Romance and Desire. Body Language of Romance
Romance. Think back to when you had your first crush. One man I spoke with remembered his first crush as a girl he gave a box of candy to. She told him that she liked somebody else, but she took the candy anyway, thanked him, and walked away. He was nine years old and devastated.
A woman recalled her first crush as a boy who got her so angry in the schoolyard that she shoved his face into a snowbank. She was seven, and she was livid because she saw him pushing another girl on the swing. She could still see his thick eyeglasses fogged and flaked with ice and his look of utter shock as he came up gasping for air.
From playground attractions to first loves and infatuations to the declaration of undying affection and commitment, romantic love is part of sex, and exclusivity just goes with the territory. We want, maybe need, to be special to someone, to be chosen as someone’s one and only.
Now fast-forward to the time between early adolescence and the mid twenties, when you were being flooded with sex hormones and your prefrontal cortex—the brain’s judgment and decision making center—was not quite fully developed. Of course, you didn’t know this then.
Recall your first romance, when your heart did a flip-flop and you got a warm pang of excitement or fear in your belly when you saw that special person. Could it have been seventh or eighth grade, when you were only twelve or thirteen? Maybe it was a bit later, when you were sixteen or older.
It was very likely a period characterized by a heady mix of pulling away from your family and being drawn toward unfamiliar and perhaps forbidden feelings. Maybe there was a sense that unknown possibilities and adventures lay ahead.
Typically, while new experiences are taking place outside the home, a different drama is taking place in the family. The teenager is beginning to assert his or her individuality and need for autonomy. According to University of Virginia psychologists Joseph Allen and Deborah Land, there are differences between secure and insecure family patterns during this difficult period of breaking away. In a secure family, the parents will attempt to resolve the issues in a way that preserves closeness. In contrast, insecure parents and their insecure teens typically have less confidence in each other or in successfully resolving their issues. They are more likely to get angry and yell and to grow more distant.
The same patterns of security or insecurity reemerge as working models of relationship during times of conflict in adult intimacies. The patterns that are at play can determine whether the partners know how to resolve issues to safeguard their closeness or whether they yell and grow distant.
Such is the backdrop to nascent romance and the intense emotions that drive up lusty desires. The need for autonomy, the dramas played out with the family, the violation of prohibitions, and the frustrations, thrills, and pleasures can all become part of our sexual programming and interfere with desire in a relationship.
Romance also seems to be associated with having a sense of freedom and an anticipation of new discoveries, even for a long term couple. Power struggles or put-downs are romantic turnoffs, especially when they are reminiscent of old family struggles, and they suck the air out of any magic or playfulness. It’s well known that sexual behavior is largely learned and that our early history shapes our sexual beliefs, feelings, and expectations, but in terms of romance, some aspects of our behavior are also clearly innate.
Born to love romance
There is no doubt that romance is biologically tied to the human sex drive. All animals, including insects, have some sort of mating dance before the members of a pair clearly choose each other for sexual activity. Wooing and enticing is the human equivalent of the peacock using his extravagant tail to gain the admiration of the peahen and of the graceful intertwining neck dance of giraffes. It’s playful and spontaneous. It’s active and engaging. It’s a sign of health and vitality.
It’s also hardwired. Charles Darwin referred to these displays as “sexual selection” and considered them to play a key role in evolution. Only those male members of the species who best strutted their feathers were thought to have “reproductive fitness” and got to mate with the females and pass on their DNA.
The notion of human evolution itself has evolved past merely breeding and sustaining the species. Romance is as important to same-sex couples as it is to opposite-sex couples. Furthermore, romance is most likely a critical factor in maintaining sexual desire in any intimate relationship.
Courting is part of our erotic nature. Research shows that how two people look at each other, talk to each other, and even bob and sway with each other are all implicit triggers, intricately woven into the sex drive, that can stimulate erotic interest, focus, and arousal.
Courtship as the body language of romance
We call courtship rituals the mating dance because the way human beings innately signal interest in each other is primarily nonverbal and governed by the shifting rhythms of bodily movements. Flirting is similar everywhere, from the way traditional Polynesian Islanders have been described in courtship to the behavior observed by researchers in pickup bars all over the world.
