern religions and also in Jungian psychological terms, the knight and the fair lady are viewed as two parts of the same person. These aspects of the self are the feminine receptive and relational or yin, complemented by the masculine active or yang principle. Both are necessary, and it is through the union of opposites that balance is reached, both within an individual and in a marriage. This is the essence of the healing power of sexuality when honesty, love, commitment, and respect for the other are all present in the relationship.
Say What You Love about Her
A simple exercise that can help you both get back in touch with your feelings of romance that may have gotten lost in the course of living your daily lives is to look deep into your heart and come up with a list of thirty things you love about your partner. You can write these down on a special greeting card or on a plain piece of paper. When completed, hand your list to him with a single red rose or put it inside a box of chocolates. The idea is to make it a simple, but very special, romantic gesture.
As a way to enhance your own words, consider drawing on some of the most romantic love poems ever written. Get thee to the library and look for Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Emily Dickinson, Rumi, or John Keats. Then check out the modern poets like Rainer Maria Rilke, William Carlos Williams, or e. e. cummings. These word masters can help transform you into the romantic you once were.
Here are some of the loving things spouses say to each other while doing this exercise. As you compile your own list, keep in mind that each sentence starts with these words: “What I love the most about you is….”
You have the best laugh of anyone I know
The twinkle in your eyes when you think I look sexy
The way you spoon with me at night
Your voice, especially when you sing in church
Your naked body
Your homemade pasta and sauce
The way you keep your eyes open when we make love
The way you always know when I reach orgasm
And so on. Maybe one of these applies to your feelings about your partner. Pick any that ring true and add others that are unique to you and your beloved. Every relationship is different, and there are reasons why the two of you work well as a couple. The point of this exercise is to remember those reasons. Once you get started, hopefully you won't be able to stop. And that's the idea of this exercise. You're going to recover the adoration that's lying within you but perhaps has lain silent for too long.