The chocolates may be Belgian, the lingerie from Italy, and the hot tub full of inviting, bubbly suds, but, in my opinion, if there is not an ever-growing, ever-changing heart-connection between two people, then there is not a real romantic relationship. So many relationships I have witnessed, including those of very good friends, look so shining and loving on the outside, but in the inside are effectively dead.
Why is that? Why is it that so many relationships that begin with so much love, affection, devotion and compassion seem to wither away after a short time? Is it really true that passion can not be sustained in the long term?
The need to listen:
In my experience, one of the biggest relationship-killers out there is the inability of partners to truly listen to each other.
Listening is not just shutting your mouth and not talking or not throwing heavy objects at one another; real listening implies an intellectual, emotional, and compassionate desire to open oneself to the point-of-view or experience of a loved one.
Being open to a point-of-view does not mean taking it in uncritically. True listening involves receiving what the other party has to say, feeling and understanding what they are saying and where they are coming from, even if you may disagree with some or all of what is being expressed.
One needs to focus on one’s ability to really listen, not selectively but fully when possible, and to take in consideration the other’s relationship issues, regular behaviour, and personal emotional pain.
Improving our listening ability is a work-in-progress; even if you think of yourself as a good listener, your significant other often does not come from the same perspective, and will have a distinct way of expressing him or herself. It is not an exaggeration to say that man and woman often speak a different language. It is through learning to listen to the other’s grievances and criticism of you that you will be able to discern which problem needs immediate attention in your relationship.
In addition, you will feel more understanding, if not compassion, for your loved one, by being more receptive to their past personal suffering, which will inevitably come up, sometimes between-the-lines, especially with a woman. In fact, many women’s relationship problems often are worked out or greatly reduced on the spot, if their spouse or boyfriend just receives their tirade in the moment of the emotional outburst or fight.
Positive love, negative love:
In most cases, romance fires up in the beginning of the new relationship, and then the routine sets in within a few months or so. We call it the honeymoon phase. All couples I know, including mine, fall into a routine, and while the monotonous and repetitive seems safe, in that we each stay in our comfort zone, it eventually proves deadly to romance, love, personal evolution, and passion in the bedroom.
Boredom with our partner often sets in, and becomes the norm. Most mainstream advice to rekindle romance, such as a romantic weekend break or romantic gifts, is generally not sustainable on a long-term basis. At the same time as some romantic gift ideas may be exquisite, they are not addressing the relationship at the depth that it needs to create more love; they create at best a quick moment of joy, and at worse they act like a band-aid over the relationship problems. I have more to say about gifts a little bit later.
In order to create more romance in your relationship, you need to start with you. Yes, you are almost always the starting point. I sound repetitive with that one, but it is because this truth cannot be avoided or circumvented; it is inescapable. In order to give love, to create more romance in your relationship, you must first increase your own self-love, through your own healing process, introspection or personal evolution.
In other words, you cannot give out, what you don’t have to give yourself.
You must be present with your own relationship with self, and keep a real intent to take responsibility for your deeds and words, while being present with your romantic partner. As you grow, and evolve, and give yourself compassion for your misunderstandings and pains, you can then give more compassion to your relationship and partner.
In short, as you deal with your negativity, or take responsibility for it, in your own healing process and space, you are thereby transforming your negativity into positive emotions, positive energy, and positive thoughts. It follows, that you are then able to give positive love to your loved one. Positive love is a love that heals.
Otherwise, the love that you can give is heavily mixed in with guilt, obligation, and the role that is expected of you in the context of a romantic relationship. Apart from the passion of a new relationship, your love or attachment starts getting burdened with negativity, as you are less and less acting from the heart, the intensity of the first months is fading, eroding the potential romance in your relationship. Negative love, or guilt-ridden love, is a love that kills.
Time and space, alone and together:
You may have the strongest relationship commitment with your loved one, you may be absolutely head-over-heels in love, you may worship the ground the other walks on, but you will still need breathing room from your partner to keep that wonderful relationship alive and healthy.
I often like to compare us to nature, as I have gotten really close to nature in the last few years, and I am always learning from it. We recently had the opportunity to buy a property with an incredible garden of palm trees and plants. A lot of the beauty was lost, however, since the trees and plants were planted on top of one another, some taking all the sunlight, and others growing deformed for lack of room, thereby not leaving the right amount of space and light necessary for each plant and tree to fully develop. No thought had been given to growth in the future, with the unfortunate result that one plants was smothering the other.
The same goes for us humans in relationships; we all need a certain amount of personal space, from the little things to the big things in life. We all need to get to know ourselves, alone, and also in interpersonal relationships. I have even found that spending a couple of months of each year apart from my partner has been very beneficial to our relationship in all aspects.
When I first moved in with my boyfriend, in his house, I felt I was in seventh heaven as it happens with most new relationships. My boyfriend could do no wrong. His house was falling apart; he had a little room, stuffed with books and papers, which was the office space. There was one old wooden desk, littered with his work estimates, correspondence, and magazine subscriptions, and a desktop computer.
I am the kind of person who needs my own office space or at the very least a big desk to work on and spread my papers. I like to spread my things out; I know this about me from having lived on my own before moving in with my boyfriend. When transitioning from your family home to your marriage or relationship home, it would be important to claim the time and space needed to get to know yourself, alone.
My boyfriend made a small attempt at clearing enough space for a notebook in front of the computer on his desk, and that became my office space for the better part of two years. At first, I did not see the problem with such a shrunken space, as I was on a high from the novelty of the new relationship, the passion, the admiration for my boyfriend. These feelings were and are not wrong; he was and is worthy of admiration, but what was problematic is that I was not considering myself and my needs in this new home or in this new relationship. Love, then, meant putting myself aside.
