Art of Romance:
Love and Be
Loved, Every Day of Your Life
by Judith Sherven, Ph.D. & James Sniechowski, Ph.D.
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We do nothing in life well,
and that includes intimacy,
unless we have a schooled imagination for it.
What one thing do you most want to know about love and
Recently we surveyed approximately 10,000 men and
women asking that question. Ninety-five percent of those
responding wanted to know how to keep romance alive
throughout a relationship and marriage. No surprise.
During our fifteen years working with singles and
couples it's been romance that has been the most desired
as well as the most illusive of all relationship
experiences. More than sex. More than good
communication. More than family.
But what is romance?
That's not a question with an easy answer. It's the
kind of thing that you know when you see it, and
certainly yearn for it when it's absent, but putting it
into words leaves most people tongue-tied. So, before we
can know how to keep it alive in our relationships, we
need to identify just what it is we are after.
When we experience romance we experience a quality of
being transported, of being moved by an extraordinary
moment of feeling, almost another dimension of feeling.
And it is not by thought but by feeling that we can
confidently say, "This is romance." Through
this special feeling we are extended beyond our everyday
sense of self into an experience of unity and wholeness,
a deep, spiritually rich connectedness with another
person, and through that person to the wonder that is
the whole of life. The separateness that is so much a
part of most people's daily life vanishes, even if only
for a moment. And that is what is so extra-ordinary
about romance. It may be fleeting but it leaves a mark
on our senses and in our memory and it can stay with us
for days if not years. No wonder romance is so desired.
Also, in the romantic moment we feel connected with
another person without ever losing our sense of self.
There is a profound oneness but not sameness, as the
unique differences that two people bring to the moment
are embraced. We remain ourselves, with an intense sense
of our self, while in sweet and satisfying connection
with another. And that allows us to feel truly loved.
That allows the romance to be appreciated by each person
in their own way.
As the poet Rumi says, "If I love myself, I love
you. If I love you, I love myself." By contrast,
when we are steeped in a fantasy of romance, in the idea
instead of the reality of romance, there is no
connection and, as a result, no satisfaction. Why?
Because we are fused with a ghost, a mere image that we
are more loyal to than the flesh and blood reality. We
are trapped in a dreamy castle of our own making,
unconsciously insisting that our make-believe world will
bring us what we want. Ironically, the person
making-believe and the ghostly product of that
make-believe are one and the same. The person is bound
within their own spell, enclosed within their own
expectations, ultimately unable to let anyone in.
Romance thrives only in that which is real and in the
very distinct reality of two different people.
Imagination is at the heart of romance, but not when
it serves the concoction of mere fantasy.
The best way to distinguish between these divergent
paths is to identify fantasy as those envisionings which
may even be pleasant and sometimes erotic, but that are
never challenged. In fantasy everything goes the way we
want it to. Even if we inject a little opposition to add
drama, we still get everything we want, and more
importantly, in just exactly the way we want.
On the other hand, imagination is that soul-filled
experience wherein we apply the power of our creative
imaging to manifest what we want in the world. With
regard to romance, that involves another person who
cannot help but impact our expectations differently than
we anticipated. This is unavoidable because s/he is
different, with a mind of their own, but more to the
point, with an experience and expression of romance that
will be uniquely their own.
So imagination is not about dreaming up clever lines
or surprise moments but transforming mundane events into
delight by infusing them with appreciation and
affection. This is not false affection because, if we
truly appreciate the other person for some quality or
behavior, the affection we feel follows naturally. It is
an expression of the value we have bestowed. Romantic
imagination tenderizes the moment, stripping us of our
defenses, baring our need for connection, exposing us
emotionally, drawing from the moment its sweetest
meaning. When that happens both people are expanded
emotionally, intellectually, sexually, and spiritually.
