Re-posted with permission by Dr. Gregory Popcak
Alexis and Jake have been married 11 years. They have three kids, two jobs, one dog and a whole lot of stress. “Sometimes it’s just so hard to find any time for each other.” Says Alexis.
Jake agrees, “People always talk about how important date nights and other times together are, but nobody can tell you where you’re supposed to fit it all in.”
“It’s not like we don’t want to be together.” Says Alexis. “It’s just that it’s next to impossible to find the time and energy to make it happen.”
The comedian, Jeff Foxworthy, once remarked that the best thing about being married was that you could finally stop doing all that romantic stuff and start taking each other for granted.
Though most people would be loath to admit it, a lot of couples feel that way. Most people think of romance as a “nice extra.” Romantic gestures are things you do for each other if—and it’s a big if—you have the time, energy and effort. But if not, it’s no big deal. After all, you know you love each other, right?
Well, maybe not.
It might surprise you to discover just how important romantic love is, especially for Christian couples. If your love doesn’t have half the thrills that the march of time has, the following tips will get your hearts pumping to a more passionate beat.
Celebrate the Importance of Romantic Love
Many couples fail to appreciate the importance of romance. Liz and Kenneth were one such couple who came to me through the Pastoral Solutions Institute. Married for 15 years with 4 children, they didn’t think they had the time to be romantic. Likewise, as Ken put it, “Neither of us was raised in very affectionate homes. We’re pretty low maintenance in that regard.”
Some people may think that they can do just fine without romance, but the truth is, our bodies and minds crave knowing that we are special to someone. Love, in general, is the commitment to work for the good of another person. Romantic love, in particular, is the more exclusive commitment to work for the good of another person in a way that no one else can.
A parent’s love can convey a sense of basic worth, but a parent’s love is also shared with the other children in the family. A friend’s love can be a great support, but that friend’s love can be shared with every other friend. Only the exclusive commitment represented by romantic love has the power to reach places in your heart that no one else can. Only romantic love can convey, on the deepest level possible, the unique specialness one person holds in the eyes of another.
This is especially true for the Christian couple who is called to be a sign not only of their own love for each other, but also of God’s love for each of them—and God loves passionately. The Song of Songs made the cut in the canon of scripture because the early Church Fathers viewed it as a passionate love letter between God and each one of us. St Catherine of Sienna referred to God as her “Mad Lover.” Lots of Christian mystics experience the ecstasy of being in the presence of God’s love. The Church’s teachings on marriage—especially Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body— actually encourage couples to be a physical sign of God’s passion for each other. For the Catholic couple, taking time for romance isn’t just a nice idea for a better marriage. It’s an essential way that a husband and wife serve as a physical sign of the passionate love God has in his heart for each of them.
Admittedly, it requires a bit of a mental shift to cultivate this mindset, but you can start today. Spend some time reading the Song of Songs with your beloved and reflect on how the passion expressed by the bride and the bridegroom are supposed to be a conversation between God (the bridegroom) and us. If you have a chance, taking a short at-home course on Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (www.ChristopherWest.com or www.TOBInstitute.com ) or pick up a copy of my book, Holy Sex! which examines both the spirituality of romantic love, as well as all the practical aspects of sharing a passionate, life-long love with your spouse.
Use the Time You Have
It’s easy to feel like you don’t have time for romance. When I talk to couples about the importance of making time for each other, they often groan. Superficially, it sounds like a great idea, but practically speaking, it can feel like just one more thing to do, but it doesn’t have to be. Your day is already filled with a million activities that could become opportunities for playfulness, partnership and togetherness if you just did them together. For instance, one couple I know always does the dishes together after dinner. They catch up on each other’s day, they talk about their hopes for the future together. They tease each other and even occasionally splash each other with the water and the suds. Another couple I know has 7 kids who create a lot of laundry so the couple folds clothes together for a half an hour every night. Laundry time serves as a daily opportunity to connect. They turn a mindless chore into a mindful act of intimacy, making it their time to talk, sit close, and even be a little playful, like the time the kids wondered what all the racket was and came in to find mom and dad flinging folded socks at each other.
Activities like this might not sound very romantic, but romantic couples know that romance isn’t so much about what you do as much as it is what you do with it. Remember when you were dating and you would rather do something you didn’t enjoy with your boyfriend or girlfriend than something you did enjoy with almost anyone else? The activity didn’t really matter because it was just an excuse to be together, right? Well, couples who are masters at romance don’t complain about not having enough time. They use the time they have to draw closer to each other and care for and celebrate the life they’ve created together. Plus, taking time to connect everyday around simple household activities gives couples lots of opportunities to talk about and plan those more romantic dates when they eventually do get the chance to steal away without the kids.
Loving Feelings Follow Loving Actions
Bethany and Tim have been married 6 years. They have 2 children. Ever since the birth of their kids, they’ve experience less time and energy for their romantic relationship. Says Bethany, “We rarely do anything for ‘us.’ It’s really gotten to the point that I think it would feel weird to be romantic with each other. People say that sometimes the romance just dies in marriage. I guess that just happened to us.”
