After 25 years of marriage, Bill and Ann finally discovered the secret to keeping the romance alive in their marriage: "I started dating another woman," he said proudly. "It was my wife's idea."
Ann took Bill by complete surprise with this advice: "Life is too short not to spend more intimate time with the one you love. I think the more time you spend with her, the closer you will become to her."
Bill followed her advice and began immediately and openly to date this other woman, to show her the attention, care and love he had felt toward his new bride some 25 years earlier.
Ann was right. It did draw them much closer together. Their romance blossomed.
The other woman was none other than Ann herself, Bill's wife of 25 years. Ann was not the same Ann she had been before. She began to look at life anew, recalling the times she had spent with Bill when they were younger and newlywed.
Bill and Ann put romance back into their marriage. You can too.
Myths and unrealistic expectations
When two people marry, ideally they experience a delightful sense of togetherness. They can't wait until the minister says those exciting words: "I now pronounce you husband and wife." Although the bride and groom know they have lived different lives, they minimize those differences in the light of this momentous event. Although they may realize they will experience conflict in their future, most assume that their love is strong enough to conquer any future problems.
Heartfelt intentions stated before hundreds of witnesses can, however, be all but forgotten in the routine of everyday life. It's then that unrealistic expectations and myths about marriage surface. One couple's experience
Robert and Dawn were deeply in love. Floating on clouds of imagined marital bliss, they planned their wedding.
Everything went well until, six months into their marriage, Dawn began to feel that Robert wasn't as loving as he had once been. Robert began to feel that Dawn was trying to change him, being too picky about minor things.
Soon they were retreating from each other, justifying their actions against a backdrop of real and imagined offenses.
After seeking counseling, Robert and Dawn began to recognize their unrealistic expectations. They resolved to become more tolerant, more understanding with each other. They also agreed to spend more time thinking about each other's needs. These course corrections put them back on track for a productive and fulfilling marriage.
Rude awakenings after marriage
The roots of marital disenchantment are usually exposed shortly after marriage, when reality intrudes on fantasy. This adjustment period reveals the other's imperfections. Shortcomings, once viewed as minor and glossed over in the full bloom of love, suddenly take on ominous dimensions. Cute eccentricities grow into aggravating annoyances. Rudeness replaces romance.
Each spouse defends his or her own territory, and the one union reverts to two identities, as the fantasy of romantic oneness begins to fade. Requests become demands. Marital disharmony takes over and negative actions, left unchecked, can spell disaster for two well-intentioned former lovers.
Sometimes marriage partners in difficulty realize they've invested much in their union and don't want to give up without asking for outside help. Marriage counseling, however, is never a guaranteed solution to problems. If, for example, the counselor simply urges the couple to communicate more, this advice may inadvertently compound their problems. Although communication is important in resolving differences, simply communicating more may lead to finding new ways to blame and complain.
A better answer to the dilemma is available. It consists in taking action. Acting, doing, impacts another person more than just communicating. Positive action, mixed with healthy and positive communication, can dramatically improve a failing marital relationship.
The secret power of self-direction
To enjoy a happier marriage, partners must become self-directed.
Drs. Melvyn Kinder and Connell Cowan, in their book Husbands and Wives, explain the concept of self-direction (Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., New York, 1989). Mates must become responsible for their own actions, they say. Each mate should identify and recognize his or her inaccurate, exaggerated expectations.
Recognition precedes change. By recognizing exaggerated expectations, each mate creates room for maneuvering and motivation for change. This, then, is self-direction: directing the attention to our own unrealistic expectations of the other. Each mate takes full responsibility for his or her thoughts and actions, whether they are realistic or selfishly imagined. Now change can begin to take place in a marriage.
"The implications of this new approach are enormous," write Drs. Kinder and Cowan. "It takes two people to have a marriage, but only one to change it. We end up feeling helpless and out of control in our marriages simply because we can't control our partners. The truth is that we need only learn to control ourselves. We ultimately come to feel alone in our marriages because we have replaced an accepting attitude toward our partner with unconscious expectations that are ultimately self-defeating" (ibid., p. 13, emphasis added).
Power to the partners
Being self-directed—taking personal responsibility for one's own actions—empowers both husband and wife. Rather than feeling victimized, each mate gains greater control over his or her life. A positive, constructive effect begins to transform the marriage. Counselors know that when one mate begins to change for the better, invariably the entire relationship improves.