We are enchanted by the experience and call that
As part of romance we have the sense that we have
been released from limitation and introduced to a sense
of the divine. That sense of divinity is the depth,
meaning, and esoteric secret that gives romance its true
richness. It is nondenominational, not associated with
any prescribed form or protocol. Instead it brings into
the foreground a feeling of truth that, when we
experience it, it's as though we've known it all along
and somehow lost sight of it. Suddenly, there it
is--truth, beauty, wonder, and grace. And it is real.
Very, very real. We go beyond our ideas of it into the
actual lifeblood of romance and it is satisfying. Very
satisfying. Complete. Wanting for nothing more than
simply what is. And out of that release there is a
joining, a communication, a communing. Soul to soul.
Equals. Resonant. Intimate. Transcendent.
WHAT NOT TO DO
The death knell of romance rings when two people
begin to take each other for granted.
Far too many couples respond to the stress of
everyday life by abandoning their wedding vows to
"cherish and adore." They assume and judge and
develop prejudices about one another that draw the life
out of what they once had. Yes, the bills have to be
paid, the kids need their love and attention, and life
hurls other demands their way. But that is life. If we
are to treat life maturely, we have to expect that.
When two people are caught up in preconceived and
privately held fantasies of romance the basics of life
become overwhelming. Rather than having their love
support their efforts to thrive, they wither, clinging
to images and notions of how things are supposed to be,
and denying how things actually are. They cease being
co-creators and become further and further distanced,
clutching their supposed-to/should-be versions,
mystified by why they feel so lonely. But that sense of
bewildering isolation is symptomatic of how our culture
views romance. We see it from a Cinderella point of
view. Everything romantic is supposed to be, how shall
we say, la-de-da. Effortless. Redemptive.
Out-of-the-blue. That is a child's view, which, sad so
to say, is what most people have been taught.
WHAT TO DO
In romance, awareness and effort and a sense of
reality are not mutually exclusive. Quite the contrary,
they are mutually supportive. They weave together a
creative flow of romance that can be trusted.
For example, romance is very often assumed to be
sexual. This is not to say that sex is not romantic. But
it is not the only path by which love and romance come
Most people think of making love as exclusively and
solely a sexual experience. So sex is expected to carry
the whole load of affection, passion, tenderness,
intimacy, and closeness. And often it's expected to do
so on Saturday night after a week in which there has
been little or no affection, connection, romance, few if
any expressions of love and care. Put yourself in the
shoes of such a demand. Might you not want to say,
"Hey, wait a minute. Who do think I am?"
So what about all the time you spend out of bed? Can
you make love then? Can you nourish an atmosphere of
romance so that when you are in bed sex can deliver what
is has to offer? The answer is, yes, yes, and yes again.
And here's the good news. It's not even difficult.
Our suggestions, which follow, are meant merely as a
guide to prompt your thinking about romance and
relationship in a new, more creative way. They are
intended to help you develop the romantic habit of using
every opportunity possible to express and receive love.
Don't be afraid to open your vision to new
possibilities, into the mysterious unknown that is
always available when any two people join their lives
together. After all, it was the mystery of not knowing
one another that was exciting in the beginning. Now we
invite you to enjoy and explore that mystery on even
deeper levels every remaining day of your life together.
GO AHEAD, SUCCEED AT LOVE
First you have to give yourself permission to be a
lover. If that sounds strange then we'll do it for you.
You have permission. Go ahead, succeed at love. Are you
muttering, "That's easier said than done?"
Well here's what you can do, and you can do them
everyday, establishing rituals that weave the joy of
romance into your daily life.
Every one of us wants to be known and valued for who
we truly are. Having someone we love be curious about us
is genuinely flattering.
To be curious is to pay careful and care-filled
attention to details.
- When you say - "How was your day?"-
actually mean it.
- Find our what your partner is thinking or feeling.
If he or she will not let you in, tell them that you
really want to know and that by keeping closed they are
shutting down the relationship.
After almost sixteen years together (fifteen married)
- Still curious about one another's childhoods and
past life experiences.
- We ask about differences of opinion re: movies, news
stories, people we meet, politics and social issues.
