There are those couples you bump into who always seem to be in a state of marital bliss. These couples seem to have a secret formula of some kind that keeps the fire of their marriage constantly burning. Rather than wait around in not so blissful ignorance, I decided to ask a couple I have long admired for their secret. The answer was straightforward and rather curios—you have to work at your marriage. Work is not a term I normally couple with romance, but that very same sentiment is reflected by experts in the field. In their book Hot Monogamy, Dr. Patricia Love and Jo Robinson describe two types of romance. The Romantic Love stage—that dreamy eyed lovesick stage—is where we all start in our relationships. This adrenaline-pumping phase has us seeing our partner through not just rose-colored glasses but rather through digitally enhanced-and-airbrushed view masters. It is, sadly, an illusion. However, the end of this stage usually marks the beginning of the romance stage. This is where the real work begins. Gratifyingly enough, if you start with romance in your marriage and maintain that attitude throughout the relationship, you will become one of those couples people sigh over as they watch you walk hand-in-hand down the mall.
If you are starting fresh at this whole romance game, you may feel awkward at first. You may be hesitant or embarrassed to express your intimate emotions, but know this: Romance begets romance. Your relationship is sure to blossom into a well seasoned love affair.
Create Little Celebrations
Share chocolates! The ancient Aztecs did not allow women to eat chocolates because they were considered an aphrodisiac. What better reason to open up a box together?
Splurge on Swiss chocolates. Or surprise him with a bowl of M&Ms, after you have removed all colors except green. True chocolate lovers say the green M&Ms have aphrodisiac powers. If you want to knock his socks off, make your own truffles. The love you pour into making it will be better than any gayuma.
Send flowers. Yes, surprise him too! A dozen roses for the man you love? Why not? Tie little notes of love and gratitude on each stem. Give him 12 little reasons to feel good about himself and your marriage.
Flowers reach an all-time sales high in the month of February. If you’re on a tight budget, go straight to the source. Stunning red roses are delivered at the crack of dawn at the Dangwa Bus Station in Dimasalang, Manila. The flowers come straight from Baguio. Be there before 5 a.m.
Catch the sunset. Race out from wherever you are and meet up at manila Bay to watch the most peaceful sunset in the world. Hold hands and walk along the seawall. Cap the date with dinner at Philippine Plaza overlooking the bay. Or hop on the luxurious M/V Tennessee Walker and take a dinner cruise around the bay. The ship departs from the Hover Ferry Station at the CCP complex.
Over candlelight dinner, talk about the good old days. Reminisce, giggle, and blush. Leave all the talks about the first time you kissed, your wedding, your honeymoon, or your first home.
You might want to prepare a few memory triggers to help him remember. Bring along a few pictures or prepare a few “do-you-remember-when” question just to get things going.
Celebrate your words! If you haven’t done so yet, compile your old love letters. Bunch them together according to dates, tie with a red ribbon, and put them in a pretty box or book and read the letters to each other. You’ll be surprised at how marvelous you will feel reading these letters again.
Schedule a few minutes of quiet quality time each day with your partner to catch up on each other’s lives. Dr. Charles Quinley, a veteran counselor of marriage retreats as well as an experienced marriage and family therapist, suggests you make a Romance Calendar. Ideally, you should make sure you spend 10 minutes a day just to talk and listen to each other. Turn the television off, put away the books and newspapers, and focus on each other.
The 10-minute appointment with each other may sound simple, but it takes some effort to keep doing it. Dr. Georgia Witkin, author of The Female Stress Syndrome, claims that the average couple spends only 17 minutes a week in face-to-face time! The rest of couple time is lost on coordinating schedules and dealing with the children. Remember, this meeting is as important as an engagement with your boss.
Make a date once a week to be alone. It does not have to be an extravagant event – take in a movie together or go out for a quiet dinner. Keep the talk away from irritating topics, and focus on interesting tidbits of the week in sweet, loving whispers.
Schedule and commit to this date far in advance. Take turns planning what you want to do that week. Don’t squeeze errands into your date. Be playful and adventurous.
Plan a honeymoon trip at least once a year. Don’t make your budget an excuse! Borrow a friend’s house and spend the night. Just being away from your normal environment lends a feeling of excitement to the outing.
If money is no object, go all out and check into a resort for a week. Better yet, scout around for off-season discount rates. Particularly romantic are the beaches the Philippines is famous for. All that bare skin and tanning oil do not leave too much to the imagination. The important point is to go away together and rediscover the person you fell in love with.
Be a Playmate
George Bernard Shaw once said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” This is true for relationships as well. Don’t let your love grow stale by leaving out laughter, fun, and adventure. Wallow in joyful spontaneity.
Buy a pair of roller blades and glide through the streets together. All that falling and laughing will make you feel young again. Besides, you can kiss each other’s bruises when you’re done.
Take the “spinner” off an old board game and label it with romantic ideas: give her a pedicure, give him a massage, be a slave for a day, etc.
Fight the temptation to think that you have better things to do than play silly board games. Time spent playing together, says Dr. Howard Markman, Ph.D., co-author of Fighting For Your Marriage, is an “investment in the relationship.”
Try rock climbing. The buddy system need in climbing helps enhance your bond. You can climb first while he belays, then he can climb and you belay. Somehow, knowing that your life is truly in each other’s hands builds trust.
Sing the night away! Never mind if he’s no Frank Sinatra. Bring back old memories by singing your favorite songs. Get a room for two at a family karaoke place and sing your hearts out. Choose Barry Manilow songs and get mushy.
Family karaoke entertainment centers have sprung up at the malls. These places offer clean fun—you don’t have to worry about mixing with sleazy company.