There’s good news for couples like Bethany and Tim. Loving feelings follow loving action! If you want to feel more loving toward each other, just start doing more loving things for each other. Especially if you don’t feel like it.
Some people think that it’s dishonest to do this. They believe that unless they feel loving, they can’t be loving. But this is a really (unintentionally) selfish attitude toward love. Love isn’t about your feelings. It’s a commitment to work for the good of the other person. When you step out of your busy life–and even your apathy–to give your spouse a compliment, or a sentimental card, or a small token of affection, or a small act of service, you can’t help but start thinking of all the things your husband or wife means to you. We create feeling of love inside ourselves by being loving to another. That’s how God wired us.
After 20 years of marriage, Michael and Ann felt like they were in a rut. “I guess we were kind of taking each other for granted.” Says Michael. Instead of complaining about the growing distance, Michael decided to take action. “I just felt if I wanted her to be closer to me, I needed to remind her of the guy she fell in love with. “
Ann wasn’t quite sure what to make of her husband at first. “I just noticed that he was trying a lot harder to do little things like pick up after himself, or call from work to say that he loved me, or bring home flowers. I’m ashamed to say that at first I was a little suspicious. I mean, he really hasn’t done any of that stuff in years. But when he kept it up, it made me want to try harder too.
Michael added, “There’s no question that we’re more in love now than since I can’t remember when. I never thought putting some zip back into our marriage could be so simple.”
The Church tells us that we “find ourselves by making a sincere gift of ourselves.” God gives us warm feelings when we behave lovingly toward another as a little hug of thanks from Him for delivering His love notes to our spouse. Sure, if it’s been a while, it might feel a little funny to start being romantic out of the blue, but it won’t be long before you both start reaping the benefits and experiencing how your passion for one another can help you both experience your marriage and your life as a gift.
Don’t Save It All for Date Night
Gina and Eric are frustrated. “Everyone talks about ‘date night’ like it’s some kind of magic cure for marital boredom.” Says Gina. “Well I have news for you. Our date nights are a disaster. We end up fighting every time. It got to the point that I dreaded date nights because I just didn’t have the energy to argue anymore.”
It sounds awful, but Gina and Eric’s experience is not that unusual. Too many couples simply ignore their relationship until they get that all-too-infrequent date night. Then, they try to cram all their love for each other into the few hours they manage to carve out for date night–which is entirely too much pressure for anyone. The result is an awkward time where the couple either talks about business as usual, or erupts into an argument because the couple’s expectations have been raised so high by the prospect of finally getting some time together that they can’t help but disappoint each other.
Date nights shouldn’t be the time a couple uses to make up for having ignored each other since the last date night. It should be the time they take to celebrate the littler ways they’ve been tending to each other’s hearts all day long. The next tip will help you find more little ways to stay connected.
Do a “Love List”
Once, after I spoke at a men’s conference, a man approached me and said, “Y’know, Dr. Greg, it took me 25 years to realize that I wasn’t going to get any credit for giving my wife stuff she didn’t want.”
We laughed about his comment, but it was sad nonetheless–and all too common. How many husbands and wives work hard to show their spouse that he or she is loved but end up doing things that have little to no effect on their mate? Or worse, in their attempt to be loving, they may do things that are actually offensive, like the husband who kept giving his wife roses, despite the fact that their scent always brought her back to her father’s funeral.
The fact is, even when we try to be attentive, it can be hard to remember what makes our spouse, specifically, feel loved. To overcome this tendency to work hard but not smart when it comes to taking care of our mate, take a suggestion from my book, For Better…FOREVER! and do a “Lovelist.”
A lovelist is a simple exercise in which both you and your spouse write down simple, specific actions that make you feel loved. I recommend identifying at least 25 things (so that you can give your spouse plenty of choices) that don’t take too much time, energy, or money, but that give you a gut-level sense of being loved—that kind of, “Awww! That was REALLY sweet! Thank you!” feeling. The list is not intended to be a complaint list of things you wish your mate would stop doing. It should be a positive list of things that either make you feel loved when your spouse does them or would make you feel loved if he or she started doing them.
Next, trade the lists and be generous! Even if something is outside your comfort zone—assuming that you aren’t asking each other to do anything that is objectively immoral or demeaning—do your best to do at least one thing on your spouse’s list that comes easily to you and one thing.
Creating Your Fine Romance
It is a challenge to keep the flames of love burning brightly over the length of your relationship, but many couples do manage it, and you can too. Recognizing the spiritual significance of romance, as well as the relational importance, can help provide the motivation you need to keep that spark alive, and remembering that small, daily romantic gestures are little ways you say, “I do” to each other all over again can fan those sparks into a flame that can keep you warm for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health, as long as you both shall live.