Jan Johnson
Jan Johnson

Articles: Marriage

Keep Those Romantic Feelings Coming
by Jan Johnson

Don’t ask, Is that all there is?
Ask, Isn’t it wonderful that I come home to someone who cares about me?

Are the Oscar the Grouches in your life getting to you? You know the kind -- they quote that old saying, "Love is blind but marriage restores its sight."

You ignore these people, but quietly you wonder if they're right. How will you keep the momentum going in your relationship? Is the excitement over? Has "the flag been captured," as these self-appointed Oscars put it?

It takes skill to settle in, without settling out. Couples who keep warm, romantic feelings aflame understand that being in love is a state of mind -- it's yours if you want it. Staying in love isn't artificial emotional hype, but a commitment to action.

Here are a few strategies to help you maintain that "forever-in-love" mentality.

1. REMEMBER WHEN . . . "Never forget why you fell in love with him," suggests New York psychologist Arlene Kagle. Was it his witty comebacks, his good manners, his insightful comments? Did he dress stylishly or offer to help you with something? Why did he stand out from the rest?

Sharon and Keith like to leaf through pictures of their dating days. They remind Sharon of how impressed she was with Keith's broad football shoulders. She remembered how Keith pretended to be so relaxed when he first met her tycoon father. Look at how he stretched himself for me, she thought.

Meg, a marketing director, approaches her husband Jon using her career skills. "At work I examine everything for its selling points -- so I even made a list of Jon's good qualities. For example, he's always willing to listen to me when I have a problem. Throughout our dating and married life, he's been my best friend. He even listens and then gives advice about how to handle him! Who could beat that?"

Both of these couples focus on the positive, which psychologist Kagle says is important. They don't ask, "Is that all there is?" They ask, "Isn't it wonderful that I come home to someone who cares about me? that life is more fun with a partner? that I have someone to dry while I wash?"

2. ASSUME A PLAYFUL ATTITUDE. Sharon watches for the mischievous glint in Keith's eye that warns her he's about to flick her with a wet towel. They both relish the back and forth banter that helps them squeeze through the morning bathroom rush.

But is humor only an empty ploy? "Sitting around and laughing is an important part of marriage," says psychologist Eleanor Paradise of Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It bonds people together because we like to be with people we have fun with. Joking is a subtle way to tell people we like them."

Instead of complaining about work throughout dinner, Sharon and Keith poke fun at their workday routines. "All day we make mental notes of odd things to share like The Far Side cartoons, unusual telephone calls and embarrassing moments. This has built up a reservoir of inside jokes to fall back on when life gets dull."

Tender feelings simmer between Jon and Meg as they exchange greetings cards. "We have fun hunting for just the right ones," says Meg. "In our case, the wrong card is even better," Jon says. "I send Meg birthday and anniversary cards throughout the year. It's so absurd that it distracts us from our task-oriented lives."

3. LET THE DATES CONTINUE. Couples should date at least once a month, according to Palma Garbo, marriage therapist in Los Angeles, California. "Set aside time to be together without friends around. Do whatever you did when you were first dating. It can be as simple as riding bikes or walking hand-in-hand."

Tricia and Gordon set aside a few hours every weekend and take turns planning it. They don't tell each other what's up until the appointed hour. One time Gordon surprised Tricia by playing their ultimate cheap date in college: they bought hamburgers and parked near the airport to watch jets take off into the twilight.

Leisure time together promotes honest communication, says marriage therapist Madelon Dribble of Granada Hills, California. "This is the best source of good feelings. Allow yourselves to unleash who you are as persons. Talk to your mate about your feelings, dreams and desires."

Meg recalls that Jon's career indecision had darkened their relationship. "He had only a few weeks left on his job," says Meg. "That Sunday afternoon, I wanted to work on a project and he wanted to go for a walk. He's a goof off, I thought.

"Finally, I agreed to go. We spent two hours walking up and down the avenues of our beach community, eating yogurt, looking in stores and discussing his career. The slow pace enabled him to open up and explain what he really wanted to do. By the time we got home, I had enjoyed hearing my husband's inner thoughts and I wanted more of it."

4. GIVE LOVEMAKING THE PLACE IT DESERVES. It's easy to let the routine of jobs, housekeeping and meetings de-prioritize sex. "If you only make love late at night, it's hard to put energy into it," says Paradise. "Try to set aside some time when you feel energetic. I also advise couples to take turns initiating both lovemaking itself and specific practices that they like. People lose their sense of their own desire when one does all the initiating. You don't want partners to settle into active and passive roles."

Are prearranged schedules a good idea for busy couples? "It depends," says Paradise. "It seems like a contradiction because you're ordering yourself to be spontaneous, but if you can't find the time, try it."

Tricia and Gordon, who both work full-time and attend school at night, set aside Thursday night as a sure thing every week. "It sounds crazy, but schedules work for us," confesses Tricia. "We look forward to Thursdays and tease about it."

5. TALK OUT YOUR HURTS. Maintaining emotional realness keeps intimacy alive. "As the relationship continues," says therapist Dribble, "couples sometimes hide their hurts and criticisms. They don't want to rock the boat. But when they hold back parts of themselves, life becomes routine. As couples talk about their hurts and resolve them, the realness returns."

When sharing negative feelings, it's wise to search for solutions instead of blaming a spouse. Sharon admits that she used to say things like, "You're ignoring me the way my dad used to ignore my mom." Now she says, "I'm feeling dry. What can we do to make our relationship more exciting?"

FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT

When there's no major problem but you feel a little stale, try doing the opposite of what you feel. Give of yourself. "I like the term, 'give to get,'" says Kagle. "We act from the better parts of ourselves and reach out to the other person. This isn't insincere. We're simply attempting to love our spouses consistently. We may not love them every moment and we may not love everything they do, but we still love them. We help our feelings match that consistency."

That's the paradox of it all. When you think of the other person and attempt to create warm feelings within him or her, you create them within yourself.

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This article originally appeared in Bridal Trends.

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