So he doesn’t bring you flowers, and you don’t surprise him with funny cards. It’s been months since you went out on a date, and you can’t remember the last time you talked about anything except the kids, house or work schedules.
“One of the dilemmas of a long-term relationship is that, over time, the newness wears off, routine sets in and romance goes out the door,” explains Marc D. Rabinowitz, a psychotherapist in Norfolk, Va. “Add in familiarity, resentments and unmet expectations, and couples end up getting emotionally distant. The more emotionally distant you become, the less likely you are to do romantic things or spend time together.”
But with effort and commitment, you can keep romance alive. The payoff: “Having a romantic relationship will help you feel better about yourself and your partner,” says Jennifer Jones, a couples therapist with the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. “It also will increase your emotional and physical connection, which can help you weather difficult times.”
Try these five tips to find time for romance:
1. Unplug! Technology can ooze into your relationship if you’re not careful. “Agree to turn off your cell phone, TV and computer during the first hour you’re home together after work and spend that time catching up with each other,” advises Jones. “Setting boundaries will help you create a space for conversation.”
2. Speak up. What passed for romance when you were first dating may not cut it after years of married life. “It’s a misconception that it’s not romantic if you ask him to bring you flowers or he asks you to send him a cute card,” explains Jones. “Don’t be afraid to ask for what would make you happy — and ask your partner to tell you what would please him.”
Be sure to use “I” statements when you make requests (e.g., “I’d love it if you’d surprise me with a new book”) instead of “you” statements that sound defensive (e.g., “You never surprise me anymore”.)
3. Have fun. “Fun” means different things for different people. For you, it might be going to the movies, visiting a museum or playing tennis. Take turns date-planning, and pick activities you want to try, even if they’re not tops on your sweetie’s radar. (Rock climbing, anyone?)
“This way, you add variety to your time together — and you won’t settle for the least common denominator, which usually means going out to dinner,” says Rabinowitz. “Doing the same activities week-in and week-out gets boring.”
4. Stick to a schedule. It doesn’t matter how often you have a “date night,” as long as you’ve always got one on the calendar. “Scheduling dates gives you something to look forward to,” says Rabinowitz. “This is crucial when you’re stressed and busy. It’s much easier to tolerate a lack of connection if you know that three weeks from Saturday, you and your spouse have a date.”
Agree that date night is just for the two of you. As Jones notes, “Don’t talk about anything you didn’t talk about before you were married or living together.” (The discussion about report cards and cable bills can wait.)
5. Show affection. Couples should connect before they leave for work in the morning (with a kiss, a hug, a kind word); connect again when they come home; and then one last time before they drift off to sleep, according to Rabinowitz. After all, isn’t it romantic to reflect on your “Good morning” hug and kiss throughout the day — and to look forward to another at night?
Cynthia Hanson is a journalist who writes for many national publications, including Ladies’ Home Journal, Parents and American Baby. She is a frequent contributor to Life & Beauty Weekly.