In fact, anthropologist David Givens and sex researcher Timothy Perper separately made studies of U.S. and Canadian cocktail lounges, college pubs, and singles’ bars, and they essentially replicated each other’s findings on courting signals. It starts with a look that lingers, a subtle smile, a look away, and then a look back. The next gaze becomes more deliberate, perhaps more inviting.
Anthropologist Helen Fisher called this the attention getting phase, in which certain body movements are exaggerated. A woman might cock her head to one side and play with her hair—a gesture signaling vulnerability and invitation. A man may stick his chest out and lift his eyebrows as he moves closer to her—signaling male strength and confidence. These are mostly unconscious natural micro movements that are built into our biology and driven by the energy surge of the moment.
From there the two begin to engage in idle chatter, but what they’re saying is not as important as their tone of voice what scientists refer to as prosody. A melodious, mellow tone of voice signals interest, whereas a clipped tone of voice is typically a brush-off. If all continues to go well, the next stage for this winsome twosome is a casual touch, in which one of them “accidentally” grazes the other with a hand or a shoulder. The more the two continue to talk and touch, the more they move their bodies, swaying and bobbing to their own internal rhythms.
Givens and Perper both observed that at a certain point something fascinating begins to take place with the energized duo. Each person begins to mirror the other. He picks up his drink; she picks up her drink. She smooths her hair; he smooths his hair. Eventually, if their body movements reach total synchrony, the couple is soon likely to leave the place together.
The teenagers I see in therapy sometimes unconsciously mime for me how they act when they spend time with a cute boy or girl. Carla, a pretty seventeen-year-old, told me that she ran into a boy she liked at a friend’s house. She felt very excited about the meeting and began to describe some of the details of how he sat down next to her on the couch and started to get “flirty” with her. As she was reliving the meeting, I saw her engage in some of the same movements described above. She threw back her head and began to comb her hair with her fingers as she talked about her experience. Her eyes sparkled as she remembered that he had lightly touched her shoulder and that it had turned her on. She put her hand to her mouth and giggled. She was clearly getting a little revved up just talking about the encounter.
Is romantic love time-limited?
The poets would have us believe that love is an intoxicant forever. The Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning ended her paean to her beloved Robert Browning, “How Do I Love Thee?” with the lines “I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life! And, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.”
These rapturous and articulate lovers began their romance with more than five hundred letters between them. Elizabeth was an invalid living in her father’s house and forbidden by him to marry. When Elizabeth and Robert finally met, they immediately fell in love and soon eloped to Florence, Italy. Her father never spoke to her again. Elizabeth was forty years old; Robert was thirty-four. The marriage, which produced a son, lasted fifteen years, until Elizabeth’s death at age fifty-five in 1861.
What a difference 150 years can make. Now most of us fall in and out of love a few times, at least. When we do finally commit to someone, we do so not just because it’s the practical thing to do but because we are in love. Studies show that most Americans consider romantic love to be a critical basis for marriage
Elizabeth and Robert had about sixteen years together. Can couples who commit in their twenties or thirties really sustain romance for a twenty-first-century lifetime?
What exactly are we talking about when we speak of romance? Is it a passionate feeling, a way of acting, a short-lived affair, or a lifelong adventure? Actually, it’s all of the above and more!
The natural inclination toward romance starts early in childhood and can continue to stimulate arousal and erotic pleasures throughout a lifetime. It makes sense, then, to see what we can learn about romance: how it starts, what it does for us, what diminishes it, and how our experience of romance can evolve and develop throughout our lives.
Many scientific studies suggest that romantic love is most intense during the first months of a relationship and tapers off somewhere between three months and two and a half years. University of Minnesota social psychologist Ellen Berscheid, who has spent her career researching the intense emotions of romantic love and erotic longing, described romantic love as a jumble of contradictory emotions, from the positive experiences of exhilaration and love to painful episodes of depression, insecurity, and anger. She equated the condition of being “in love” with a heightened state of bodily alarm, which would be exhausting to maintain. Her verdict was that romantic love is “about 90 percent sexual desire as yet not sated.”