The desk became more and more uncomfortable, and since I had no room to expand on the common desk, I did not want to spend much time producing in the office. I also had to follow a schedule since he was using it every evening for a few hours, which was often the time when I would have liked to have access; I am more a night person. For someone who spends more time in the kitchen or in the garden or with the kids, it is not so much of a problem, but in my case, I prefer to spend more time in the office of my home than any other rooms. This lack of space started to get to me, more and more, frustrating me to no end. I was also held back by guilt that said at least I had a little space or I could use the dining table.
This little concern became a big problem as it was not dealt with properly at first, and it dragged on, greatly affecting my productivity and relationship. Simple having a conversation about this at the beginning and sorting it out early on would have avoided a lot of tension, guilt and problems later on.
Lastly, on the breathing-room topic, I just briefly want to address co-habitation. Some people argue that to have a successful and sustainable romantic relationship, the man and woman in that relationship should not live together. In France, more than any other country I have lived in, both men and women have shared with me that their best romantic relationship experience was when they did not live with their partner.
A committed relationship does not have to take on the conventional form of living together. I personally feel that co-habitation is more challenging and yields more results to my healing process, as my man is in my face so-to-speak! However, I have also lived many productive, happy years on my own before moving in with my partner. Everyone is different; the success or failure of romance relationships of all kinds is going to depend on your readiness, desires, intentions and experience.
Besides having your own space, we all also need some time apart, and alone.
While sharing activities with your partner can often serve to bring you closer to one another, you should also encourage each other to develop interests outside of the relationship. Whether it is the guys’ or girls’ night out, chess, jamming in a garage band or joining a bridge club, it is healthy to get involved in things with other people besides your romantic partner. I have also found it necessary to have time entirely alone, with neither my partner nor friends, in order to reflect on things, meditate, or deal with feelings that come up that I am not ready to share. Sometimes I need to be all alone.
Having friends and interests away from the relationship does not take away from the feelings that she or he may have for you. On the contrary, it can add positively to the romance, because you get to nourish other interests outside of the relationship, and it is often an opportunity for your partner to become more interesting to you. There is something to be said for the saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
We all need downtime physically and energetically from our significant other, even within the most committed relationship. If you have issues with your partner wanting or needing to do something without you, then take responsibility for that reaction, and process it on your own. Lie down, breathe out, open yourself up spiritually, and see what comes up. Maybe you have abandonment issues or maybe you have control issues, or maybe you are so fond of your partner that you don’t ever want to be apart. Whatever the case, it is important to find out, so that we don’t end up projecting our insecurities on our partners. Once we know what is going on inside, we can then bring up our concerns in a healthy way in conversation. Open communication will do more to keep the relationship alive than years of fretting, guilt tripping and controlling. It is both healthy and necessary to do things alone and with others outside of the relationship; otherwise we run the risk of wearing each other out.
Recognition: little things count
We all like to receive praise and recognition for the efforts we have made. While this is important in any situation, I find it absolutely crucial to keeping the fire burning with your loved one.
It doesn’t have to be a big deal. You can leave a note under the pillow, or a sticky on the fridge letting the other one know how much you appreciate his or her efforts. You can put on an article of clothing the other likes, or cook a favorite dish, or arrange for some fun time off together doing something that your partner really loves to do. While there is nothing wrong with arranging a surprise week in Tahiti, it isn’t about the money involved, but rather about the intention behind the gift or gesture.
If you are going to buy a gift, but something that he or she is really going to like. Don’t buy something that you think he or she should like, or think would look good in, but rather something that you know will bring a smile and make the other person feel good.
All too often we buy things for ourselves, even though we claim they are gifts for others. If I had a dollar for every slutty mini skirt I have been given, I would be a rich woman. I, too, have projected my desires at times on my man and bought or done things that make him uncomfortable and in no way make him feel recognized.
The bottom line is, as always, to keep it real.
Embrace change; do not be afraid of it.
The first step towards change is knowledge. Get to know yourself, and get to know your partner. I have written at length about sexuality elsewhere, but I do want to specify here that while all areas, especially the dead and dusty corners of your relationship need focus, the time spent between-the-sheets is fundamental to your couple’s well-being. According to a 2010 survey conducted by France's Institute of Public Opinion: even the French are having relationship problems due to a substandard sex life.
My partner and I have known some pretty dull phases in our sexual life. We took a long time to understand some of the issues involved, not because of the difficulty of the topic per se, but because of our cultural upbringing which makes it awkward to bring up any topic that touches on sex. Indeed, although open communication about sexuality is central to a healthy relationship, it is often avoided by both men and women since discussing it is viewed as playing with a loaded gun.
How many men will want to share with their partner, or anyone else for that matter, their sexual insecurities and fears?
How many women will want to share with their partner their pretending to enjoy sex, their fake orgasms, their fear to displease him?
So, you guessed it, I did not share with him ALL of my true response to our sex life, at least not the truth I judged non-romantic, unloving or simply negative, and neither did he share his own fears for quite some time. For the better part of our relationship, we had a very static sex life, repetitive in motion and behaviors, which, needless to say, did not help the romance!
The first point here: start with what is in your relationship, and move forward from there. Then do affirm your intent to change what is not working for the better.
My second point is that it is very unhealthy for one or both partners to hide or avoid bringing up problems or issues that pertain to both the relationship and the loved one.
In the name of love, we often accept to put up with certain problems, or we don’t want to hurt our partner, or the other cannot or will not do anything about the issues in question. Either way, untreated, those problems become cancerous tumors that will eventually kill off the relationship. Without a determined effort to confront and heal these problems, you will feel more and more abandoned and empty like a dusty corner of your house where the sun does not shine.
It is this very lifelessness that is deadly to a romantic relationship.