Romantic Opportunities in Married Life

If you have taken courses in marketing or sociology, you've probably heard of the various stages of marriage. They generally include:

  • Newlyweds

  • Parents with young children

  • Parents of teenagers

  • Empty nesters

  • Kids moving back home

Each stage of married life presents romantic opportunities. Building romantic episodes is different in each stage, but everyone can get on board when the romance express leaves the station, no matter what stage you're in. What leads to romance when you're newlyweds is somewhat different than what leads to romance when you're grandparents. The important thing to remember is that both can and do represent times in your life when it is possible to add to your romantic portfolio. So, let's take a quick look at each phase.

A pastor friend told us that if a newly married couple places a half-gallon jar beside their bed and puts a penny in the jar every time they make love, the jar will be full of pennies in a few years. Then, if they take one penny out every time they make love, they will probably never empty the jar. Newlywed passion, while somewhat temporary, can bond you in ways that are permanent and private.

Newlyweds and Romance

On the surface, it would seem that a recently married couple should have the easiest time staying romantic. In many ways, that's true. But, at the same time, obstacles do appear. First, there are all those negotiations. Toilet seat up—toilet seat down? Who cooks? Who does dishes? Who manages the checkbook? Whose parents do we visit for Christmas? The list of potential romance-busters is long.

Also, many newlyweds are as broke as they're ever going to be. They can treat their poverty as either a problem or an adventure. The same holds true for romance. You can't afford to go out for those exotic, expensive, and romantic meals that you might have enjoyed on your honeymoon. Chances are, as a newlywed, your primary form of entertainment is your television, maybe your car. The old bar scene isn't ideal anymore, because lots of those folks are single and rowdy. And besides, it's expensive, and you have to go to work in the morning.

On the other hand, romance at this stage can be intense, creating the kinds of memories you will cherish for the rest of your lives. We've had many friends tell us that their poor early years were as much fun as they've ever had because, for the first time, they were building something together.

To make the most out of the newlywed years, it's important to make excuses to stay romantic. Walks, talks, intimacy, quiet dinners, and dozens of other moments should be treasured. You can't repeat those first few years, so take a big drink from the newlywed cup.

At the same time, it's crucial to recognize you won't keep up this frenzied pace. Therefore, don't assume something is going wrong just because your level of emotional intensity diminishes. Think of romance using the “blind men describing the elephant” allegory. You may be holding the elephant's tail when you're first married, but over time, you'll see more of the romantic “big picture.”

Romantic Activities for Newlyweds

  • Have a picnic on your apartment floor.

  • Guys, give her one rose for your one-month anniversary, two for the two-month, three for the three-month, and so forth, to the end of the first year.

  • Ladies, after you shower, write “I love you” on the steamy mirror when you know he'll find it.

  • Keep a journal of great moments from these early years, so you can share them in later life.

  • Save water and money. Take showers and candlelit baths together, even if the tub is too small.

  • Plan “one tank of gas” trips to nearby locations for times out together.

Parents of Young Children

Maybe we're weird, but we thought one of the most romantic things that ever happened to us was having a baby. Still, there are pitfalls to pregnancy and the early childhood years. Romance is diluted by fatigue, your level of activity, and the need to channel your energy away from your partner and toward your kids. There are dirty diapers, midnight feedings, potty training, fits, tantrums, and all sorts of other distracting aspects to parenting. Some times are great, like birthday parties, Christmas with Santa, summer vacations, and the like. Still, it's an easy time to allow the romantic part of your married life to falter, or, at least, be put on hold.

Restoring romance in the early childhood-rearing years takes planning, patience, spontaneity, and, yes, extra effort. You have to learn to grab small moments, because many times that's all you get. Planning can be a major asset at this point. You need to set aside nights to be away from the kids and alone together. You can hire a sitter for an evening, swap baby-sitting nights with another couple in the same predicament, or ask Grandma and Grandpa to watch the youngsters (if they enjoy doing so). It also helps to arrange your day so after bedtime there is a period in which you can be together without chores, paperwork, Internet access, television, or other distractions. The secret is to not get lost in the sea of Barney, video games, parent/teacher conferences, lessons, recitals, and everything else oriented to the under-ten crowd.

Also, think about the flip side of this era. There's something tremendously romantic about wrapping Christmas presents at midnight and hiding them together. It is entirely possible—and desirable—to integrate kid-raising activities with feelings of passion and romance toward each other. Kids learn about love by watching their parents, so having kids and feeling love and romance toward each other should not be considered mutually exclusive things. They can work together to make your life richer, giving a greater sense of meaning and purpose to everyday activities such as working, shopping, cooking, and cleaning. When that happens, love blossoms and romance blooms in entirely new ways.

Romantic Activities for Parents with Young Children

  • Schedule a date night (just for the two of you) every two weeks and stick to it.

  • Ladies, set up a “spoil my husband” night. Indulge him, so he knows he's just as important as those ever-needy and demanding kids.

  • Guys, set up a “Mom's night out.” Shoo her out of the house to one of her favorite activities or hobbies that she's ignored since the baby was born.

  • Set up dual holidays. Have one part for you and the kids, and one part for just the two of you, especially for New Year's Eve or other big celebrations.