Helen Fisher would mostly agree. To her, romantic love is one part of a three-part mating system, intertwined with yet distinct from lust and attachment. Lust is sexual craving, associated with high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with reward. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter and a hormone that keeps us alert and motivated. These two stimulants trigger testosterone, the hormone of sexual desire in both men and women. Although the biochemistry of lust is similar to romantic love, Fisher observes that lust can be satisfied by anyone reasonably attractive and willing. Romantic love can trigger lust, but in this case the desire is very specific to the particular individual who has captured your heart.
There are nonverbal as well as verbal scripts, such as the expectations associated with kissing. For example, in the beginning of a romance, kisses are likely to be spontaneous and playful. Yet as the relationship grows more familiar, what can replace that way of kissing is a predictable script of the closed-mouth little peck of a kiss we’ve already talked about—pleasant but nothing to get excited about.
Throughout the years, a couple is also likely to develop a well-established script for their sexual interactions. Although sex may still contribute to good feelings between the two of them, it is not likely to generate the intense passion of their earlier relationship. In other words, well-established scripts can keep the relationship running smoothly, but it doesn’t make for interesting or exciting sex.
True romance: honoring individuality and otherness
The scripts that individuals are likely to play out with their partners can be generalizations and expectations about “all men” or “all women” that they learned from watching their own parents interact. Sometimes these are unquestioned notions about how we imagine we are supposed to be or act in a relationship. There may also be unfinished and unforgiven business from past relationships that each partner brings into the new relationship and automatically transfers to the partner. Scripts that require avoiding hot spots in order to get along undermine the likelihood of self-disclosure and discovery.
The working models of intimacy that are handed down from one generation to the next are expectations programmed in the brain. These old tapes come with their own distinct emotional patterns. I see couples playing out parent-child scripts that are right out of their childhood playbooks.
The “My Way Is Better Than Your Way” Script I’ve encountered a number of relationships in which one person pushes his or her own scripts on the other person. Certain ways of doing something or saying something are deemed acceptable, “the right way of doing things,” and other ways are not. Not only is this a kind of bullying, it completely stifles romantic feelings.
A woman named Stacy came to see me when she noticed that after six years of marriage she had lost her sex drive completely. She said she didn’t know what was wrong with her. As we talked, what was really going on became more apparent.
Stacy and her husband, Jim, were still having some nice times together, she told me, but she had to be careful with him. He had very firm opinions about everything. He was continually correcting her language when she spoke and telling her how something she did should have been done differently. That continued into their sex play, with Jim giving Stacy a running commentary during their sexual activity on how to touch him. Stacy loved Jim and wanted to please him, so she was trying to learn his way of doing things, but she had completely lost her spontaneity in their relationship, and with it her desire for Jim.
Clearly, there was nothing wrong with Stacy. Her body was having a natural and genuine response to her partner’s unappealing behavior. I suggested that it would be a good idea for Jim to come in with her, and to my delight he agreed. Their work in therapy then became not just an enhancement of their sexual life together but a great example of how a couple’s patterns in sex can be a reflection of deeper emotional issues.
Stacy was used to placating her stern father and playing the role of the good daughter. Neurons remember. If a woman’s early experience with her parents involved having to hide aspects of herself to be loved, she’s likely to expect to have to do the same to keep love as an adult. Having your actions scrutinized and your language corrected doesn’t do a thing for sexual desire.
Jim, who was very clear about what he wanted Stacy to do during lovemaking, came from a critical and unloving family. His father was particularly shaming toward him during adolescence. So here he was now, acting like his father toward his wife, who was doing her best to be a good girl. Not a very sexy scene.
It doesn’t make sense to fall in love with an individual you see as rare and special and then turn around and try to make him or her over in your own image. Yet people do that all the time. Unfortunately, when one person dictates the scripts, what was once playful turns into a catechism—and there goes the romance and physical desire.
Romance and Desire
Is it possible to find someone new and different in one’s mate? That depends on how free each individual is to be spontaneous without judgment, criticism, threat, or punishment. These are all forms of control.