Remember curiosity is the least known and often most
powerful aphrodisiac everyone has available with merely
a sincere question.
Affection is the expression of tender attachment. You
can express affection anytime, anywhere.
Touching one another in the kitchen, passing in the
hall, watching television. It doesn't take much.
- Kissing just for fun. This is not about sex but
- Saying "I love you because . . . and then
- Buying the other's favorite foods, showing how you
keep your partner's preferences in your consciousness.
- Making the morning a special time of closeness
before you get out of bed. Even with children, you can
set aside that time just for the two of you.
- We often tell each other how much we enjoy living
with one another.
- We hold hands almost all the time when we're
walking.- We kiss in the kitchen while making dinner.
- We hug a lot and leave special notes around the
house from time-to-time.
Humor is about the peculiarities, the whimsy, the
quirks and eccentricities that make each of you unique.
It's not necessarily about laughing out loud. More
often, it's about appreciation and attachment.
It's fine if you have the gift for passing on good
jokes, love to pun, and/or get a great laugh out of gags
and comedy routines, but that's not the kind of humor
that breeds romance. The kind of humor that is romantic
occurs as the result of your being together over time.
As you keep getting to know one another, put more humor
into your connection by expressing your affection and
enjoyment through wacky, clever, and endearing responses
to one another. When you take delight in each other's
ways, you deepen your enjoyment of one another.
- Jim's the "Towel Thief" because he leaves
the kitchen towel in the TV room after his snacks. And
Judith is the "Oat Muffin" because she tries
to avoid wheat.
- We joke with each other about Jim being a
"ditz" because his memory is lousy and Judith
being "the princess" because she's very
sensitive to noise and discomfort of any kind.
- We give funny little gifts with special meaning (dog
pencils for Jim who was a dog in another life) teddy
bears for Judith (who never got to be a kid when she was
little) and wind-up, mechanical walking hearts for
Valentine's Day or just whenever.
To receive is to take in and be moved by. That means
to be changed. Receiving seems easy but few people do it
You've heard the injunction, "Tis better to give
than receive." Well, think about it. If everyone is
giving and no one is receiving, then the giving ceases
to be meaningful. By all means give openly. But receive
with equal generosity, because when you do you take in
and are touched by the other's gift and that completes
How well do you accept compliments? Tell your partner
not to let you get away with brushing compliments aside.
They are little packets of love. If you reject them you
not only reject love but you teach your partner that you
are not lovable and worthy of being given his/her care
Also, make a commitment to do the same when you give
a compliment and the other person does not take it in.
Stop them and let them know that you consider your gift
important and don't want it devalued. That way you help
them to receive better while maintaining your own sense
When you appreciate someone you acknowledge their
value . You are saying "I treasure you and I want
you to know it." Think about how you would feel if
someone said that to you. Well, that's how your partner
feels when you say it to him/her.
And the simplest form of appreciation is to say
JIM: When we were first together, Judith used to
thank me for washing the dishes.
JUDITH: "Why?" he'd say. "After all, I
live here too."
JIM: But she wanted me to know that she appreciated what
I was doing and she taught me a deeper way to receive,
which means a deeper way to love and be loved.
In any intimate relationship, no matter how
wonderful, conflict is unavoidable. Two unique people
cannot live together over a long period without clashing
from time to time. They might quarrel about each other's
ways of disciplining the children, or how to spend
money. They might argue when one feels neglected or the
other feels invaded. Conflict is like a flare, shot up
from the depths. It warns both partners that something
needs attention. Something in their relationship is
calling out for care and healing.
Throughout history, our foremost spiritual teachers
have understood that to expand consciousness, we have to
go through some kind of personal ordeal. An awakened
vision comes only after we squarely face into a
demanding challenge, release and let go of whatever
limiting beliefs stand in our way, even if they are
those we treasure, and open ourselves to the new and
different awareness that awaits on the other side of the
trial. And each conflict offers precisely that
When you do that, you move into a larger and more
encompassing consciousness, one that inspires more
empathy, more compassion, more of a sense of unity with
the diversity of life. You grow as you are able to
embrace that which is different from how you have been.