  • After the kids’ bedtime, have dinner alone together on a regular basis.

  • Give each other time alone for bubble baths, reading, tinkering, and other activities that help keep you sane.

Parents of Teenagers

The teenage years present a new kind of challenge to the married couple, as well as new opportunities. When the kids are small, you can simply put them to bed or hire a sitter to get some quiet time together. As they get older, they come and go in more random patterns; and the difficulties of everyday teenage life seem to grow a little worse each year. Among other things, this means you're going to be pressed to help in as many ways as you can, just as they become more resistant to your “meddling.” How can this lead to romantic moments?

You can also be tremendously amused by your teens’ viewpoint of your romantic life. They probably think you're a couple of old geezers who couldn't possibly be amorous. That in itself makes for a great inside joke.

The secret is to designate your times and places. Sure, some of the spontaneity is lost, but other things may crop up instead. There will come that one marvelous night when, for the first time, you can leave them home alone, by themselves. At that point, they love pizza. Buy them some, and the two of you can head off for your own night out.

Romantic Activities for Parents of Teenagers

  • Have your own “prom” date on the same night as theirs.

  • Schedule weekend retreats to romantic places as often as you can (see Chapter 5 for some ideas).

  • Concentrate on the “random acts of kindness” part of your relationship. A little extra consideration during these years goes a long way.

  • Gross out your kids by being really affectionate in front of them.

  • Start a new hobby that gets you out of the house together. Dancing is a great one; just be sure to pick a style in which you're holding each other Ballroom, swing, salsa, and some of those other sexy Latin dances come to mind.

  • Use your teens’ romantic bumbling and stumbling through the dating years as inspiration by comparing it to your much more sophisticated, romantic program.

  • Give regular tension-breaking back rubs to each other.

  • Don't forget the flowers.

Empty Nesters

A sense of loss (the empty-nest syndrome) often descends when your children leave home for the first time. A great deal of your time and energy has been given to the day-to-day aspects of their lives, and, suddenly, they are taking care of themselves. For some devoted parents, one key part of life is over. Fortunately, the joys of parenting do not end with the empty nest. You can take pride in their college and work accomplishments, and a new role as grandparents lingers out there as well.

Empty nesters who take second honeymoons and work at restoring some of the private intimacy that first took place as newlyweds go a long way toward reducing and eliminating the postpartum of kids moving out.

To the rookie empty-nest family, some coaching is in order. A shift must take place. It involves taking active steps toward revitalizing and renewing the time you spend with your spouse. One thing that helps is that this stage of life is often your highest earning period. There are college costs to defray, but you can create a budget that includes lots more funding for your entertainment account.

With proper diet, exercise, and medical attention, the empty-nest stage can be a time of revitalized physical affection. You can take your time, knowing there will be fewer interruptions. And you have a level of familiarity that makes it possible to immerse yourselves in passion. Of course, you won't be the gymnasts you were in the early years of your marriage, but you may find yourselves setting other kinds of records.

Romantic Activities for Empty Nesters

  • Close the curtains and become nudists for a night.

  • Read those journals you wrote in as newlyweds, while reviewing old photos and videos.

  • Take second honeymoons (plural).

  • Walk together for exercise early in the morning or around dusk.

  • Have all of your kids come home at the same time, to remind yourselves why you're so glad you're now empty nesters. Go out for a romantic dinner the next night.

  • Leave a rose on the bed as you depart on a business trip.

  • Send a steamy message to greet your spouse as he or she arrives at the hotel on the business trip.

  • Do one activity you used to do as newlyweds that you haven't done for years.

  • Visit the place where you met.

Kids Moving Back Home

A new phenomenon has swept across the United States. It involves children of empty nesters moving back home. Many young people are not able to afford houses or have other difficulties that cause them to move back in with their parents. This can be a troublesome time on the romance front.

First, these twenty-somethings are independent and usually have some disposable income. So, while you think they should be saving up some kind of down payment, they're out partying, at least on the weekend. Second, they create at least a mild strain on your budget with increasing food costs, utility bills, and other expenses. And, of course, they don't even dream of reimbursing you.

Third, they're adults. They don't want you messing with their affairs, rendering advice, or telling them what to do. Dealing with disruptions to the tranquility of your home can be frustrating, but it's extremely important to avoid taking out your frustrations on your spouse!

An even more difficult complication occurs when your child brings grandchildren home to live with you. Although you may adore the little tykes, you're not used to the chaos anymore. Once again, romance can suffer, and fingers can easily be pointed at each other, rather than at the source of your aggravation.

The empty-nest feeling was the loss of a familiar pattern of living, which was, at least in part, focused on your family. The “kids moving back home” stage involves the loss of your newfound freedom. Still, romantic adventures are possible. You need to leave, or you need to get the kids out of your house, at least for a night or two. Then, it's a matter of negotiation. You have to come up with a plan you can all live with. It should also be a plan that forces your children to live independently as soon as possible.

When they finally do leave, enjoy the fact that your home is once again your own. During these golden years, you can return to romance in its fullest glory. Start by celebrating the small moments, and planning for the bigger ones (the fortieth, forty-fifth, and fiftieth anniversaries, for example). Use your time to revel in each other. Romantic memories can be supplemented nicely with new moments.

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