If there are old patterns militating against openness in a relationship, it can take a while to build trust. Obviously, this does not happen overnight. The developmental challenge for maintaining a place for romance in a relationship is to appreciate your partner’s uniqueness and to be respectful of how you are not carbon copies of each other. Psychologists call this differentiation, and it has to do with each of you maintaining a sense of self, with a right to your own opinions and preferences, apart from your commitment to the relationship. You and your partner were attracted to each other because of, not in spite of, your differences.
Another crucial aspect of differentiation is being capable of distinguishing your partner from the parent or sibling that you have unfinished business with. If you think your partner is just like your mother, your father, or a sibling, it may be because that’s how you are treating him or her. Ask yourself if you are hiding things and feeling guilty the way you did with your parents or feeling competitive and jealous as you felt with your sister or brother. If the answer is yes, bingo! You have some stuff to work on.
Often the best way is to just “bust” yourself. If you let your partner know you’re recognizing the patterns in yourself, your partner will be more likely to want to break his or her own patterns— especially if you talk nicely.
Finally, consider that dealing with these issues is part of what brought the two of you together. We are often attracted to those who can help us resolve some of our childhood issues and flourish as adults in a loving and sexual relationship. If there are no problems, there will be no growth. Another way of saying this is that if there is no challenge, there is no need to adapt, so there will be no evolution.
One of the best ways to break out of old scripts is to be playful with each other, especially romantically playful. Nothing undermines the tendency to equate your partner with family better than treating him or her as an attractive and sexually desirable individual to have fun with.
We never outgrow our need for romance. Wooing the other person in a relationship fuels sexual interest in the same way that admiring the presentation of a lovely meal at a fine restaurant or sniffing a glass of quality wine whets the appetite. Appreciating your meal before ingesting it activates your taste buds and stimulates the secretion of saliva in the mouth, preparing you to enjoy your food. Flirting and being erotically playful can automatically stimulate the erotic imagination and mix up your favorite cocktail of dopamine and hormones to feed your sexual arousal.
The fun and playfulness of flirting can be one of the first things to go when two people commit to each other and move in together. For some couples, being sexy with each other ceases, the wooing game is over, and sex becomes expected. Before they moved in together, they enticed each other. They looked deep into each other’s eyes and smiled; they caressed each other as they spoke sweetly and lovingly; they kissed and kissed. Now one of them “initiates” sex. It’s like a trade deal.
When I hear a couple complain about who does or doesn’t initiate sex, it sounds so boring. Typically, the initiator is the same person each time, and it’s the other who gets to say yea or nay. Sometimes the initiator just asks hopefully, “Do you want to have sex?” and waits for a response. Then the other rapidly runs the calculus, taking into account the interruption to his or her schedule, how long this is likely to take, his or her energy level, and the forecast for a happy ending.
But the medium is the message. Enthusiasm begets enthusiasm. Nothing in this couple’s initiation ritual whets the appetite and activates the taste buds for sex. A warm smile and a little focused attention on each other is much more likely to ignite a little spark.
Commitment doesn’t have to be the end of flirting and being playful. We have a natural body-based ability to be responsive to romance.
How can I romance you? Let me count the ways
There are many kinds of romance. A romance can be a love story, a love affair, or a way of engaging and enticing a lover.
A romance is a love story
In classic fairy tales, lovers are kept apart by circumstances like crusades, wars, family feuds, and evil stepmothers. In the stories that end well, the lovers confront the obstacles, vanquish the dragons, and achieve everlasting happiness.
Every couple has its own love story: how the partners met, what their challenges were then, what their challenges are now, and how their love has, and will continue to conquer all. In all of the stories I’ve heard of how a
couple met and fell in love, there’s always a magic moment when the two people recognized each other as mates for life.
Keeping a relationship interesting involves invoking that magic from time to time. It helps to remind yourselves periodically of the special beauty of your own modern-day love story and to hold that vision dear.
A romance is a love affair
Typically short-lived and passionate, an affair is often a secret because one or both partners are married or they’re breaking some rule by being together—like a company regulation against coworkers fraternizing. As a result, the two are in a bubble. Untainted by the real world, the lovers take respite from their mundane lives and responsibilities in their connection with each other. The tryst is a time set aside for love and pleasure.
