Schedule time for romantic attention. Scheduling time for romance and special activities together is essential to a highly effective marriage. The amount of time you spend will be reflected in the quality of your marriage. Counselor Willard F. Harley recommends that if your marriage is healthy and both husband and wife are highly satisfied with the marriage, a minimum of 15 hours a week of undivided attention is usually enough to sustain a romantic marriage. Note, this is the least amount of time necessary to do so. He recommends this time be evenly distributed during the week rather than overdoing time on weekends.
But when couples are experiencing marital trouble, recovering from the aftermath of an affair or other serious marital conflict, even more time is recommended. Twenty to 30 hours a week is necessary in order to restore the love couples once had for each other. In cases like this, Harley recommends that in order to salvage the marriage, the couple may need to go on vacation, where they can spend the entire time restoring the intimacy between them that has been lost. Usually two to three weeks of giving each other undivided attention brings a couple to the point where they can make intelligent decisions regarding their future.
Many couples say they simply don’t have this kind of time to put into their relationships. But if either of them were carrying on a clandestine affair, they would find the time. It is simply a matter of priorities. The real problem is they don’t want to spend time together, because they are getting so little from their relationship. But if this troubled couple can learn to re-create the type of romantic occasions they had while dating, there is ho9pe for restoring the love they once had for each other.
Give focused attention when on a marital date. Perhaps a reminder is needed regarding what focused attention means—time spent paying close attention to each other. This time spent together must not include children, friends, or relatives. Romance can only blossom in privacy. Some couples think they can be romantic with their children present. No. Romance and children just don’t go together. Intimacy is destroyed.
Remember, it is next to impossible to create intimacy between husband and wife with little ones crawling on you, a toddler wailing from another room, or a preteen checking on you. But as parents you do have a responsibility to keep your children inspired regarding the possibilities that lie within marriage. A romantic relationsh8p between the two of you will do the trick.
Agree you will not discuss strange diaper rashes, piano or basketball practices, schedule changes, or transmission problems. Time spent in going to concerts, watching television, attending sports events and plays doesn’t count either, because you are being entertained by an outside source and there is little or no time for intimate conversation or focused attention.
It is essential that couples create activities that meet their greatest emotional needs. Romance, for most women, means intimate conversational sharing and affection: for men it means sharing a recreational activity and sex.
Dress Up a little. On a date night both partners need to dress to look different. A woman dressed like she’s about to clean the stove will not delight her husband’s eye. Don a dress with a cut that will make your husband look twice. Fix your hair, spritz on perfume, and slip into a pair of heels that make your legs look great. If the children cry and the babysitter asps when they see you, you’ll know you’ve succeeded.
While dressing for the occasion, men also need to clean up their acts. Beer bellies, holey T-shirts, and a face covered with unshaven stubble fail to pass the dreamboat test. Ragged jeans, dirty fingernails, and halitosis won’t make it either. But a fellow with a fresh shave and aftershave lotion, a clean pressed shirt, a pair of slack pants, and polished shoes, is sure to make a hit impression. Most important of all, wear a smile!
It makes a woman feel special when you take time to dress nicely for her. When you make the extra effort to prepare yourself for her, she takes it as proof you love her. When you don’t, she assumes you don’t. Being appealing to her was an important part of your courtship. She needs the same kind of thoughtfulness now.
One man spoke from his heart: “You are right. I get dressed up to go to the office every day. But after work and on weekends, all I wear is a favorite old pair of jeans and a ragged T-shirt. I try to love her up a little and she pushes me away, saying I need a shave. The only time I turn her on is when I’m going out the door in the morning. Now I know why.”
Try meeting at your destination rather than leaving the house together once in a while. This creates the feeling that you are about to rendezvous with someone exciting. Week nights lend themselves better to this strategy. There is something special about walking into a room full of people and allowing your partner to get an eyeful before settling into your seat.
Flirt with each other. It isn’t difficult when you are out to distinguish dating couples from married ones. While a dating couple caresses each other with their hands and eyes, what’s a married couple doing? Eating. There’s no touching, no intimate lingering looks, no teasing smiles. If the couple does talk, the conversation goes like this: “Careful, you’re going to spill.” When food arrives, they hunker down and concentrate on moving fork to mouth. There’s nothing to say because they already know everything about each other and don’t attempt to discover anything new.
While couples who have been married a few years are well past the early discovery dates, there yet remain a few subtle, changing mysteries about the other person that need to be peeled back gently. That’s what marriage really is—an ongoing discovery process. And that’s what dating after you’re married is all about. Where you go and what you do don’t matter as much as that you make plans to be alone and do not lapse into habitual ruts.
Husbands and wives need to learn to flirt with each other all over again. A whisper in the ear, a playful hug, a note tucked into a briefcase, or a kiss for no reason at all can help couples stay connected during the day. Pleasing glances complimentary phrases, a sidelong glance, a charming smile, a hand laid lightly on your partner’s arms when laughing at a remark, all produce a momentary lift.
It’s impossible to develop a close, intimate relationship without spending meaningful time together. I recommend a couple of hours one time per week, or every other week if you can’t manage weekly dates.
Excerpted from Nancy Van Pelt’s book Highly Effective Marriage.