Many couples are committed to marriage in spite of the self-centered, self-gratifying, self-oriented influences of the world around them. When a husband and wife, struggling to get their own way in marriage, begin to shift their frame of thinking from a demanding to a sustaining and supportive one, they can happily find themselves in a second honeymoon.
Specific steps must be taken to pave the way to a renewed and revitalized relationship. Marital happiness requires demythologizing marriage, fairly evaluating unrealistic expectations and replacing them with the healthy realities of a fulfilling relationship.
What positive steps can you take to rebuild your relationship, to put real romance and love in your marriage?
• Face the facts. The notion that if your mate really loves you he or she will automatically change for you is usually an illusion. Here is where self-direction can help. Rather than demanding that your mate change for you, why not ask your mate what he or she would like you to change?
This can bring immediate positive benefits. As one partner begins to change, renewed respect follows, and an example is set for the other to follow. It's never easy to admit to personal faults and shortcomings, but, when we ask for them to be pointed out and take concrete steps to change them, the situation improves for both partners.
Be honest, and face the facts, even if you're uncomfortable taking these steps. Realize that you need to grow. When you do your marital relationship will also grow.
• Understanding your mate's needs. Another myth is that if your mate really loved you, he or she would always understand you. The story goes that an older couple sought marriage counseling, and the counselor asked the husband if he had ever told his wife of 35 years that he loved her. He responded: "Well, I don't think I need to do that over and over. After all, I told her I loved her when we got married."
This man, along with, perhaps, you and me, didn't realize that we all need reassurance now and then to allay our normal doubts and insecurities. Understanding of your mate requires a certain sensitivity to his or her needs. The two sexes are, after all, quite different.
• Differences as strengths. Well-meaning couples sometimes see differences as negotiable. But negotiation is too often motivated by a selfish want rather than by love or selflessness. No two human beings are exactly alike. On the surface we may appear similar in many ways. But beneath the surface many differences lie hidden.
Those differences become more pronounced under pressure. Rather than negotiating differences to fit one's selfish desires, try to view your mate's differences positively, as strengths.
Look around you. The earth's biological systems work independently and interdependently. The ecological systems are interdependent. Birds, insects, flowers and fruit trees all function independently within their species. Yet there is an interdependence when the fertilization of flowers and trees often depends on both birds and insects in search of food.
In a similar way, a husband and wife can benefit from their differences, thus making two much stronger than one. Women are usually more intuitive, while men are more analytical. Rather than negotiate away such differences, try accepting your mate's strengths. When key decisions are made for both husband and wife, the wife's intuition and the husband's analytical makeup can combine for a better decision. Combining strengths, rather than letting them be a potential source of conflict, can be a powerful factor in building a successful marriage.
• Work is a useful four-letter word. Some mates assume that if they have to work on their marriage there must be something wrong with it. Perhaps this assumption comes from a naively romantic outlook toward marriage shaped by popular entertainment and culture. Most who plan to marry assume their marriage is different and therefore impervious to marital problems so common to the rest of us. What every married couple soon finds out is that, although marriage is wonderful, it is also sometimes quite difficult.
Difficult is not always bad. The human experience is fraught with difficulties and, thus, we can empathize with others in their hardships. As in life, so it is in marriage. Life in general and marriage specifically can be happy, but both can be filled with difficulties.
Good relationships don't just happen; they are cultivated. The good ones are sustained by good works. To bear the rich fruit of a happier marriage requires a personal investment of time, interest and diligence. One person put it this way: "The only relationship that doesn't require work is the one that's not worth having."
Some assume that having to work on marriage after saying "I do" is proof that the relationship wasn't good enough in the beginning. This notion demonstrates a lack of understanding. The truth is that all marriages, and especially those we consider the happiest, are marriages that both partners have worked on. It's no accident that "for better or for worse" is part of many marriage ceremonies?
Work correctly implies sacrifice; work or sacrifice in marriage helps make romantic lovers into inseparable friends.
• Friends and Lovers. In the most fruitful and productive marriages, mates share the relationship of friendship as well as romantic love. Many psychological and emotional differences come into play in these relationships, of course. Friendship brings a significantly different array of experiences and feelings to a marriage from those brought by romance.
In terms of its effect, the friendship relationship within marriage can be the most significant because of the amount of time marriage partners spend together, especially as the marriage matures and grows. Still, romance in marriage should be rekindled. It will be by those who are working at having happier marriages.