A couple can also have a love affair. What it takes is the same motivation to steal away to create a bubble of time devoted to intimate pleasures. It’s a romantic interlude, a time when all responsibilities are on hold and nothing else matters but enjoying each other and feeling good together. Ultimately, it’s all about making the other person feel special and valued by making time for him or her.
To romance is a verb
Lovers romance each other. They flirt with and tease each other. They take the time to entice each other playfully and erotically. A couple can keep alive the quality of romantic love in the relationship if each person makes the other feel special and, at least occasionally, looks attractive just for him or her. To romance your lover, you want to draw him or her toward you to come play with you.
To romance is to play
In my last book, The Pleasure Zone, I showed how play is one of life’s core pleasures, and I cited studies indicating that playfulness and making time for play can actually enhance immunity and contribute to personal health and happy relationships. Sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson themselves referred to the “pleasure bond” as one of the great values of maintaining an active and satisfying sex life for a couple.
When couples get stressed, their ability to play is one of the first things to go. But if something funny happens, and the partners are suddenly able to share some moments of laughter or enjoyment, their lightheartedness can inspire them to repair the damage and move on. To maximize your erotic possibilities you have to take full advantage of your ability to play.
The powers of play
When play is the medium, the body gets the message. Play is the life force in action. The opposite of play is not work, because work can be done in a spirit of play and be highly enjoyable. The opposite of play is forced labor: effortful, goal oriented, and nose to the grindstone.
Play is naturally relaxed and energetic at the same time. When you are at play, you are doing something just for the sake of doing it because it feels good and makes you glad to be alive.
Neurological studies show that the body at play confers the ultimate in neural integration: high sympathetic and parasympathetic arousal. This is the neural state associated with relaxed alertness. During play the brain secretes dopamine and acetylcholine, neurotransmitters that reward the activity, sharpen memory, and stimulate the brain’s attention center.
In his studies with both human and animal subjects, Bowling Green University professor Jaak Panksepp found that play is a critical, inborn, and positively energizing motivational and emotional system. He observed that playful activity is also associated with the secretion of painkilling opioids that enhance memory and joyfulness. He suggested that if we are to become master of our own emotional dynamics, we are unlikely to find “any stronger therapeutic aid than that contained in the joyous potentials of play.”
University of Illinois professor Steven Porges has highlighted the fact that playfulness creates a sense of safety between two people. During playful activity, people are more likely to touch, the muscles of the face relax, there are more instances of eye contact and smiles, and the voice softens. Each person’s nervous system becomes mobilized, but without fear. Play engages us, regulates the nervous system, and inspires new learning and cooperative behavior.
Children are the great masters of play—they like to play at pretend, and once they get into it, they’re spontaneous and very focused. A child at play is a happy child and is in the process of learning vital life skills. The child is still in us and as much in need of playtime as ever.
My dictionary defines playful as “said or done in a teasing way or in fun” and offers these synonyms: good-humored, lighthearted, teasing, joking, humorous, and mischievous. Mischievous is defined as being naughty or disobedient, but usually in fun and not meaning harm. This is one of the big reasons that romance can happen only between people who feel free to be themselves and not adhere to predetermined scripts.
Being romantic is a great way for partners to play. When one person is attentive to the other with a lighthearted and lively spirit and the other reciprocates in some way—laughs at the joke or smiles back and stays engaged—they’ve connected with their inner playmates.
Becoming a charming flirt
Flirting is not overtly sexual, although it can turn into something more erotic. Fundamentally, to flirt is to be attentive in a lighthearted manner, to have a sense of humor, and to acknowledge another as someone you like and want to play with.
The late Joyce Jillson, a television actress, an author, and the astrologer to Ronald and Nancy Reagan while they were in the White House, made some very perceptive observations on the fine art of flirting. Although she was mostly interested in how single men and women might attract each other, some of her tips ring true for couples. Jillson cautioned that flirting has to be subtle, or it’s likely to be a turnoff. The basic characteristic of good flirting is simply to be warm and friendly. In fact, she suggested that just being warm and friendly toward anyone can be considered flirting, and she recounted that her female friends sometimes told her she was flirting with their grandsons when all she was doing was showing an interest in them. She called this aspect of flirting “old-world charm.” For the modern man or woman that may be an anachronistic concept. But I think her observation is really insightful.
