By Jamie C. Williamson, PhD
The secret to long-lasting romance in marriage is surprisingly simple, inexpensive, and fool proof.
It isn’t a “romantic” candlelit dinner on Valentine’s Day. And, unless you learn this simple secret and get primed for romance soon, it won’t be your Spring Break get-away to the beach (or the mountains), either.
You can’t purchase that loving feeling.
Events designed to be romantic flop when you aren’t already lovingly connected to your partner. Instead of helping you reconnect, the contrived candlelit dinner becomes a struggle for conversation topics and that romantic “get-away” reveals that you don’t really know what you enjoy doing together anymore. The empty feeling and disappointment these realizations produce lead, at best, to awkward silences and, at worst, to frustration, angry accusations, and harsh criticism. Either way, they don’t enhance that loving feeling.
You can’t purchase that loving feeling. You just can’t.
But you can create it.
So, what’s the secret to long-lasting romance in marriage?
You do small things often. You turn to each other in little ways, every day.
According to Dr. John Gottman, it’s that simple. In The Relationship Cure, Gottman explains that small, intentional moments of kindness and connection have a more positive impact on creating and sustaining marital romance than isolated, grand gestures.
These small loving actions also speak louder than words, when it comes to making your partner feel loved. In a 2017 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Saeideh Heshmati and his Penn State colleagues found an American cultural consensus that showing compassion and displaying affection (e.g. snuggling) on a daily basis rank higher on the list of what makes people feel loved than typical romantic scenarios or grand verbal declarations of love.
Convinced? Ready to put this one simple action to the test?
Then, every day (yes every day) just try another small way of turning toward your spouse, instead of away. For example:
Pay attention and respond with interest.
Notice when your partner subtly asks for your attention, affection, or support and give it. Look at the butterfly and comment on it when she calls it to your attention. Take his side when he shares a work concern. Show that you are glad (really glad) to see your partner at the end of the day. Respond with curiosity when your partner talks about family, friends, and other interests. Theses mundane moments of connection truly matter.
When you don’t have time to respond, express regret and take the time to explain. Don’t say “I don’t have time”. Instead, say you wish you had time, clarify why you don’t have time, and set up a plan to talk about it “when I get home tonight” or “after the kids are in bed” or “when I get home from my meeting”.
Voluntarily (and routinely) take action to support and connect with your partner.
Fold the laundry or take out the garbage, when it’s not your turn. Run errands for each other. Make dinner together. Pay the bills together. Plan and host a dinner for friends together. Share each other’s burdens and you become more interdependent. Support each other’s contributions and you create a shared sense of purpose. These small, day-to-day gestures go a long way toward deepening your marital connection, helping your partner feel loved, and prime you for marital romance.
Look for small ways to send messages of love.
Send a text message of encouragement when you know your partner has a presentation, an important meeting, or a long day. Send heart emojis when you text the grocery list. Pack a love note in your partner’s suitcase, briefcase, back pack, or lunch box. These notes don’t have to be poetic, or long, or even include words at all. Put on lipstick, kiss a napkin, and tuck it in the bag. Draw a heart on your business card and leave it on your partner’s windshield. Stick a post-it on the bathroom mirror. These small, from-the-heart expressions of love and support send consistently authentic messages of love and so they mean much more than a once-a year candlelit dinner or perfunctory bouquet of roses on special occasions.
How does this one simple action create more romance in your marriage?
If you’re like most people, you are surprised that the single most essential action that grounds your marital stability and contributes to your on-going romance is the simple act of turning toward your spouse in many small, routine ways every day.
Turning toward each other works because these repeated small gestures solidify your marital connection and promote positive feelings that will sustain your marriage during stressful times and grow the loving feeling of togetherness you share.
Take this loving connection and your positive feelings out to a candlelit dinner or on vacation, and the romantic spark you’re hoping for will ignite. But, chances are, if you adopt this one simple action – and turn towards your spouse in small ways every day – you won’t need expensive dinners or exotic vacations to stir up romance. You’ll have that at home every day.
If you engage in these small gestures every day, you’ll be going on date nights or vacation to enjoy each other. Not to save your marriage.
How do you begin turning toward each other?
If you want to strengthen your relationship and create more romance in your marriage, share this post with your partner. Then, start a conversation about the importance of being truly engaged in your routine interactions. Discuss the value of tuning into each other’s daily needs for attention, support, and encouragement. And, then imagine the difference that doing “small things often” can make in your feelings toward each other and the quality of your life together. Do your best to “work it out”.
Let me know if I can help.
You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop, where we facilitate divorce, family and civil mediations. We also use the Gottman Relationship Checkup as we conduct transformative, psycho-educational Marriage Refresher Courses for our clients who want to stay together, but restore the joy in their marriage.
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