OK, parents, hand on your heart, how often do you do something romantic with your partner? Come on, don't be shy, it's all right. How often do you have a romantic dinner, go out dancing together or take time off just the two of you?
I bet your mind just filled with thoughts of "the children", "my work commitments", "that project I have to finish", "how hard it is to get a babysitter nowadays" and various other seemingly-appropriate reasons for your romantic situation being what it is and why you should not be feeling too horrible about it. Besides, is this not what everyone experiences when they turn from a couple into parents?
Yes, they do, and yes, they all feel just as horrible as you do about it, but does that make it better?
The natural progression of our life seems to be that we get really excited about finding a partner that turns us on and can be out friend at the same time. We dedicate much of our time and nearly all of our brainpower to finding that person. We embark on a journey of mutual exploration, during which we are typically so fascinated with the other person, they need to do something truly awful to turn us off.
Once we have found our body-and-soul mate, we go through what is commonly known as "settling down" (is this an ugly expression or what?), which includes some or all of the following: moving in together, getting married, joining finances, buying a home, getting a very large debt together (the mortgage) and, of course, having children. These steps seem to extract the interest and variety out of our life and replace them with certainty to the point of routine and with responsibility to the point of stress.
I heard a joke once about a sex therapist who did a survey at the beginning of a presentation of how frequently the people in the audience had sex. She asked them, "If you have sex more than once a day, please raise your hand". Some people did, mostly young ones.
"OK, now raise your hand if you have sex 2-3 times a week". Many more hands came up.
"Once a week to once a month?" A few hands came up.
"Once a year?"
A middle-aged man in the bad rows started jumping up and down and calling out, "Me, me!"
"Sir, thank you for being so open. Can I ask you, though, why are you so happy about having sex once a year?" asked the expert.
"It's today", said the man.
Which goes to show you that we really should be "getting down to business" with our partner, because it makes us happy. Although having spontaneous romance is best, as we all know, given the circumstances, having routine time slots for it and making deliberate arrangements for quality couple time still beats living like two zombies by a mile.
Over the years, Ronit and I have tried a few things in this area and I want to share with you the ones that worked, because every parent is first and foremost a person, a human being, and we really must remember that. Without taking care of our needs for variety, love and physical touch, we just shrivel up and die gradually and re-igniting that fire we had with our partner becomes harder and harder.
Sleep is possibly the most overlooked factor in our life. It is our brain's chance of sorting out the day's information overload, dealing with stress and cleaning up emotionally and chemically. When our sleep is not long enough and/or good enough, we get in trouble, and the first thing that goes is our creativity, our spark.
So if you want to "bring back the mojo" in your relationship, go to sleep on time and sleep well for 2-3 days in a row. You will be surprised with the results.
As soon as there is a 3rd person in your home, it becomes difficult to "be alone" together. Many parents make this even worse by putting their babies in bed with them. Given the baby's exclusive access to some parts of the mother for a few months after birth, that only makes things worse.
As your kids grow up and can move around independently, there is a chance they may appear in the most inconvenient moment, which some people may find daring and exciting, but most find inhibiting. Toddlers also go through periods of testing boundaries, during which they invent clever stories that will land them in your bed for the night. Unless you learn to prevent this from happening, romantic privacy becomes a rare occasion.
So you just have to close the door to your bedroom.
What? But what about the kids?
Yeah, that is exactly what I said, but guess what - they got used to it a lot faster than me...
For extra safety, when things get really hot, also lock the door. When the door is closed, the major gesture has already been made and quickly and quietly locking the door is not such an obvious giveaway of your private activities.
An added bonus of having your bedroom door closed is being able to sleep without anything on, which removes the barrier of clothes, adds the feeling of warm skin under the blankets and creates many opportunities for spontaneity.
It is also a lot cooler in the summer ;)
Remember this activity that once occupied much of your young life? It is where two people who like each other go out for a walk, to the movies, to a club or to a restaurant and just enjoy their time together and each other's company. Dating can be done with other couples and sometimes alone, but it is good fun and very romantic.
Yes, with all the work and commute and deadlines and housework and the cost of living and the difficulty getting a babysitter and all the other things that make it hard, dating can be hard, but it is not impossible. In fact, with a bit of planning and the right focus, you should find some time each week to go out with your partner.
Leave work at work, leave the kids at home, leave your balance in the bank, leave the bills on the dining room table or the kitchen counter, leave your worries behind and spend some time being a couple again. Talk, listen, look into each other's eyes, smile at each other, have something nice to eat and drink, do something you both like to do (or alternate doing what one of you prefers), just do it.
Ronit and I love to watch movies. Sure, we like the ones that make us think, but we often pick films for the atmosphere we know they will create for us. We sit quietly in the dark, hold hands or cuddle (if we can get rid of the armrest), soak up the romance coming from the screen and hang on to it until we get back home.
So get your diaries out now, set a time every week for dating and get romantic.
This is a list of things that are not big, but when they are done consistently, they help create a romantic atmosphere, or at least they do not break it.
I go for a walk every morning. On the way, there are many trees and bushes with flowers that look great, smell good or both. Although I never pick them off the trees, I often find flowers that have dropped to the ground and bring them home to Ronit, who loves flowers.
Some time ago, Ronit started making my coffee in the morning. At first, she was unsure how to use the espresso machine, but after a couple of attempts, I commented that the coffee tasted better when she made it and that maybe she poured some love into it to make that difference. After that, the morning coffee became a daily sign of affection for us that started each day on a positive note.
In a hectic day, particularly when working at home, it can be tempting to "let ourselves go" a bit - skip shaving, skip brushing our hair, wear baggy clothes, etc. While we may not dress up every day as we do when we go out, Ronit and I both take care of our appearance. We have found out that putting on our "business attire" not only makes us look better to our partner but also makes us feel better about ourselves. I sometimes dress up intentionally to get my energy higher and it helps me feel confident and upbeat all day long. Making yourself comfortable while forgetting to attract your partner implies that romance is not high enough on your priority list and can be a turn off for your partner. Making yourself look pretty in the morning only takes a few minutes, but the compounding effect is well worth that time.
Make sure your bedroom is heated well enough during cold times and cooled well enough during hot times. A comfortable temperature really helps to roll around freely.
Remembering important dates, complimenting achievements, listening and showing trust may all seem to be unrelated, but they are. Again, your partner is a person that needs to feel accepted and valued. A good romantic connection is built on good communication.
You may want to search this site for communication styles and love languages to help you figure out the best ways to be in touch with your partner, as well as things you could say to guide him/her towards what you like.
Finally, spend one of your dates writing your "50 things that make me happy" lists, including daily things that require little effort, time and/or money, and then swap them. Having your partner's list is almost as good as being a mind reader. Make sure to list romantic things and let the magic happen.