Being charming is almost synonymous with flirting. To charm someone is to delight or enchant that person, and maybe even to cast a spell on him or her. Charm is said to be the power to attract or persuade others. When someone is charmed by you, he or she is drawn to you. If you’re charming, you are, by definition, a pleasure to be with.
According to Jillson, some flirtatious assets to hone in your personality include “having a sense of humor about yourself” and “being playful, whimsical and even prankish.” Other qualities she highlighted are to “flirt without expectations of reward” so that you don’t get fixated on any particular goal and to “show enthusiasm for the moment.” I think she nailed it.
There’s a myth that women are romantic and men are not. In fact, I sometimes think that men are more romantic than women. Both like to be told how special and how attractive they are. Both like to be the focus of undivided attention. Both feel warm and happy inside when their partners look into their eyes, stroke their cheeks silently, and smile.
It’s true that a man with an extra measure of testosterone may tend to sexualize a romantic interaction faster than a woman might. But just because there is some sexual energy between them doesn’t mean they have to stop everything and get prone. It’s good energy, and both sexes benefit when eroticism morphs out of a spirit of playful romance and enthusiasm for more intimate connection.
Playing at romance
While living in Paris during the 1930s, the American novelist Henry Miller was approached by a famous art dealer with a money-making offer. The dealer told Miller—whose books at the time were banned as pornography in the United States—that he represented a wealthy client who was interested in hiring him to write short erotic stories for the client’s own enjoyment. The client wished to remain anonymous, and the exchange of money for the manuscripts would be undertaken by the dealer.
Miller could have used the extra funds, but he decided to stay focused on his own work, so he offered the assignment to his friend and fellow writer, Anaïs Nin. Nin started out writing stories for the client on her own, but as his appetite for more grew and she could not keep up with his demands, she called on a cadre of cash-strapped young artists to help with the writing and to split the income. They decided to write as a collective, so they sat together during the evenings and concocted tales, some of which were based on their own romances; others were pure fantasy. Each time the stories were received, however, the benefactor sent back the same message: “Cut the poetry, just write about sex.”
Step four: partners in romance
Objective: To discover new ways to be romantic and playful with the one you love.
Experiments in romance
Romance has to be playful. If you play out a predictable script, it’s not going to be romantic, because first, it’s not genuine, and second, it’s not unexpected. But you can play in fresh ways with old scripts, and you can also connect with each other in new ways. See what enlivens your playful connection. The object of these exercises is to stimulate a pleasurable process between you and your partner that fosters spontaneous playful romantic engagement.
Gestalt games for couples
Based on embodied Gestalt therapy that teaches people to become more aware of ongoing moment-by moment experience, these are two-person, present-centered experiments done in the spirit of play. They are processes that can be enjoyed for themselves, and they can jiggle mental habits and lead to insight. They may also direct the way to new and better ways of doing things. These exercises require a willing partner to play with and may take anywhere from fifteen minutes to half an hour or more.
If you don’t currently have a partner or your partner is not available, you can do these Gestalt games in your imagination. Picture the activity in your mind’s eye with the partner of your choice. Watch how your body responds and be aware of any tension-relaxation shifts or emotions that bubble up. If you intend to pick and choose the games that most appeal to you, I recommend that you read through all of the games before you select any. That way you can still get some benefit out of exercises you don’t do. As always, all experiments start with embodied basics and breathing fully and deeply, focusing inward, and taking a felt-sense inventory.
Spend a mindful minute in a hug
This experiment is meant to be just a few extra moments shared during a convenient time in the flow of the day. It does not require setting aside any structured time.
- Get your partner’s consent to do this one. For the next few days, at some point in the day, maybe when saying hello in the morning or in the evening, greet each other with an extended hug and a few moments of breathing and relaxing together.
- Hold your bodies close. Feel each other’s heartbeat, the warmth and smoothness of skin on skin. Breathe in each other’s familiar scent, drawing a long deep inhalation through the nose and exhaling in a sigh. Then look into each other’s eyes for a few moments, enjoy a little kiss, and go on with your day or evening.