The basics of restoring romance
What are some of the steps you can take to stir up romance in your marriage? Let's notice a few common-sense, practical requirements any marriage must have to be romantic, happy and secure.
Telling your mate you love her or him—and doing this often—is essential toward rekindling romance in your marriage. Complimenting your mate infuses your marriage with romance, something you experienced early in your relationship.
Spending time talking with and listening to your mate is vital to restoring romance. Wives especially enjoy and need communication with their husbands. Marriages are more romantic when the husband understands this need and gives himself to fulfilling it. Husband and wife can experience a richer relationship in proportion to the time they spend sincerely communicating with one another.
Presenting yourself to your mate in a desirable way likewise helps put romance back into your marriage. Cleanliness and grooming are basic ways of showing respect and love for your partner. Affection is essential to a romantic marriage. Saying "I love you" is good, but showing "I love you" is better. Lovers will hug and kiss each other often. This, perhaps more than any other ingredient, is the greatest single factor in putting romance back into marriage. The more couples do these things, the more romantic and loving their marriages become.
Dining by candlelight can help create an atmosphere of romance. . The thoughtful husband will occasionally but regularly take his wife out on a date away from home. Laying careful plans for such romantic interludes, which might even include a weekend away from the home and its routines, will surely stir romance and love in a marriage. The effects of soft music, candlelight and intimate conversation can restore the deeper feelings both have had for one another and can be well worth the effort and expense.
The joy of love
The basic principles involved in building a loving, romantic relationship are found in Scripture. The Bible is an eminently practical book, especially in the area of human relationships.
Scripture tells us to look on the needs of others (Philippians 2:2-4 Philippians 2:2-4  Fulfill you my joy, that you be like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
American King James Version×), helping them to be happy. Unselfishly providing for another person brings one of the ultimate joys in life and in marriage the foundation for a more romantic and fulfilling relationship.
The basis of any successful human relationship is to give of oneself unselfishly to another (1 John 3:17 1 John 3:17But whoever has this world's good, and sees his brother have need, and shuts up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwells the love of God in him?
American King James Version×; 4:20-21). The Bible describes this as being our brother's keeper (Genesis 4:7 Genesis 4:7If you do well, shall you not be accepted? and if you do not well, sin lies at the door. And to you shall be his desire, and you shall rule over him.
American King James Version×). This especially applies to the marriage union. God informs us that a good marriage is based on genuine outgoing concern for our spouse (Ephesians 5). This kind of love looks out for the benefit of your mate.
The author of marriage is God, who instituted it shortly after creation (Genesis 2:24 Genesis 2:24Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall join to his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
American King James Version×). God, the maker of humanity, offers His creation—every current and future husband and wife—instructions on how to experience a happy and romantic marriage. Jesus Christ inspired the apostle Paul to give mankind some foundational instructions on marriage in Ephesians 5. The basis for a happy, romantic marriage is simple: "submitting to one another in the fear of God" (verse 21). Husbands and wives are to recognize who our true Master is and treat our mate accordingly.
Scripture shows both husband and the wife the importance Jesus Christ places on the marriage union. The wife is to submit to her husband (verses 22-23); the husband should love his wife as he loves himself (verse 28). When both husband and wife submit themselves to one another's needs, and yes, even sometimes to their wishes, such a union will blossom with romance, respect and abiding love. The ultimate joy in marriage is both living for and loving one another, totally submitting to one another.
Making your marriage blossom
You can put romance back into your marriage, if you aspire to it strongly enough. Doing so requires that you commit yourself to self-direction, evaluating whether you are laboring under two enemies of marriage: marital myths and unreasonable expectations.
Aspiring for a romantic marriage also necessitates submission to your mate, as Jesus Christ, through Paul's instruction, advises (Ephesians 5:21-32 Ephesians 5:21-32  Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.
 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.
 Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself.
 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the church:
 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
American King James Version×). This can be God's gift to you and your mate. It is yours for the asking. If you do step up to take advantage of it, you can expect to enjoy a renewed, revitalized relationship.
Remember Bill and Ann? They agreed to do something good for their marriage. Bill began dating a new Ann, his lovely wife of 25 years, and they successfully put romance back into their marriage. You can too.
You are in charge in restoring romance to your marriage. With God's help you can do it. May your marriage blossom as never before! GN