Eileen Buchheim created Romance Awareness Month in August to encourage couples to improve their relationships through romance. In my work with couples, I have discovered that romance can be the language of love for some, but not so much for others. What happens when one person is craving romance and the other sports that deer-in-the-headlights look whenever romance is mentioned? Too often, there is avoidance, misunderstanding and conflict.
Why don’t you use this Romance Awareness Month to talk about how romance fits into your relationship, explore what it means to each of you and voice your expectations around it? Before you do, set the stage. Think of it as an exploration that will take your relationship to a higher level. Agree to a block of time without any distractions to take the temperature of the relationship with the ultimate goal of making it even better. Be ready to tell the truth and not what you think the other person wants to hear. And also, place the good of the relationship above any urges to angle for what you want instead.
When someone prioritizes romance and craves it more than his or her partner, it could mean many things. As the less romantic partner, you may assume it means you have a needy or high-maintenance partner, but is that true? Have you ever had the conversation to find out? If it isn’t neediness or high maintenance, what else could it be? Ask your partner what romance means to him or her:
- Is romance important to you?
- Are you happy with the amount of romance in our relationship? I genuinely want to know the truth.
- When I’m being romantic, what do you think and how do you feel?
- When I’m not romantic, what do you think and how do you feel?
- What do you expect about and from romance?
- What do you find romantic?
- What does it mean to you if you have to remind me about romance?
Romance can mean different things to different people. If you haven’t read Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages, you owe it to your relationship to read it. A quality-time person might find undivided attention romantic, while an acts-of-service person could find completion of their “honey-do” list romantic. A physical-touch person might find a massage, deep kissing and PDAs romantic. A receiving-gifts person may find romance comes with chocolate, roses, jewelry or power tools, while a words-of-affirmation person would interpret a love note or comments about how much they mean to you as romance. What does it mean to your partner? It’s equally important for you to let your partner know your answers to the above questions, too.
In my work, I have found that if one person in the relationship prioritizes and craves romance, the other person tends to prioritize and crave sex. Neither of these is wrong… it is just how the person naturally prefers to experience feelings of love and connection. In the beginning of the relationship, there is plenty of each, but at some point, one or both of you pull back from the one thing that isn’t as important to you. The other person senses this and pulls back from what’s most important to you. And then we attempt to correct the situation by engaging the Golden Rule, when that is the worst thing we can do.
If you are the person craving romance, and you believe your partner is pulling away, you will engage in romantic behavior to fix things. However, your partner is craving sex and if he or she is missing that, romance by itself does not make it better. They want intercourse. On the other hand, if you are the person craving sex, you are probably trying to go right for the gusto and your partner resents the lack of a romantic pre-game. Each of you are trying to give your partner what you want instead of what they want.
Once you have the answers to the romance question, ask each other the same ones about sex.
- Is sex important to you?
- Are you happy with the amount of sex in our relationship? I genuinely want to know the truth.
- When I’m being sexual, what do you think and how do you feel?
- When I’m not being sexual, what do you think and how do you feel?
- What do you expect about and from sex?
- What do you find sexual?
- What does it mean to you if you have to remind me about sex?
When you explore the answers to these questions as a couple and you tell each other the truth, you may hear and share some potentially hurtful realities—reasons for you and your partner to possibly become defensive. If you start to feel yourself going in that direction, quickly check yourself. Acknowledge the hurt and defensiveness, then remind yourself of the goal of this activity: strengthening the relationship by understanding each other better. You can’t understand each other when you are feeling defensive. You must open yourself to new information with the mindset of curiosity. It is unlikely that you both will have similar answers, so work to understand the other person. Remember Stephen Covey’s advice to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
The two of you have different wants and desires. This is not a bad thing; it’s just unfamiliar. Take the time you need as a couple to understand each other’s thoughts, values and opinions with the goal of giving your partner what he or she wants instead of trying to offer them what you would want in the situation.
If you want more sex, be more romantic; it you want more romance, be more sexual. It’s an important ingredient of a happy, successful and intimate relationship.