We're not suggesting that you have to become a mystic
or a religious leader to experience the spiritual
dimensions of your relationship. We are saying that when
you embrace the challenge of differences--which is at
the core of spiritual awakening--you have the
opportunity to grow each time you and your partner find
yourselves in a conflict.
Here are the six lessons of anger.
- Lesson 1: Anger is necessary to protect yourself
from being mistreated.
- Lesson 2: Anger helps you request better treatment.
- Lesson 3: Anger clears the air of unspoken tensions
and unmet needs.
- Lesson 4: Expressing anger overcomes the fear of
confrontation and conflict.
- Lesson 5: Anger opens the way to a deeper intimacy.
- Lesson 6: Anger motivates you to create a better
For more on the six lessons of anger, please see our
first book: "The New Intimacy: Discovering the
Magic at the Heart of Your Differences."
When you celebrate something you treat it as special.
A birthday is more than just another day. To celebrate
your partner is to announce just how out of the ordinary
he or she is for you. Grab every opportunity to
celebrate. Doing so will elevate the value of your
relationship and keep it fresh and alive.
Be sure to celebrate a promotion, the new house, a new
dog, a debt paid off, anything you care about.
- We celebrate the day we met as being as important as
our wedding day.
- Rather than exchange gifts for our birthdays and
Christmas we take ourselves on a romantic trip around
that time (our birthdays are in December too).
- We keep a Memory Book with photos and memorabilia
that celebrates our life together (now 13 volumes full,
working on the 14th.).
For centuries humans have created rituals to
commemorate special meanings. These special rites weave
a tapestry of comfort and predictability along with
acknowledging the mysterious connection we call romance
when we routinely honor what we value.
Anything meaningful that you enjoy doing together can
become a ritual.
- Special tailgate parties before football games.
- Helping the homeless every holiday season.
- Toasting one another at dinner each night.
- Adding one more special plant to the garden each
- We hold hands on take-off whenever we fly.
- We add Christmas tree ornaments with photos of us to
our tree each year.
- We play aunt and uncle to three sets of children in
our town and shop together for the gifts we give them
for the holidays.
- And we collect heart shaped things.
Romantic rituals can be enjoyed and created out of
even the smallest and most mundane of daily events.
So keeping romance alive is not only possible, it is
necessary if a relationship and marriage is to thrive.
And it is not difficult.
You must want it. And then you must commit to making
it happen. That's why rituals are so important. They are
regular observances that become part of your life. They
assist in helping you to remember, to focus, and to
Romance is an art. It must be lived. When you commit
to a more romantic life, you will experience emotional
and spiritual vistas far beyond what you now think
possible. And they will be unique to the two of you.
While you will find more closeness, more delight, and
deeper intimacy, the particular form your experiences
will take cannot be predicted because it comes from your
joining, from your very specific and one-of-kind
And that spiritual magic, that very romantic magic
that is yours alone will always be heightened through
the experience of rituals that you develop to honor,
express, and receive the love that lives between you.
We wish you a wonderfully romantic and magical
Valentine's Day and every day all year through.
Copyright 2003 Judith Sherven, Ph.D. & James
Sniechowski, Ph.D. All
Husband-and-wife psychology team, Judith Sherven,
Ph.D. and Jim Sniechowski, Ph.D., are the
bestselling authors of Be Loved for Who You Really Are
(Renaissance/St. Martin's Press 2001, paperback edition
Griffin Books 2003) as well as two other relationship
books. They provide corporate trainings and relationship
workshops in which they demonstrate the groundbreaking
personal and professional benefits available when people
learn to respect and value the differences between them.
As guest experts they've been on over 600 television and
radio shows including Oprah, The O'Reilly Factor, 48
Hours, Canada AM, and The View. Visit their website at www.thenewintimacy.com.
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