During drinks with my girlfriends recently, several were lamenting the lack of romance in their marriages – well, except for Claire, who is having a jolly old time getting hot and heavy in the dating scene after her divorce.
Not surprisingly, kids, careers and life in general seems to kill any romance that might have been present at the start of the relationship. The said girlfriends all complained about their partners ‘not having a romantic bone in their body’ and wanted to know how to encourage their men to ‘be more romantic’ – beyond token efforts on anniversaries, birthdays and Valentine’s Day. As Dr Helen Fisher, Senior Research Fellow at the Kinsey Institute commented “For many couples, there is a precipitous decline in relationship satisfaction after a few years. The “romance” is gone.”
It struck me as unfair that men are expected to be solely responsible for the romance in a relationship. When I asked my girlfriends to describe the last romantic thing they did for their partners I was met with stunned silence.
My contention is that it’s the job of both parties in a relationship to keep the romance alive, not just the man’s. Romance is contagious – if you demonstrate it, you are much more likely to receive it. The difficulty is that most people know romance when they see (or experience it) but they can’t define it and don’t know how to rekindle it when life takes over.
Being a romance scholar (which is a fancy way of saying that I’ve read a large number of books and academic papers on the subject), I’ve studied what all the researchers and relationship experts have said and concluded that being romantic boils down to one key thing “Making your partner feel that they are the most important thing in your life”.
At this point many people will gasp and exclaim that their children are (and should be) the most important thing in their life. Sometimes they even rank their career ahead of their partner. My response is this “What greater gift could you give your children than demonstrating what a romantic and successful relationship looks like – a relationship they will copy in their own life.” That happy romantic relationship you are demonstrating has been found to be one of the keys both a happy and healthy life. The Harvard study, that has been going for 80 years, has found that how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health.
Now that we’ve defined what ‘being romantic’ is, how do you achieve it? Luckily, science comes to the rescue here as well. The findings of researchers and opinions of experts can be condensed down into eight aspects. Let’s call them the 8 Habits of the Highly Romantic. They are:
- Giving compliments and showing appreciation
- Touching your partner frequently in a loving way
- Spending quality time together as a couple
- Performing romantic gestures
- Doing deeds for your partner
- Giving gifts and tokens of your love
- Working on improving yourself
- Creating intimacy through self-disclosure
Romance is like any other skill: If you don’t actively practice it, it will wither and die. Just as you learn the cultural norms of politeness: saying please and thank you, waiting in line and taking turns, you can learn to make romance a habit – giving your partner a kiss each time you part and rejoin, texting them love messages when you reach your workplace or giving them a compliment as soon as you see them in the morning or when you return home. If you practice these romantic skills on a regular basis they’ll become habits – you’ll do them without thinking. Just as you don’t have to think about brushing your teeth or picking up your keys when you leave the house, you can make romance an action that you don’t have to think about. Here’s an example: Each morning I like to read the newspaper on my iPad in bed. As I’m doing that I run my finger tips over my partner’s back. He loves it and it’s become a habit for me – I just automatically reach for him as soon as I start reading.
Relationship researcher, John Gottman, noted that couples who stay together have a ratio of positive interactions to negative ones of 20:1. That’s each day! The kisses or touches or compliments or thoughtful deeds need to outnumber the put downs, let downs and thoughtlessness by twenty times. What do you think the ratio is in your relationship?