Is the romance in my relationship a thing of the past? Many couples come to therapy with the common concern of losing the passionate spark that was once abundant in their relationship. Often they ask “What now? Will we ever go back to being the way we were?” It is an experience of loss, and also a yearning for something new. The reality is that 1 in 5 married couples have a low or no sex relationship (4-10 times per year) and unmarried couples that live together for more than 2 years are more likely to have a no sex relationship. But, is it only about sex? Can we have intimacy without romance? And can romance be possible without intimacy?
Esther Perel (Belgian Psychotherapist) talks about the notion of love and desire. Love, she explains, is about predictability, stability, security, permanence, dependability and security. Desire, on the other hand, is about adventure, novelty, surprise, mystery, risk, and the unknown. These are two basic needs that drive the idea of romance; however, it is routine and monotony that can derail couples from desire and intimacy. How do we reconcile these two needs and keep the fire burning?
1. Accept differences and explore a meeting point.
Let’s start by defining romance. The literature describes romance as a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love. Begin with curiosity and explore what excites your partner; keep an open mind and play the role of a listener. It is important to recognize that needs change over time, and that everyone defines intimacy differently. Avoid judging what your partner is willing to share, and instead explore and see where it takes you! You may find something in common or even find a new experience that you are both willing to explore.
2. Don’t get caught up in the “shoulds.”
Many couples struggle with the idea of planned intimate dates, but the reality is that 80% of intimate encounters are planned or semi-planned. Couples often get caught up in the “shoulds” of relationships, such as, “Love making should happen naturally”. These unspoken standards create increased pressure in a relationship. Instead, try to explore what type of relationship you want to have. Making the time to connect with your partner shows motivation, determination, and willingness. Intimate time can be introduced in many ways; you can start by picking one evening a week where you share an intimate space with each another. Invite the other to share ideas and commit to a mindful evening of romance.
3. Adventure, Adventure, Adventure!!!
When I suggest doing something new and exciting, couples often imagine a scene from an erotic movie. This is the part of the relationship where more doing and less talking is what works. Introducing acts of adventure and spontaneity simply means doing something out of the ordinary. This can range from something as simple as wearing something your partner likes to introducing a new idea to your sexual relationship. A common topic of contention in couple’s therapy is initiation towards intimacy. Typically, one partner complains that they often have to initiate, and the other does not care enough to initiate intimacy. The “initiator” often feels alone, unwanted, undesired, and unimportant. This often leads to an argument, and as a result, the couple stops talking about it completely, reinforcing the idea of avoidance and causing further distance. Think of the Nike slogan “JUST DO IT!” – willingly.
4.Use your resources. Don’t wait.
There are many applications out there to help you explore connection. Some of the popular ones are Kindu, Intimacy builder, affection, and love making (Gottman Institute). These can be useful to start conversations around wants and needs and to get to know each other again in an intimate way. Finally, if you are feeling stuck, don’t wait! Meet with a professional who can guide you in the desired direction; even love needs guidance.
“The very essence of romance is uncertainty.” -Oscar Wilde