Say what you most love and appreciate about each other
Invite your partner to do this with you. It may take no more than ten minutes.
- Sit comfortably facing each other and decide who will go first. The one who begins starts each sentence with “What I most love about you is” or “What I really appreciate is” and shares as many good qualities as he or she can think of in the moment. Look into each other’s eyes as you talk. If you feel the need to look away, allow yourself to, and look back when it feels comfortable to do so.
- First one partner completes the exercise, and then the other partner does it. Do not interrupt each other. Just listen. After you both have expressed what you love and appreciate, thank each other with a hug and a kiss.
Tell the story of your love
Find a romantic spot in which to do this little exercise with your partner. It could be at home with dimmed lights, soft music, and a few lit candles. Or the two of you might be alone in nature, walking on the beach at sunset or sitting outdoors on a warm summer evening watching the stars appear in the night sky.
- Each one tells the story of your first meeting in a new way. Share how you felt about the other at first, what first attracted you, and when you knew he or she was “the one.”
- Reminisce together about any obstacles you had to overcome to stay together and say how you think those trials strengthened you and helped you to endure as a couple.
- Appreciate what you most treasure about the presence of the other in your life, what he or she means to you.
- Look ahead at some dreams you have for new experiences to share, places to travel to, and adventures to enjoy together.
- Say thanks for how the other has enriched your life.
Have a love affair
Get out of the house. Take your love and your alone time together outside the home you share. • Meet after work for a drink, on a park bench, or at a nice place to walk. Take the time to greet each other warmly, making eye contact, smiling, touching, and kissing (discreetly, of course). Then just hang out together and share your day, especially the high points.
- Make a plan to go somewhere that would be special to you. If you can’t agree on a place that has the same meaning to both of you, choose two special places and accompany each other to both. In either case, learn what makes the place so special to the other.
- Bring the other an inexpensive gift that you sense he or she will appreciate. Tell the story that goes along with the gift and what about it made you think of the other.
Go to a hotel for a romantic night or weekend and plan to focus on each other. If it’s a weekend, make sure you build in individual time alone as well so you can look forward to each other’s return.
- Each of you plans a romantic evening at home. For each evening, make sure you will be alone all night. The host for the evening plans a light meal, selects the music, and creates an appealing environment. Each of you dresses to feel attractive, yet in comfortable, breathable clothing. Be an entertaining and attentive host and a gracious guest. Enjoy each other’s company.
Have fun together
These are little games to play just for fun. They’re meant to bring out your lightheartedness with each other. You don’t have to do any of them more than once unless you want to.
- Make up some new pet names for each other. Be nice.
- Arm wrestle. The one who cares more about winning should always win.
- Groom each other. Comb or brush each other’s hair, paint each other’s toenails, rub lotion on each other’s chest, shoulders, and back. Give him or her a footbath or a hand rub.
- Sit facing each other with knees touching. Take a few deep breaths and notice the distance between your noses. Remain seated exactly where you are, and very slowly and without any words, bend toward your partner, moving only your chest and waist. Keep moving closer and closer and see if you can get your noses to touch. If you don’t succeed, do it again.
- Sit facing each other. Take a few deep breaths, hold both hands, and look each other in the eyes. Now take turns telling each other a joke. If your partner blows it, be comforting.
Romance is self-disclosure
The more openness there has been in your relationship, the easier these exercises will be. If you haven’t shared much in the past, start with little revelations. Then move slowly, although perceptively, outside your comfort zone.
- Breathe. Reveal something new about yourself to your partner. It doesn’t have to be something startling. Preferably, it’s a feeling you haven’t talked about before. If your partner doesn’t respond as you had hoped, ask for what you want. Ask nicely.
- Breathe. When your partner reveals something new about himself or herself, pay attention to how that makes you feel. How are you responding, and how would you like to respond?
- Breathe. Reveal the ways your partner appreciates you more than you appreciate yourself. Tell him or her what that means to you and how that has affected your life.
- Breathe. Tell him or her “how you complete me.” Share how he or she makes you more than you are without him or her.
- Breathe together. Lie in each other’s arms. Feel blessed to have each other.
The heart of desire
Keys to the pleasures of love
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