August is National Romance Awareness Month, and I am well aware that there are a gazillion blogs and unlimited advice out there about how to maintain romance in a relationship. Just google “keep romance alive” if you don’t believe me. And it’s really helpful advice: talk to each other, make time to be together, stay positive, be intimate.
But here’s some advice that digs deeper and hits on more core issues that squelch romance.
1. Participate in the act of love
Much of the advice that suggests taking action to foster romance is effective because it encourages the act of loving rather than the state of being in love. The act of loving is gratifying for both the lover and the loved one. The state of being in love is passive and easily dissolves into an internal fantasy about being in love. This fantasy gradually becomes a substitute for actual love.
The act of loving involves behaviors that keep a close relationship alive and vital. These include offering emotional and physical affection; expressing tenderness, compassion, and sensitivity to your partner’s needs; sharing activities and interests; and maintaining honest exchanges of personal thoughts and feelings. They also involve actively accepting, acknowledging, and appreciating love that is directed toward you. When we participate in the give-and-take of love, when we develop the ability to accept love with dignity and return love with appreciation, we find ourselves actively involved in loving rather than falling into a passive state of fantasizing about being in love.
2. Maintain your individuality and appreciate your partner’s individuality
It may seem like a romantic notion to regard your loved one as your soulmate, your missing piece, your better half. However, this kind of imagined fusion destroys romance. It is impossible to feel romantic without the awareness that you and your partner are each a distinct and unique individual. That is why you need to regard yourself as a whole person and be sure you’re not looking for someone to complete your incompleteness or to define or affirm you.
When you’re with someone for a long time, it’s easy to start functioning as a unit and, in the process, to lose track of yourself as a separate person. Therefore, to maintain romance it’s critical that you maintain a strong sense of independence and autonomy and a well-developed point of view. With this as an ongoing goal, you can continue to cultivate and strengthen your unique traits as well as engage in behavior that reflects your interests and ideals.
When you know someone well, it is easy to lose sight of them as an individual person. Therefore, it is important to respect your partner by encouraging his or her unique interests and personal goals, independent of yours. This means being sensitive to your partner’s wants, desires, and feelings, and placing as much value on them as you do on your own. It means regarding your partner separate from any expectations you may have or any role he or she may be fulfilling in relation to you.
In order to maintain this level of regard for your partner, you need to have empathy with and compassion for him or her. This involves using your mind as well as your emotions and intuition to perceive and vicariously experience the nature of your loved one. When you understand your partner in this deeply empathic manner, you are aware of what you have in common, but you also recognize and value your differences.
3. Ignore your critical inner voice
To varying degrees, we all have an enemy within, a part of ourselves that operates inside our heads much like a malicious coach, criticizing us and offering up bad advice. This enemy, with its destructive point of view, is your critical inner voice. It supports your defenses, which wouldn’t be a bad thing except that, for the most part, your defenses are archaic. Ways that you came to protect yourself long ago aren’t necessary or appropriate in your life today. First off, you are no longer that little kid having to cope with the environment of your childhood. And second, those old defenses and the critical inner voice that encourages them interfere with your being able to establish close relationships.
You are your most vulnerable when you express your romantic feelings, when you articulate what you love about your partner and show how you feel toward him or her. You are also vulnerable when you are open and receptive to your partner’s loving feelings toward you. Being vulnerable and defenseless to this degree goes against your habitual ways of protecting yourself from being hurt. It’s helpful to be aware of how your critical inner voice will try to sabotage your loving exchanges with your partner. It will make fun of you reaching out to your partner. “You are so pitiful! You’re humiliating yourself.” It will belittle your partner’s loving gestures. “You call that loving? It’s nothing. You deserve more than that.” It will ridicule the expression of affection between you. “You two are so mushy, it’s nauseating. You look ridiculous!”
No matter what your critical inner voice says, ignore it and continue to be loving and affectionate. Don’t let its warnings undermine your loving feelings or behavior. Don’t let it influence you to protect yourself and retreat from intimacy. You will probably feel anxious from challenging your old ways of defending yourself, but if you maintain your behavior and sweat it out, the voice attacks will subside. Your critical inner voice will become weaker and wither, and you will triumph.
It’s so easy to lose track of romance. We get busy with the everyday tasks of our lives. Everything is going along well enough, and we don’t even realize that the special spark has begun to fade. We haven’t been paying attention and romance has been bumped to the bottom of our list of priorities. But we can make sure that we are actively expressing our love and affection and that we are actively accepting our partner’s love and affection as well. We can make every effort to maintain our individuality and to take an interest in our partner as a unique person. And lastly, when we are romantic, we can ignore our critical inner voice when it tries to influence us to defend ourselves and not be loving and vulnerable. When we take these actions, romance will burn brighter, and our relationship and our lives will be enriched.