Rent a video, pop some popcorn, and get sodas and munchies together for an at home movie treat. Cuddle up while you watch.
You can even set up your own movie festival. Decide on a theme—all Audrey Hepburn movies, or the Star Wars Trilogy, or Woody Allen films, or all Sharon Cuneta movies. You can have a marathon movie session or stretch out the festival to several days. Have fun swooning over the screen gods and goddesses or debating over story plots.
Have a pillow fight. The youthful fun, laughter, and energy usually end up in pillow talk. Humor is the glue that holds relationships together. Mario and Paz have been married for almost 20 years, yet their children still catch them tickling each other. They begin with a simple poke, then all hands join the play; soon they are both in stitches, laughing. According to Dr. Thomas Moore, author of the bestseller Care of The Soul, when a couple can no longer laugh together, that means the soul has gone out of the marriage.
Do an exhilarating, heart-pumping sport together. The excitement restores phenylethylamine (PEA)—the “love chemical” produced by the body that makes us heady and lovesick. Try bungee jumping—it will certainly give you the exhilaration of love.
Reaching for the Soul
Go for slow walks. The couple that walks together stays together. When I asked my husband who he thought were romantic, he listed the people we would see walking together regularly. Whether for relaxation or exercise, going for a walk together is another chance to bond after the workday is over.
Hold hands. Touching is so important, says Dr. Zonia Tappenheiner, a marriage counselor and family therapist. It makes a person feel loved, secure, and protected.
Reach out for his hand while you’re riding together in the car, or as you’re walking in the mall. Don’t be embarrassed to walk hand in hand into a party of even as you go into your bedroom.
Look into each other’s eyes. The eyes are the windows to the soul. Looking at your partner tells him that, even if you are, say, at a crowded party, he is the only one you are thinking of—not your hostess’s house, the buffet spread, nor a guest’s outfit. The focus is on your partner.
You will be surprised at how little eye-to-eye contact we have in one day. Try it tonight. Look straight into his eyes as he tells you about his day.
Become big fans of each other. Make it a point to praise and applaud each other’s efforts. Whether at a family outing or in a boardroom meeting, nothing can emasculate a man quicker than being insulted or put down by his wife. On the other hand, hearing your husband speak highly of you to friends and family can truly make you believe that you can do anything.
Both sides need to feel appreciated. The most common complaint among couples is the high-pitched lament “I am being taken for granted.” Appreciated each effort. Take time to thank each other for the little things that you do everyday—preparing breakfast, taking the kids to school, or running errands.
Spend a few minutes to remind each other of five things that you love and appreciate about the other. Make a list and surprise him with it. Leave it under his pillow or tape it on the bathroom mirror.
Break Your Routine
Go out for a movie. Movies have never lost their appeal They used to be the high point in most of your college date nights. Now that theaters are kept ice cold, they give you another chance to keep each other warm.
Drive out of town for a day. Pack a picnic lunch, get in your car, and point it north or south. Or, get on a provincial bus and hie off to wherever you like. Don’t plan an itinerary. Just allow the day to unfold.
If you’re too scared to go without a plan, grab a travel guide to the Philippines. The Filipino Bookstore and National Bookstore have a few books you can choose from.
Try your hand at art. Buy yourselves sketchpads or canvasses, pastels or paints and unleash your creative energies. Work on one art piece together—take turns doing the brush strokes. Praise each other.
When the piece is done, hang it up in your bedroom. You can work on a series marking different events in your life with different colors and strokes.
Watch a live game of his favorite sport. Cheer for his team! The screaming and the frenzy will bring you, your partner and the rest of the audience to a fever pitch.
Try a few nights without television. Unplug the set in your room and fight the temptation to rush out to the set in the living room. TV intrudes into our daily lives and takes up most of our walking hours at home.
For a change, play some music, sit by the window, and watch your neighbors. Read stories to each other, or snuggle up for some pillow talk.
Steal and Borrow Ideas
While every relationship is different, it wouldn’t hurt to have love role models—couples you admire and are inspired by. Identifying relationships like these can help you ride through storms and plot out strategies for your own relationship.
Talk to your husband about a relationship you admire (or even envy). Tell him what you like about the relationship. Use their love formula as a possible pattern for your own.
Find out what makes your partner’s heart sing. Even if you’ve been together for several years, you must not assume that you know everything about each other. Investigate. Ask friends if your partner has ever revealed some secret wist to them. Sometimes, partners keep their wishes from each other because they’re afraid the other will not like them, or worse, will laugh at them.
If she loves the opera and it puts you to sleep, get two tickets, drink a lot of coffee and discover the magic she finds in each production. If he loves camping, organize a trip and don’t complain about anything. Let him teach you about the beauty of the outdoors.
Pick the brains of your friends and have a “romantic ideas” exchange. Invite two or three married couples to your home for an after-dinner get-together. Bring out your scented candles, play romantic music, have a lot of throw pillows. A bottle of wine or champagne will be nice.
Ask each couple to make a list of the romantic things they have already done as a couple. Then ask them to make a list of the romantic things they would still like to do. Share your lists. The exchange will help you get tips from each other’s experiences. You may also help each other make your own romantic ideas come true. For instance, one couple can offer to babysit while the other couple takes the night off.
Keep track of your romantic ideas—all that you have done and still want to do. Put together a scrapbook of your adventures, no matter how simple: the paper napkin at the restaurant you had a surprise lunch in, a matchbox from a coffee shop, movie tickets. Label each entry. After a few years, looking through this scrapbook will help you relive those moments. Don’t forget to reserve some more pages for adventures you still want to do.
And finally, to paraphrase the age-old advice given by Merlin to Arthur in the musical Camelot: how to handle a partner is to love her, simply love him, merely love her.